Outgoing Erasmus students from DCU are unable to travel abroad this year due to the ever changing coronavirus pandemic. However, around 200 incoming international students arrived in Dublin to begin their fourteen-day quarantine.
Beginning an academic year in a foreign country away from families and friends can be a scary but exciting experience even in normal times. The escalating and uncertain lockdown situation in the capital is difficult to stay informed on, even as a native English speaker.
DCU’s International Office held a webinar before international students/ students participating in an exchange arrived. It was explained that students could do their fourteen day quarantine in campus accommodation. Cooking facilities were provided and students were able to access Londis for their food shop.
A Union of Students in Ireland (USI) press release raised concerns about financial difficulties that international students studying in Irish universities might face this year.
“As well as job losses, the pandemic is having a serious impact on international students getting part-time jobs and enough hours to support their studies… 67 per cent of International students say they are concerned that they will not be able to pay their rent.”
USI president, Lorna Fitzpatrick voiced the union’s concerns. “Many international students will be expected to pick up casual work to support their studies.”
Of course, these students will be competing with the large number of Irish students who have found themselves unemploymed on account of the closure of pubs and restaurants across the country.
Liz Vázquez, from Barcelona arrived in Ireland with a lot of questions. “Everything was uncertain,” she told The College View.
“In itself, going on Erasmus involves a lot of planning and the fact of not being able to plan anything in advance has made it very difficult for me.”
The Spanish native found accommodation in Shanowen Square, but decided to socially isolate in Gorey, Wexford for the fourteen days, alongside her sister.
She found DCU’s International Office extremely helpful during this uncertain time. “The international office has been of great help,” explained Vázquez, “every little question I had has been resolved very quickly, which is very different to what I’m used to in Spain.”
Although, it is not the Erasmus year she expected Vázquez remains positive for the year ahead. “I am trying to be as positive as I can and adapt myself to this new situation, trying to make the most of it, always with precaution of course.”
For students like Vázquez, DCU’s Erasmus Student Network (ESN) is a gateway into student life. Chairperson of ESN DCU, Louise Farren relayed her plans for the year to The College View.
The society was named ‘DCU’s Most Promising Society’ for 2020. However, its numbers have greatly decreased on account of travel restrictions.
“The society was growing pretty steadily with membership numbers being well into the hundreds for us at ESN”, said Farren.
This semester two hundred international (those who are completing their degree in DCU) and Erasmus students registered. Only half of these students have decided to travel to Dublin for the first semester of hybrid learning, with the other half opting to complete their online classes at home.
The society has had to become more creative, as all events are currently limited to being online.
“The focus for us really this semester will be on virtual events and making these as fun and engaging as possible, whether you’re in Ireland or not” said Farren.
Time differences are now something the society has to bear in mind when planning its events. Students from America have been keen to join in on Zoom events, regardless of the time difference.
Quarantine can be a difficult and lonely time for international students. Even students who call Ireland their home can often become isolated when lectures are limited to Zoom calls in their bedrooms.
ESN hopes to help students settle into the new normal using a buddy system. International students are matched with Irish students on the system.
Erasmus student, Vázquez has reaped the benefits of the system, which she feels helped her settle into the city.
“It helped me a lot, [my buddy] explained to me how the transport works, everything about the leap card, museums… and DCU in general.”
DCU’s buddy coordinator, Ian O’ Connor says that the benefits of joining the system are clearer than ever before.
“In the best of years the buddy system plays an important role in integrating international students into college life. The ongoing pandemic has only increased the popularity of the buddy system” said O’Connor
He encourages students to get involved as international and local students alike navigate the new normal together. “I would encourage both local and international students to get involved in the programme to make friends in a safe and fun way” said O’Connor.