‘New Dubliners’: Moving from Rural Ireland to Dublin

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UCD welcomes students from around the country to its Belfield campus, this brings with it a degree of culture shock for students from rural areas. Kate O’Mahoney investigates.

“A culchie-shock,” is how first-year veterinary student Rebecca Morrow describes her move from Donegal to the University College Dublin (UCD) campus. Faced with many challenges, between accommodation, the cost of living, and societal differences in general, moving to Dublin city can be hard for those coming from rural areas. The transition to the land of leap cards may not be easy, but it can be made worthwhile, all thanks to the UCD community.

The University Observer recently spoke to a group of first-year veterinary medicine students about their move to Dublin. The many highs and lows they experienced were discussed, and to no great surprise, the student accommodation crisis was a hot topic. Chloe Gilcrest, from Cavan, was fortunate enough to have found on-campus accommodation, “For the campus accommodation, I was really lucky, I was high up on the list.” Despite this, Chloe felt uncertainty about the accommodation until it was confirmed, “I had some backup plans, I had some family nearby but it would have been a temporary solution.”

Aidan Kinahan, from Limerick, followed a different route when finding accommodation. He explored options offered by private landlords, and noted the pressure of extortionate rental rates on students, “Price is something you really have to consider when you’re looking for accommodation in Dublin. I know people paying upwards of ten grand for a year which I think is crazy.” He expressed that he was “lucky enough to get digs with a girl from home, her uncle has a house up here”, acknowledging the reliance students place on family and friends when searching for a place to stay.

The transition to the land of leap cards may not be easy, but it can be made worthwhile

Aoibhínn Ní Loingsigh, from Kerry, was the student the University Observer spoke with who had moved furthest from home. She wanted to reassure fellow “culchies” that her nerves of the big city have now relaxed after having spent a couple of weeks on campus, starting her course, and making friends - which she compares to “exposure therapy.” She noted the scale of the city is what she found to be the biggest disparity; “Dublin is very built up… the main difference is how big it is. I suppose, there are a lot of things going on.” 

To help make things more manageable, she relies on both Google Maps and Dublin Bus, but makes clear that “navigating yourself around UCD is not that hard.” 

Rebecca Morris from Donegal agrees that she used to see Dublin “as a big scary city,” but now laughs saying “I still don’t know where everything is, but the 39A will take me anywhere!”

Another form of “exposure therapy” experienced by rural students, is to be found in Dublin’s nightlife. All six students agreed that while their nights out have been memorable, the degree of homelessness in the city is shocking. Rebecca describes her upset at witnessing homelessness first-hand, “the stuff you always hear about but never see” and stated, “it’s a bit of a shock to the system.”

All the students spoken to felt that the advantage of living in Ireland's capital means “there is always somewhere to go.” The group were in agreement that staying with at least one other person is the best way to enjoy a safe night out. Like any big city, there will always be problems. Nevertheless, for rural students particularly, the size of the city has its perks. Chloe expresses her frustration: "At home, nothing is at a walking distance from my house, so you’re reliant on cars.” Aidan agreed, saying “I live in the ‘sticks,’ so you have to drive to get public transport, to get where you want to go”. He praised how “everything is very convenient here” and that “if you want food at 11 o’clock at night, you can get it.” It is clear the accessibility and range of services in Dublin is something that is almost entirely new to those raised in the countryside. There is no doubt, the city is practical for student living.

I still don’t know where everything is, but the 39A will take me anywhere!

The University Observer also spoke to UCD’s Students Union Welfare Officer, Míde Nic Fhionnlaoich, about the transition faced by students from rural areas. She empathised with the changes they face, as hailing from Connemara, she had to experience them herself. She spoke of the support provided by the Students’ Union (SU) for those new to Dublin, including the ‘Digs Drive” launched in August 2022, although she stressed, “we don’t view it as something that will fix the accommodation crises, but it meant we could get some beds for students in the short term.” 

The project involved “basically asking homeowners if they had a spare room, to rent it out to students through UCD’s Accommodation Pad, so that it would go directly to UCD students in need.” The SU has also provided “better protections for student renters, particularly those in Digs because they do not have normal rental protections,” which Míde assured the SU will discuss shortly with members of the Government. Other supports include student advisors who can help with both academics and wellbeing. Míde explained that “they are very well-versed in the University’s policies and procedures, and they are there specific to your programme area.”

Outside of UCD, the SU are working closely with their chosen charity of the year, Threshold. The organisation provides a specific advisor, “to help with students facing homelessness and to try to prevent students from becoming homeless during the term.” Míde stressed her email is always open to those who need advice or support on any issues of concern, as “it’s not just accommodation. It has knock-on effects on academics, health, on your finances and it is really important that students have access to those supports.”

Looking back at her own first year in Dublin, Míde talked of her “fresh start”, having moved all the way from Connemara with nobody else from her secondary school.

However, she is thankful, as it was a “great push to get out there, go to events and make friends.” The biggest obstacle she found was the cost of living, “especially if you are balancing part time jobs, sometimes multiple part time jobs, on top of yourstudies. It can be really tough to kind of keep an even keel on things, and still get themost out of college life.” She finishes by expressing how she can relate to firstyears, especially those from rural areas as “college is a big, overwhelming place. You start out and you might feel pulled every which direction” but gives reassurance, advising students to “find the things you’re interested in, find the people who are alsointerested in those things, and then you’re set!”

After speaking to students from all over the country who have transitioned to urbanlife, it is evident that many issues can arise. Strikingly, the ‘way of life’ in Ireland’s capitalcity is vastly different to the ordinary home life of many UCD students. Between getting a place to stay, and then learning to adapt to the city’s lifestyle, the adjustment can be tough. Nonetheless, thanks to the work of the SU and the supports they make available, the move can be made a less daunting and more positive experience.