Studying abroad in a time of Covid

Image Credit: Nurina Iman Nizam

Killian Conyngham spoke to three students who have recently moved abroad to discuss the challenges and rewards of studying elsewhere during a pandemic.

Many plans of mice and men have had to be cancelled or postponed this year as we all come to grips with the current pandemic. The world has kept spinning, however. Some have persevered through Covid and its accompanying travel restrictions. I spoke to three students over the past few weeks, who all moved abroad for college at the beginning of this semester, to see how their experiences of moving have been shaped by this extraordinary time.

Ben Rodoreda is a first-year. He finished school in Germany over a year ago now. This September, after a gap year interrupted by the breakout of Covid-19 he came to study here in Ireland. For him, whether he was moving abroad was never even a question. He told me: “I always knew I wanted to study somewhere else. [...] I just like living in a different, completely new country, which is kind of something that I am always drawn to.” 

Ailish Whooley is an Architecture graduate of UCD, who moved to Glasgow for the fourth year of her architecture diploma. She mentioned how the decision felt straightforward enough: “If I didn’t move over, I’d literally be doing the same thing but in my bedroom in Dublin where I’ve been for 22 years”.

For Doireann Brosnan, things were a bit more complicated. She was supposed to do a year-long exchange in France as part of her course, Law with French Law. After this exchange was cancelled, then reinstated and then cancelled again, Brosnan and some friends decided to move to Toulouse in France on their own accord. She felt there were advantages in moving abroad, even if she would be taking UCD courses online. Along with avoiding putting her family at risk if she did have to commute, she explained: “I was thinking, well listen, If I go abroad it’s cheaper than renting in Dublin [..] and then I’d learn a bit of French as well”. For Brosnan, a particular frustration was the uncertainty concerning her exchange and whether UCD would be online throughout the Summer: “I think I contacted roughly about 10 different groups of people just asking and asking and asking and it was just really difficult to get an answer.”

The moving process itself, however, seemed less difficult, with Brosnan mentioning: “It was really easy to move over, I thought that it would be kinda more stressful but not at all”. Whooley echoed this sentiment, mentioning however that some found it harder: “It wasn’t too bad for me anyway... Some of my flatmates had to [...] have somewhere to stay for 2 weeks [...] when they went over”. For Rodoreda, while the moving process was mostly smooth, he did find the Irish green-list system confusing at times, mentioning how Germany was moved onto the green-list as he was moving over and how he felt the government recommendations were at times unclear as to how someone in his position should proceed during the 2 week self-isolation period on arrival.

For Brosnan and Rodoreda, adaptability seemed to be the name of the game. Rodoreda explained: “I pretty much found out everything in September, so I didn’t even know I was accepted until mid-September, so like a week before I actually left, which is kinda crazy.” Brosnan too mentioned: “I think we booked everything within two weeks”. With restrictions and cases changing every day, it’s unsurprising that a degree of flexibility and willingness to act fast is necessary.

Getting settled in and meeting people was the next topic brought up. In this realm, Rodoreda was positively surprised; “I did feel very much at home immediately [...] I thought it would be more difficult, but then again obviously living with 5 other people it is so much easier. [...] I am quite lucky, in that sense.” Whooley too mentioned how having a large flat with new faces helped, even though “getting to know [her] classmates and stuff is harder” as she has only met most of them over zoom. Brosnan spoke about how having friends from her course as flatmates, as well as having some local contacts, helped smoothen the adjustment.

All three had their fair share of misgivings with online lectures, as we all do. However, I did get a sense that being in a new environment helped provide some much-needed novelty. From Brosnan’s perspective, the case was clear: “I find it a lot easier to do online lectures here because I’m pretty bad at procrastination, so when I was at home last semester I found it so difficult to study. But I think just being here with a different atmosphere, like, I’m in a different room, I have a more set schedule [...] it’s much easier just for me to stay focused”

Not all was rosy, though. Brosnan expanded on a particular personal frustration: “What is kind of annoying more so than anything is that we’re literally over here, we’re a 15 minute walk from the college we are supposed to be attending and we’re not able to.” Christmas and the holidays in general also seemed to be a sore spot, with Whooley saying: “That’s [the] kind of stress that I just keep putting to the back of my mind” and mentioning “I’m just kind of like accepting that Christmas is going to be completely different this year”. Rodoreda explained too: “It’s just uncertainty I would say, I mean no one can plan anything. If I were to go home, I would probably have to book it a few days ahead or a week ahead.” 

Speaking of the future there seemed to be mostly high hopes. For Rodoreda, looking forward meant excitement and anticipation for the time he would get to spend in Ireland: “It is nice to know that there is still so much of the country that you will still be able to experience which you aren’t right now”. Brosnan too was optimistic, looking forward to next semester where she will be attending the University in Toulouse. Whooley found it difficult to even imagine what things might look like after Covid, mentioning: “I always kind of wonder what it’s like [in Glasgow] when Covid isn’t around”.

When asked whether they would do it all again, if given the opportunity, the responses were unanimous: 

From Rodoreda: “Yeah, fully. So far, I don’t regret anything. [...] Even with all of this stuff happening I am super grateful to be here, so I would definitely do it again.”

From Brosnan: “I am just really enjoying myself here. It’s a brilliant opportunity. I am kinda thinking that if the other people in my course decided to come over, they would have had a ball.”

And from Whooley: “Definitely. It’s just like If I stayed [in Dublin] it would have just been kind of letting Covid-19 have a massive effect on my life. I mean, it does have a massive effect on everyone’s life, but I am just trying to continue with my life as normally as possible.”

It seems that while travelling for quick stints and holiday breaks may be off the table for now, moving for college during a pandemic can be both a realistic and enjoyable undertaking.