Areej Gazzaz – “I think of Dublin as the city that made me”

Ireland is an attractive prospect to many people looking to study abroad, from tech courses to medicine. One such international student is Areej Gazzaz, a Saudi medical student who has been living in Ireland with her family for the last seven years while studying at the Royal College of Surgeons. Areej was kind enough to sit down with us and talk about her experiences living here in Ireland.

How long have you been in Ireland?

“I have been in Ireland for almost seven years now, since late 2015. I had choices for where to study medicine, and I actually wanted to go to the UK but the year I applied they were overpopulated with Saudi students. So Ireland was the only option left where I wouldn’t have had to learn another language. But after I came I realised I ended up where I would have been happiest. So, I don’t regret coming to Ireland. I think it’s the best, and sometimes the hardest, thing that has ever happened to me”.

Why was it the hardest?

“When I came I was 19 at the time, basically a child. I came to a country that mainly speaks English, and my English was good at the time, but you need the confidence to speak in another language. It was not an easy transition, even though a lot of people told me there would be a culture shock, but honestly, Ireland and Saudi have a lot more in common than those people realise. So it wasn’t the culture that shocked me”.

Was it difficult to just pack up and leave?

“I think in your head you imagine it a certain way but then when you arrive and start school, the differences can hit you hard sometimes. There needs to be a period of transition, which can really hit you harder at that age. I had my family around me at the time but they lacked the language. So I had the language and they had the experience, but none of us had both. The funny thing is I moved from Jeddah, a city of almost five million, to Tralee, a city of five thousand people. I think some people still think of Saidi as being a desert with camels and don’t realise it’s actually more modern. So the culture shock was the other way around”.

As an international student, how was the adjustment?

“I don’t have to tell you that people who live in a small town rather than a big city, they’re not the most experienced. They can be a little bit closed-minded or a little bit racist. It’s not on purpose, they don’t intend to be, they just lack experience. So the transition was mainly about going from a big city to a small town…but I think things improved a lot when I was in Dublin. It was easier to find people who think along lines closer to how you do in a big city. It’s a different mindset, they have more experience with people from different cultures. RCSI (Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland) is really proud that its community is made up of 52 different countries, across students and faculty. So the diversity was less of a culture shock than being in a small town like Tralee. So I really started to settle down when I came to Dublin”.

“I really want to stay in Ireland, It’s really grown on me. After spending seven years here, I really think of Dublin as the city that made me. I had my most important years of growth here. Of hardship and learning, so I really consider Dublin to be my second home. I’d be heartbroken if I had to go back [to Saudi] .”

What surprised you most about living in Dublin as an international student?

“I don’t have a single big one, but I would say I’m always discovering things, good and bad and it always kind of shocks you. When I came to Ireland I didn’t know much about the country, to be honest. When I Googled Ireland I was mainly focused on RCSI. The biggest surprise was just how nice the Irish are. I don’t know if you guys know this, but that’s rare. There aren’t a lot of countries where people are that nice to foreigners. Or where you feel safe to walk the street. So I think the biggest thing I was surprised by was how chill Ireland was. I’m not saying Ireland is perfect or without racism, but I’ve been to a lot of countries and the Irish people are fairly nice…You guys are nice and respectful, which I think says a lot about you. I think cultures that have a history of being abused tend to treat people better”.

“Oh, and the weather was very surprising! I don’t think any other country can have all four seasons in a day. That’s very unique”.

Royal College of Surgeons

What’s your fondest memory of your time here?

“If we had done this interview a few weeks ago I would have said graduating from medical school! I think also meeting the love of my life, I’d say that”.

Would you recommend Ireland to other people?

“Ohhh, that’s a very interesting question. I’d say because of Covid, and other factors, Ireland is currently among the most expensive countries in terms of living costs. So for that reason, it’s hard to recommend. The cost of living is causing even the Irish people to leave! In the last seven years of living here, I’ve seen my fair share of financial pressure and I think that’s the worst pressure someone can be under. But would I recommend Ireland [outside of cost of living]? Definitely. Ireland is very welcoming and loving. It’s a place where racism isn’t taking over. You’ll feel safe and like you’re one of them”.

Is there anything you would like to add?

“I’m very grateful for the time I’ve spent in Ireland, and I’m very proud of this country. I can tell the difference between now and just seven years ago. It makes me feel proud to see how Dublin is growing, becoming more diverse, more alive. Dublin was perfect to begin with, but now it’s even better”.

“I love Dublin”.

Due to personal issues Areej’s family has since moved back home to Saudi, while she has stayed on in Ireland to finish Medical School. Areej is currently planning to stay in Ireland as she applies for internships after her graduation, and has ambitions of becoming a psychiatrist here.

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