Pandemic Experiences of International Students in Dublin


    Ireland has been virtually locked down for more than 14 months due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Nearly every part of society has been impacted in one way or another – some have fallen terribly sick, others have lost their jobs or, like wet pubs, have been unable to open due to government regulations and have been closed since March 2020. Many have been unable to practice their hobbies, visit friends, or see their family in one of Europe’s strictest lockdowns. 


    University students too have not been spared by the pandemic. For most, there have been no in-person classes or labs, little socialisation and big revenue losses as those places which typically employ students like retail, restaurants, and pubs have been closed for months. For these reasons, many have decided – or been forced – to stay at home rather than come back to Dublin. To many Irish students, this was a painful solution, but not a terrible one. Although inter-county travel is not currently allowed, there is often the possibility of coming up to the city to visit friends or study in the library. Just like having to leave Dublin as Ireland was entering its first lockdown in March 2020 was easier for those living in Ireland, coming back is not over-complicated. 


    Unfortunately, this has not been the case for everyone. Many international students studying in Dublin have been unable to come back or for a long time, were unable to go home. Others, lured back with the promise of in-person teaching at the start of the academic year, have been let down and are now stuck with expensive leases (Dublin is the EU’s most expensive city), few opportunities to make money, and above all, high tuition fees for an incomplete college experience. Between quarantines, restrictions, and uncertainty, here are some different experiences of international students in the pandemic. 



    The first challenge for international students was the start of the pandemic: universities shut down and students were told to go home, while borders were rapidly being closed and flights cancelled worldwide. For many, abruptly leaving Dublin and their friends was not just hard emotionally but almost physically impossible. Kamdi, from South Africa, recalls: “The news came quite suddenly that we all had to leave our accommodation. Within a day, I found myself struggling to pack up my room and book a flight”. Like many other international students, Kamdi had to find a storage space to leave some of her things behind. Finding a flight back home was difficult and expensive, but she eventually managed. I personally was in the same boat as Kamdi: I had to leave for home suddenly on one of the last flights to Belgium. 


   Not everyone was as lucky, however. Students from China and Hong Kong remember being afraid to go home. Not only were there practically no flights and the ones which they managed to book were very expensive, but arriving home was only the start of the struggle. They had to observe strict quarantines in solitary confinement for up to two week. Tia, from Hong Kong, remembers that those two weeks were tough mentally, as she was not allowed to have any contact with others. 


   Leaving Dublin was one thing. Coming back for the 2020-2021 academic year was another. International students, like Irish students, feel like they have been lured back with promises of in-person teaching and a slow return to normalcy. However, they were met with strict restrictions and online university. Ryan, originally from Texas, says: “I’m definitely glad I came back to see most of my friends, especially with Erasmus next year. But it was certainly frustrating to come back and Dublin remaining under Level 5 in contrast with everything being so open back home”. Many, however, could not even come back. Kamdi, for example, could not leave South Africa as the borders were closed for international travel. Others chose to stay home for financial reasons. 


    Speaking of finance, some were able to enjoy the PUP (Pandemic Unemployment Payment), but not all were eligible. Ryan says he feels lucky to have been able to enjoy the PUP, as the gym where he worked has not opened in months. In fact, one survey found that 67% of international students in Ireland are concerned they will not be able to pay their rent as a result of COVID-19 unemployment. 


   The uncertainty caused by the pandemic is not limited to studies or work. International students faced with hotel quarantines when going to Ireland, or going home from Ireland, often ignore when they will be able to return home. Tia, for example, says that COVID has impacted her ability to go home for the holiday periods: “not necessarily because I found the quarantine difficult, but because the costs of hotel quarantines and the length of the holidays aren’t worth it”. 


    The pandemic and COVID restrictions have spared no one. Life has been impacted in different ways for everyone, and international students make no exception. Travel restrictions, quarantines, and financial uncertainty are meagerly compensated by Zoom university, especially considering the fact that Ireland is among the few European countries which has not once opened universities to the greater student body since the start of the pandemic, with only a number of labs but no lectures having been performed in person. Do you or your non-Irish friends who study in Ireland feel like you’ve been faced with the same issues and concerns? Do you have other problems and experiences of coming to study in Dublin during the pandemic you would like to share? If yes, let us know! 


Felix Vanden Borre
Felix Vanden Borre

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