Last summer, when I was back home in New Jersey and fending for myself at a family barbeque, I struck up a conversation with a friend of ours. He’s just starting the college process, which in the States is primarily about “shopping around” for the school best suited to the needs of yourself and your family.
He asked about Ireland, and I started my usual spiel, about how the country is beautiful, the people are lovely, and how he simply must visit. Typically, the conversation ends here, because he was really only asking to be polite and my rambling has usually managed to kill whatever curiosity he once held. But to my horror, he asked more- this time specifics about UCD. And this is where I started to have difficulty sticking to the Fáilte Ireland-approved script.
I genuinely love Ireland. This experience has changed my life for the better, and I do not regret a moment of the three-and-a-half years I’ve spent studying here. But what about UCD could I, in good conscience, recommend to this poor unsuspecting Yank?
What accommodation bloc should he pick, the older ones with the paper-thin walls, or the new ones that might lack shower-heads? What if he got a room like I had in first year, so infested with bedbugs that, after a full semester of insisting there was an issue, he’d finally have to be moved to a temporary apartment for a month? Would that be better than him fending for himself in Dublin’s riddled housing market?
Once he got onto campus, what else might go wrong for him? Would his student loans get caught up in red tape, leaving him financially insecure? What about his scholarship, would that be applied correctly? How many times would his results be held back for a bureaucratic issue outside of his control? If he needed mental health support, how far down the queue would he be?
Every international student I know has a dozen of these stories, ranging from maddening inconveniences to times we were so frustrated that we considered going home. We’re not naive: we understand that moving to another country is hard, and that we can’t expect everything to go our way all the time. But for a university that markets itself as tailored to the “global” experience, UCD is quite poor at actually providing it.
The reason why Ireland “worked” so well for me is because I cheated: that is to say, I lucked out with a reliable and preexistent network of family and friends in this country who have supported me since the moment I got off the plane. They, and the wonderful people I have met along the way, were able to provide what UCD could not: consistency.
The entire student body of this university is let down by UCD’s unreliability, but internationals feel this far more acutely. Irish students are fully settled on this island, whereas internationals are wholly dependent on UCD as the entire premise of their lives here. This overreliance has become an even more significant issue during the pandemic. When the second lockdown began, international students who had committed themselves to UCD were left to rot after buying the promise of a campus experience that the university had no ability to deliver.
Even at this so-called “late stage” of the pandemic, UCD’s inconsistent decision-making has cost international students dearly. While UCD’s perplexing approach to announcing online exams is certainly inconvenient for domestic students as well, it is unnecessarily disruptive for this school’s large community of internationals. Their holiday travel plans are delicate, expensive, and entirely structured around the reliability of UCD’s decisions. Imagine if they had made this call as a whole university, across the board, and just a few days earlier. A few homesick Americans could have made it home for Thanksgiving, and most could at least have saved hundreds on cheaper flights back home.
UCD is a bloated, bumbling mess of a university. For it to meet the needs of international students and the community at large, significant changes need to be made to how it is administered.
Jack McGee – Head of Investigations