University College Dublin (UCD) is considered Ireland’s largest international university. It is home to over 6,000 international students that make up 29% of the student population, according to then most recent registration figures. Each International student that decides to attend UCD has unique experiences throughout their college career as they navigate not only trying to receive a degree from a highly competitive university, but deal with moving to an entirely different country, most often completely by themselves.
The College Tribune spoke with five international students from different countries to gain insight into what their experiences have been like since moving to Ireland and studying at UCD. All International students have different reasons as to why they chose to study in Ireland at UCD.
For Nadia Abu Alia, a masters student studying International Human Rights Law from Jerusalem, said, “I made UCD my first choice for it is located in Dublin, considering that I was already apprehensive about moving away for a year I wanted to be in the heart of Ireland to be able to experience Ireland to the fullest.”
Rihana Assad, a third-year History and Political Science major from Norway, stated that she had wanted to study abroad to challenge herself and that her only criteria was that the college be in an English-speaking country. “The number one thing that attracted me to UCD is how international it is. In such an international school I would not feel like the odd one out,” said Assad. “I was also attracted to UCD academically, because they offer many different courses that we do not have back in Norway, like the joint degree I am doing.”
Being an International student presents various challenges for each individual, but the tangible experience gained through studying in a different country is something that cannot be taught. Rasha Nassar, a third-year Veterinary medicine student from Lebanon, explained that although moving away from family and friends has been challenging it is a one of a kind experience.
“It has indeed helped me grow as a person and I know that I’m more than ready to navigate life on my own after college,” said Nassar. “So, the most valuable experience I got from UCD is simply how to be independent and confident.”
“I’ve really come out of my bubble since moving to Ireland. As I came here knowing no one, I had to get out of my comfort zone and start meeting new people. I was a bit scared at first as I grew up in a different culture and English isn’t my first language, but I never felt different.”
College is an exciting time for students to branch out and explore different aspects of social life on and off campus, especially being located in a metropolitan city like Dublin. As an international student, it can be hard to establish connections in not only a country foreign to you but in a setting, like college, that you have not experienced.
Jonathan Strieban, a third-year joint major in Politics and Geography from Germany said he has enjoyed the social experience he has had at UCD. “Though, as an introverted, shy person, it can sometimes be difficult to step out of your shell and approach people at events I have found that most people are very open and friendly.”
“While I’ve made connections with both Irish and International students, I found it easier to connect with other international students,” said Jonathan. “I think it is due to myself having lived in several different countries and attending international schools, where it was natural to form connections with other international students who live a similar experience of being in a new country.” He also noted in his experience there was a tendency for international students to attend events slightly more frequently.
Abu Alia spoke enthusiastically about her social experience at UCD saying, “it’s been amazing, outside UCD and in. The diversity in Ireland is complemented by high tolerance and respect which I admire so much. I was able to make connections with both Irish students and other international students, both I now consider life long friends.”
Almotazbllah Ahmed, a second-year Business and Law student from Sudan enthusiastically sited the wide range of cultural societies as an opportunity to meet people of your own culture but also that it makes it easier to learn from different cultures as well.
“Ireland is one of the best countries I have been to and with the new friends I’ve made at UCD I’ve been able to enjoy every bit of it,” Ahmed said.
As a school that prides itself on its diversity and large International student population it is crucial for the University to be sympathetic when International students voice issues they have with policies that affect them more than domestic students. Assad voiced concern that UCD has not taken international students’ concerns into account in relation to finances and health with the ongoing pandemic. Requests from Non-EU students have been made for partial tuition refunds which have been dismissed by the University.
It is no secret that most International students pay a little over five times the amount of an Irish student, not including housing fees and with the college itself economically hurt by the pandemic there is clear hesitation to refund tuition costs.
“I can understand that those students are feeling like ATMs right now as opposed to valued students. The global pandemic has left many students vulnerable and in tough financial situations, especially International students that have to move countries, and I wish UCD had more compassion for that,” said Assad.
The pressure of the pandemic has centred focus on what truly matters to schools and every single student should be of the utmost importance to UCD or any school.
*A previous version of this article stated that Jerusalem was in Palestine, while the territory is currently disputed between Israel and Palestine. This has been amended to show no country, so as to remain objective in the conflict.*
Danielle DerGarabedian – Features Writer