‘I have never seen such support anywhere I’ve lived before moving to Ireland’

Asylum seeker Nadezda Prochukhan talks to Caoimhe Gordon about life in Ireland and Trinity.

indepth1The milestone of the Leaving Cert year remains unforgettable to the Irish student. Hours spent after long days of study, pouring over the CAO handbook, picking the course we plan to do for the next four year, studying Macbeth’s hamartia, sweating over differentiation, and, two months after exams, dashing nervously into school to grab that piece of paper that decides your fate.

Nadezda Prochukhan was one of those students. She worked incredibly hard, achieved an impressive 615 points in the Leaving Cert and decided to study science in Trinity College.

It should have been an easy transition for her to leave secondary school behind and don a lab coat, conquer the Hamilton and begin the next exciting chapter of her life. But this almost didn’t happen for Nadia.

Nadia came to Ireland at 15 with her family in an attempt to escape discrimination in her native Russia. In spite of the obvious obstacles a young teenager from a foreign land would face, Nadia settled well into life in her adopted home of New Ross, County Wexford.

Three years later, she was ready to take on a new challenge: life as a college student in the capital. And then she discovered that as an asylum seeker, she did not qualify for the Fee Remission Scheme for Irish students.

“Horrendous” is the word Nadia uses to describe how she felt when it hit her that she faced a €15,000 bill before she could gain access to a third level education. Her family still face financial pressures daily. They receive financial support from Nadia’s beloved grandmother back in their native Russia who, at 77, works two jobs and wires over money to support them.

Despite Nadia’s intellectual brilliance, it seemed that a chance at a college education would be denied to her. That is, until her story went national. Suddenly a gobsmacked Nadia was being inundated with anonymous donations from all around the country to fund her education, reaching an unbelievable figure of €18,000.

Her fees were then set at the EU rate, not the non-EU rate, which meant she only had to pay less than half of the €15,000 sum she was first informed of. Now Nadia is a fully registered student of Trinity College and has immersed herself fully into college life. I had opportunity to interview Nadia and ask her about New Ross, new challenges and her new life as a third-level student.

Q: You moved here three years ago to escape discrimination in Russia. How would you describe the transition from life there to life in Ireland?

A: To be honest, it was a major change for me when I was 15. I thought it would be very difficult to settle in at this age. My language wasn’t perfect, I had to pick up some new subjects and also trying to fit in was quite hard. However it turned out fine as people in New Ross were very welcoming and after living in Ireland I prefer it to other places.

Q: Given the language and cultural differences, how did you achieve such phenomenal results in your Leaving Cert?

A: I think cultural differences aren’t a huge issue for a teenager and I had three years to improve my English. Also the community was very supportive and there was a good atmosphere in the school. So it wasn’t any harder for me than for other students when I did my Leaving Cert. I suppose only the motivation and actually sitting down and spending some time on study made the difference.

Q: Why was Trinity your university of choice?

A: I was researching courses in school and I thought that Trinity would be a good place to go because of the opportunities after college. I knew some people who went to Trinity and they strongly recommended it to me. Of course I also liked the structure of the science course.

Q: How are you finding college life so far?

A: I actually really enjoy it. I’m always busy with study or going out somewhere with my friends and I like this intense lifestyle. There’s always something to do.

Q: How did you find the change from a small rural town to a fast-moving city?

A: I moved to a lot of different places throughout my life and I grew up in Moscow so actually I didn’t experience any huge changes at all.

Q: What are the main challenges you have found in Trinity so far?

A: I think budgeting and living away from my family are the challenges. This is probably similar for other first years but there’s nothing that cannot be overcome.

Q: Were you shocked to learn of the enormous cost of your third level education?

A: I was so horrified when I found out. I’d never imagined it would be so expensive.

Q: How did you feel when you discovered that you had received over €18,000 in donations from people all over Ireland?

A: I wasn’t expecting it at all. It’s hard to express how grateful I am to those people who donated. It’s amazing that Irish people care for others even if it’s a person they have never met before and this is phenomenal. I have never seen such support anywhere I’ve lived before moving to Ireland.

Q: Have you had time to join any of the societies in Trinity?

A: Yes, I joined quite a few during Freshers’ Week. I have too many cards to list.

Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: Well, first of all I’d like to graduate and then I hope to find an interesting job. I also really want to do something in return to thank everyone that helped me get into college.

Q: Who has been your role model in life?

A: I think my grandmother is my role model. She is 77 years old and she has two jobs. It’s only because of her that we have survived for the past three years in Ireland. My grandma was sending us a part of her earnings to support us all this time. It’s impressive that she has such strength and selflessness and I really respect her.

Q: And finally, what is the best advice you have ever received?

A: Never forget to help others because you never know what will happen and one day you might be the person seeking help. My mum tells me that quite often. I think it is a very relevant piece of advice for everyone even if it’s hard to do.

Photo: irishmirror.ie