Globetrotting to Trinity: an international student’s perspective

From Syria to Dublin, Ghalya Farahat  offers personal insight on how Trinity serves the many international students that come here and the peculiarities of Irish culture

Illustration: Isabelle Griffin

Getting to Trinity was one of the greatest emotional rollercoasters of my life, and I can now say that I’m beyond glad I reached my destination eventually. I won’t deny that studying at Trinity was far from being my first option. In fact, it was a back-up that I decided to apply for an hour before international submissions closed. Little did I know that sending my application was going to be one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

Having heard of Trinity through an information event that was held in my school, I was intrigued to delve deeper into what the University had to offer. What also helped was that about two thirds of my teachers in school were Irish, meaning I was subjected to first-hand anecdotes about Ireland.

Several months later, with an acceptance from Trinity at hand, I was facing a newly developed phobia: the student visa. As I waited for it to descend from the heavens, or even the  visa office,  I finally got a call, and boarded the 7am plane to Dublin the next day.

The sense of relief from obtaining a student visa cancelled out some of the homesickness and fear that usually accompanies an international student when moving to a new country. I went through what seemed like the the most fearful time of my life, as I considered the possibility that I was not going to make it into third level education due to the many complications. In the end, it only makes me more appreciative of where I am now.

Coming to College a month late, I skipped Freshers’ week, which meant not only having to catch up on my studies but simultaneously having to work on establishing a social circle. The mere thought of this was immensely nerve-wracking. I also had to give up my spot at Trinity Hall because of my late arrival, meaning I could only really make friends when I was actually on campus and that I missed out on Halls events and activities, which was far from ideal.

Fortunately, it all somehow fell into place after one guy came up to me outside my first philosophy tutorial, introduced himself and told me what course he was doing. Slowly but surely, I integrated into the Arts Block, made new friends and lost touch with people I didn’t get along with too well. I was finally in a course I loved, with the ability to make a fresh start and meet people who were different than the ones I was used to. A year and a half into College, I can confidently say that I’ve made a group of friends who are not only relatable and fun, but are also people that have contributed, each in their own individual way, to my growth and maturity.

What surprised me was that several people I met immediately assumed I was Irish, with an American accent picked up from watching a little too much Netflix. They were usually shocked when my response was that I am Arab. The first question to follow would be, “How come you don’t have an Arabicized English accent?” To which my response would be, for the hundredth time, that I studied at an international school where I learned English before I learned how to write in Arabic. Then they’d continue, “Why Trinity? Why come all the way to Ireland for university?” I was often rather shocked with how lightly many of the students I met perceived Trinity.

Many were acutely unaware of the global recognition Trinity has outside of Ireland, and how high the entry requirements are for international students. Also, as I have not lived in or been to Syria in five years, many people fail to realise that the strength of my engagement with the country and its internal political and social situation is just as much as most of the rest of the world. I am as much an external observer as anyone else is. Yes, I do have a very strong emotional connection to my home country, its history and heritage, but that does not make me any more resourceful when it comes to the current goings-on than a newspaper article or a TV channel. The hardest to deal with was probably the handful of people who had no clue where Syria is or what is going on there. One person genuinely asked if Syria was in Serbia. I remained calm and collected, opened the Google Maps app, typed in Syria, and pointed my screen to their face.

The sense of independence that students here have is definitely very different to that of many Middle-Eastern countries. Having to juggle a part-time job along with being in a full-time course is not something you’d often see in Dubai, and probably even less often in Syria. The detachment from family and home here comes at a much earlier age in comparison to where I come from, where you’d be living with your parents if you were attending college in the same city and most likely would be unemployed until graduation. This does have a lot of impact on the level of independence and maturity that students have, but at the same time, from what I observed, at times it can create weaker bonds with family when the only mutual encounters are during holidays and special occasions.

Dublin is definitely a city that is more on the cute and cozy laid-back side than a fast-paced and metropolitan one. Still, it is very lively. I find that balance creates the ideal type of city to be in when moving away from home for the first time. Being walking-distance away from the main city spots means you never miss out on last-minute social events.

Overall, my whole experience, particularly when it came to making friends, was definitely easier and less stressful than what I had anticipated before taking my first steps through the front gate. Trinity makes the transition out of the comfort zone of your home country and family life much easier, and Dublin further cushions this overall great experience. I’ve met people at Trinity whom I now consider family. I’ve bonded and shared cherishable experiences with these people that I wouldn’t trade for anything else. I am both happy and grateful to call this place my second home for the two and a half years I have left at Trinity.