International students faced loneliness, boredom and “vastly overpriced” meals during quarantine

Many international students have been required to isolate upon arrival into Dublin

International students have reported facing loneliness and boredom, as well as frustration at “vastly overpriced” meals provided by Trinity, after quarantining in student accommodation for two weeks before starting classes.

Students arriving to Dublin from countries not on Ireland’s Green List were asked by College to restrict their movements for fourteen days upon arrival to the country in an attempt to contain the risk of Covid-19 outbreaks. 

While campus accommodation and Trinity Hall enforced these regulations by ensuring that students were provided with necessary amenities to remain completely isolated within their accommodation, other services such as Kavanagh Court allowed for more freedoms, including granting residents the ability to leave for essential shopping and exercise. 

Trinity News spoke to two students living on campus and one residing in Kavanagh Court to understand the experiences of international students undertaking their periods of quarantine upon arrival to study in Trinity. 

Trinity Hall and on-campus accommodation, after an initial promise to provide laundry and meal services, later provided only a meal service, for which residents in accommodation completing their quarantine were charged €350. 

Kavanagh Court and other college-affiliated accommodation providers, however, completely reversed primary plans to include a quarantine meal plan and laundry service, and residents sourced their own groceries and were allowed to utilise laundry facilities on the premises.

Students in both situations found positives in these arrangements.

Speaking to Trinity News, Aidan Desjardins, a second-year student from the United States, said that the Dining Hall meals provided to him in Botany Bay campus accommodation were “quite good” and made “reducing contact with [his] flatmates a much easier task to manage”.

Ursula Dale, a Senior Sophister English Studies student, arrived from the UK to sit out her quarantine, residing in Pearse Street Rooms, and although she laments that the essential items pack and meal items that awaited her upon her arrival were “vastly overpriced”, she agrees that the service was “handy”. However, for the first eleven days of her fourteen-day isolation period, Dale lived completely alone in her apartment, so she did not have to worry about crossing paths with flatmates in shared spaces such as the kitchen.

As Kavanagh Court did not provide meal services, Alanna Craige, a second-year European Studies student, had to source her own groceries for her own food preparation. 

“We didn’t have the meals provided, but honestly, I’m happy for that because I’m a picky eater,” said Craige. 

Additionally, she was used to shopping for herself while enforcing proper etiquette, as she did so while at home in the United States: “Just go in, get what you need, and leave as soon as you can…it’s straightforward enough,” she continued.

Currently residing in a flat with four other international students who arrived within a few days of one another, Craige also admits that “sometimes two of us have to cook at the same time, so sometimes you can’t help but overlap” in the shared kitchen. However, she added that the five of them did their best to work around one another and spent much of the time in their separate rooms to complete their quarantine responsibly.

Craige has also made use of the launderette on Kavanagh’s premises, which residents are permitted to use with no restriction. 

In general, Craige holds her accommodation’s handling of the situation in high regard: “Kavanagh has been very helpful. They’ve kept our parcels, the facilities like the laundry and the check-in have all been kept very nice, and you can rent out the vacuums. And they’re very friendly and on top of things, for the most part.”

On the other hand, Desjardins expressed resentment that residents of on-campus accommodation were told that they must compile laundry for two weeks before being allowed to wash it. He said that this attitude toward laundry was one of the few things that College was very clear about, which has been “annoying, but given the resources for laundry on campus, it made sense”.

However, in terms of other questions international students who have been asked to quarantine may have, Desjardins believes that “information has been rather lacking at times”. He watched videos provided by Trinity to familiarise himself with plans for quarantine, but besides that, he believes that “pertinent information is scattered” and hard to find on Trinity’s website. 

Dale, in fact, allows that while she believes that her tutor and disability officer have “gone above and beyond” to help her personally settle in during isolation, she feels “far less like [her] needs as a student in isolation have even been considered, much less taken care of” from the administration as a whole. 

Immediately upon her arrival, Dale realised how little Trinity had notified her of what to prepare for, and she endured a difficult process trying to find her flat alongside other international students who had been dropped off by the bus service for international students from Dublin Airport. 

She noted that not only did she feel unprepared and disoriented by the process to obtain keys for her accommodation, but “Trinity did little to actually ensure social distancing guidelines were met, despite asking that we restrict our movement”.

Craige, too, availed of the bus service from the airport upon arrival, which was in place for all international students to Ireland to ensure direct conveyance to their accommodation. Although she reports a generally positive experience with the service, she allows that she wishes the signage at the airport had been more clear, because she “was looking around and there was no one in a vest” until she finally decided to retrace her steps and request personal assistance.

However, Dale noticed that the point of providing a bus service was “uncertain as it seemed to make a potential spread of Covid far more likely”. 

Upon arrival to Ireland, students coming from varying countries and headed toward universities across the country were all filtered onto the same buses, so in addition to expressing discontent that she had to wait an hour and a half for a bus ride upon arrival, Dale questioned the use of the communal transportation as opposed to a standard taxi ride. 

When dealing with the experience of quarantine itself, students may have vast range among their personal responses to isolation, both physically and emotionally. 

Both Desjardins and Craige pointed out the benefit of having additional time to complete personal projects, with Craige deeming it time to “invent tasks for yourself to keep busy” such as stocking up on supplies and organising her living space. Desjardins admits that “at times it has been rather boring, but that’s to be expected”.

Desjardins has had prior experience with isolation. As he stayed in Dublin late into the summer while residing in Trinity Hall, he made the decision to self-isolate after participating in the highly-attended Black Lives Matter protests in June, and he allows that “having that previous experience and knowledge of what the time would be like made the adjustment easier” for his current period of restricted movement. 

Still, even as he appreciates the time that allows him to work on personal projects and prepare for the upcoming academic year, “there have been days that have taken a toll on [his] mental health”, as self-isolation, he said, can be “profoundly lonely”. Desjardins cited the support network from his family, friends, and partner as helping him endure isolation a great deal more easily.

Dale, too, mentioned her thankfulness for a “loving support system” composed of family and friends both at home and in Dublin that have helped her through isolation. 

She noted that returning to living alone after nearly six months in her family home felt “like a return to [her] first night of first year in Halls”, after the time she spent at home allowed her to spend time with family and appreciate her familiarity with the town she comes from. “Going from a house full of family members and living down the road from my friends, to a room on a floor with absolutely no one else” made her feel “completely deserted” compared to what she had grown used to. 

Although she remains confident in her mental state and sure that her support system from afar will allow her to successfully emerge from quarantine, she allows that the sudden lack of freedom has caused her to grow increasingly frustrated “to the point where it has definitely impacted [her] mood, at least”.

Craige, on the other hand, grew so used to the prospect of only seeing friends and family by virtual means this summer that she felt entirely prepared for her period of quarantine. Indeed, she even believes that she felt more isolated while at home because “although I was with my family, I was away from all my friends”.

She added that being in the same time zone as all her friends from College again has been a significant mood booster. Of course, even while at home in Texas, most of her family members already live at least 2000 miles away from her, so she admits that she is “used to being away from family”. Therefore, the idea of being relatively close to friends again, “even if we can’t be together”, has pushed her through quarantine. 

Regardless of individual emotional effects that isolation might have, international students arriving to live in shared spaces with other students who have also arrived from varying places will inevitably run the risk of contracting Covid-19, even as efforts to maintain restricted periods are meant to limit this risk.

Desjardins said that the fear of contracting the virus has “been at the back of [his] mind for a while”, especially given that both of his parents contracted it, and he expresses a specific wariness of asymptomatic carriers. However, he believes that “time has quelled those fears”.

He and his flatmates in Botany Bay hope to take part in Trinity’s pilot program to voluntarily and incrementally test and report residents of campus accommodation for Covid-19.

During her quarantine period, as she was entirely alone, Dale did not initially feel worried about contracting the virus, but she noted that she heard that “someone on campus had contracted it and was kicked out of their accommodation”. Since hearing this news, she became slightly more on-edge about testing positive for the virus at any time throughout her isolation.

However, Craige admitted that although there is a risk, she will not let herself worry too much about contracting Covid-19. “When you live with people it is kind of inevitable” that if one person were to contract the virus, the rest in the shared living space are at risk themselves, but she trusts that for the most part, students will make the right choices and handle themselves in a way that they and their peers are safe from contracting Covid-19. 

“All you can do is limit who you see, who you spend time with, the places you go. I feel that it’s very individualistic…all I can do is to focus on myself and do the right thing for myself and the people I live with.” 

Audrey Brown

Audrey Brown is a Senior Fresher English Studies student, and the Deputy News Editor of Trinity News.