Living away from home during the pandemic

Greta Salti details the ups and downs of moving to a new country in the midst of Covid-19

The choice to leave home and study abroad is accompanied by mixed feelings of fear and anticipation. Generations of young international students have experienced the emotional rollercoaster that accompanies studying abroad, from the excitement and relief of getting a formal offer, to the troublesome search for accommodation. This year, leaving one’s own country and buying a one-way plane ticket to Dublin required an extra dose of courage, as the global pandemic has added various layers of uncertainty to the already frightening adventure of relocating in a new country. 

My journey as an international student at Trinity has only just begun, but it is already studded with changes and uncertain variables. When I bought my plane ticket from Milan to Dublin, just a little more than a month ago, Italy was a Green List country and I thus felt reasonably safe in planning my travel without considering the mandatory two weeks of quarantine. A few days before the much-anticipated day of departure, I got the unsettling news that a new Green List had been drawn up, and my home country was not on it. Along with a feeling of slight worry for my friends and family, whom I was leaving in a situation of increasing risk, I was forced to rethink my travel plans. 

“What was the point of relocating to Dublin, if I might have to attend all my classes from my laptop in the uncomfortable solitude of my new room?”

I had been dreaming of landing in Ireland for weeks. I was looking forward to starting the semester in the wonderful Hogwarts-like campus and meeting lots of interesting people from all over the world who likely shared my mindset and interests (I even had a list of the clubs and societies I intended to join!). Suddenly, I was asking myself whether getting on that plane was a good idea at all.  Since the Covid-19 restrictions in Ireland were getting tighter, it was likely that lectures would be moved partially, or even totally, online. What was the point of relocating to Dublin, if I might have to attend all my classes from my laptop in the uncomfortable solitude of my new room? 

A part of me still wanted to move to Dublin. I was hopeful that, even in these unprecedented circumstances, I would still be able to enjoy my time abroad, and I was looking forward to starting this new chapter of my life. However, another part of me was panicking. Would I end up alone and friendless in a foreign city? What would happen if I got sick so far away from home? How would isolation affect my mental health? After a few days of mental struggle, the curiosity and excitement for a new adventure prevailed. I was indeed going to leave the comfort of my home for a new life of which many essential details remained unknown. 

“My first experience of Dublin was unusual, as all I could see of the city was the street and the houses below my window.”

My first experience of Dublin was unusual, as all I could see of the city was the street and the houses below my window. Having already experienced four months of lockdown back in Italy at the beginning of the pandemic, I expected to be somehow prepared for the 14 days of quarantine. It turned out, however, that this time I had to face some new problems that I, quite naïvely, had not considered. This time, I was going through isolation alone, not with my family, and the space at my disposition was considerably reduced compared to my parent’s apartment. The first days stuck in my room were tough and I had to face what may be seen as very basic problems, but they had a large impact. I realised I had no Irish plug adapter, no shampoo and no toilet paper. Speaking on the phone with the receptionist of my accommodation proved more difficult than I expected, as I realised how different the spoken Irish accent is from the pre-recorded dialogues on my IELTS exam. 

“The prolonged exposure to my computer was causing me eyesore and headaches.”

I was also starting to understand how deeply we rely on human interaction in our daily life, and how important the small things we take for granted are, such as a breakfast with friends or the possibility to print an article you need to study. I knew that leaving my home country at such a risky time meant sacrificing many things on which my wellbeing relies on. I regularly practice sport, mainly running and sailing, and I knew my friends back home were still training and organising regattas on the lake under the Italian sun. I have a few childhood friends who just moved to the UK and it was frustrating to know that I would be unable to visit them, even though I was so close to them. I was homesick, and the lack of physical activity was starting to impact my mental health and sleeping pattern. My anxiety worsened and, without wearing my body out with walks and exercise, I had serious difficulties falling asleep at night. Adding to this, the prolonged exposure to my computer was causing me eyesore and headaches. 

The beginning of orientation week, however, helped me see the bright side of the whole situation. I attended workshops and my program induction on Zoom, and I was finally able to see the faces of my fellow master students. A workshop dedicated to getting to know each other gave us the possibility to vent about our difficulties and I was relieved to see that I was not the only one in this situation. I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of my classmates were international students as well and that many of them, like me, were still quarantined and could not explore Dublin. The simple fact that I was not the only one struggling to understand how to enrol in modules online gave me a sudden sense of relief. 

I started talking with my classmates regularly on WhatsApp and emails, and I found that many had similar doubts concerning academic activity and the organisation of Michaelmas Term. We started to cooperate to solve the small problems that come with online classes and the big ones that accompany the start of a new life abroad. It turned out that I was not alone, after all. I became calmer and more focused. The street below my window was becoming familiar, and I realised I was getting fond of Dublin just by looking at that small portion of it. I liked how clean the air was when I opened my window and I also started to understand the Irish accent of the receptionist who delivered me my food. 

Now my quarantine has almost come to an end and I am once again excited to start exploring the city and see what this semester has to offer. I know there will still be unexpected turns in this journey, and that it might not all look as I imagined it a few months ago, but it’s a new adventure and one that I decided to embark on. I know that, from a certain point of view, this is not the easiest road. I know that I, and many of my peers along with me, will feel that something is being stolen from our youth by this global calamity and that it is our right as young people to live our university years to the fullest. On the other hand, at what other time than our early twenties would we be able to go through a global calamity and still want to embark on an adventure, miles away from home? What better time than our early twenties to go through an unexpected situation and still be able to find the energy to think of new ways to enjoy this and invent creative solutions to unseen problems? It may not be the easiest of times, but we’re in the right place at the right time to still make it our own, and have a chance to call it the time of our life.