International students face more quarantine but report better understanding of their mental health

While Trinity has announced its continuation of online classes, many international students elected to return to accommodation in Dublin even in face of travel restrictions

Many international students have elected to return to Trinity to complete the academic year in Ireland despite a lack of physical classes.

Some students, however, report having delayed return times in response to Ireland reaching the highest Covid-19 infection rate in Europe during January.

A Senior Fresh history student living in New York, Daragh McMahon, reported that he noticed the upward trend in cases in Ireland early enough to have moved his return flight back by a month, delaying his return until February 20. 

“I pretty much expected our second semester to some extent to be online,” McMahon remarked. Therefore, after announcements that all of his classes would be conducted remotely, the move online provided him with more “flexibility” as to when he chose to return to Dublin. 

Erin Buckley, a Senior Fresh student from Texas, has already returned to her accommodation in Ireland, but chose to delay her travel plans for a week “because of issues [she] had with the airports I was connecting through”. Her connecting flight in Amsterdam required her to provide a negative-testing rapid Covid-19 test within four hours of departure, in addition to the negative PCR test already required upon entry to Ireland.

In January, the Irish government announced that all international travellers to the country would be required to provide evidence of a negative Covid-19 test within 72 hours of travel.

However, specifications about whether the 72-hour mark fell before one’s departure from the country of origin or arrival in Ireland were unclear, and in fact, one of Buckley’s flatmates “got turned around at the airport in the States because her test was within 72 hours of departure, not arrival, so she had to rebook and get another test”.

Buckley, too, reported struggling with the Covid-19 test requirement: “Finding a testing facility that gave results in time was difficult” because most facilities require at least 24 hours to process results, which could place stress on students dealing with time-zone changes and other challenges. She herself admitted that she had to pay extra for the test in order to rush results in time for her flight. 

Of course, while the new requirements for international travellers cause stress prior to departure, most students agree that the new mandates are beneficial in an effort to curb the spread of Covid-19. 

McMahon stated: “I honestly feel that this was an appropriate move”, especially “with the advent of new strains and such”. 

He is able to more easily procure tests because, being a Dual BA student who lives close to the Columbia University campus, he is offered free Covid-19 testing as a Columbia student. He acknowledged that, as he understands that this luxury is probably not available for most international students, he feels “especially fortunate for being a Dual BA student from New York”. 

Meredith Silfen, a Trinity student living in New York, however, elected not to return to Dublin for the semester, even though she admitted that she “was excited to hear that incoming students had to present a Covid-19 test”, and she “believe[s] that this rule should have been implemented for those flying into Ireland in the fall” as well. 

Regardless of what she saw as mandates changing for the better, she still chose to stay home for the second semester because “the combination of the spiraling pandemic and the lack of in person classes made the idea of return entirely unappealing”. 

“Although it would have been tempting had Trinity considered in person or hybrid class, realistically this would be impossible, and dangerous for the student body, faculty, and the public”, continued Silfen. 

Aidan Desjardins, who lives in campus accommodation, reported having planned to remain in Dublin for the holiday period, which would have erased any issues regarding the need to quarantine or provide negative Covid-19 tests, but ultimately, he returned home to Germany for a week.

Although he, too, will be taking classes entirely online for the semester, he cited having access to Trinity library resources as well as the desire to be in Ireland while he sat Schols examinations as being key in determining his return to Dublin.

“Given that this was the fourth or fifth time I’ve had to quarantine”, he added, “it has gotten a lot easier”. 

Generally, international students who have travelled between their home countries and Ireland for college have experienced several periods of self-isolation between last March and this winter. 

Buckley remembers having sat a similar quarantine in her accommodation of Kavanagh Court in September.

However, between last term and this term, she noted that Kavanagh Court determined three specific arrival dates before the start of the semester: “I moved in and quarantined before classes even started, so it felt a lot more difficult to fill the time”.

“Now with classes during my quarantine, it helps to pass the time better”, she continued.

Similarly, Desjardins mentioned that, seeing as most of the time he spent in quarantine in Dublin was spent “panicking over exams”, the time passed by more quickly. 

Desjardins stated that, although he elected to return to Dublin in time for exams and the beginning of the second semester, he does find it “a lot harder to justify this year’s €30,000 price tag”. He maintained that, for him, the move online for a second semester straight was “extremely frustrating”. 

In terms of mental health, he reported to have “seriously struggled” during the second lockdown in Ireland, but since the move to the current, third lockdown, “things have been better”.

He applauded the Student Counselling Service, which he claims to “deserve more support for the amount of work they do”, as well as citing support from his family and friends, as being key in helping him maintain mental stability throughout periods of lockdown and quarantine. 

Buckley, who is still in her quarantine period, similarly reported having “learned how to manage” her mental health better and to “pinpoint why I feel the way I do”. 

She noted the situation in Ireland itself as seeming “much more serious” in regard to adhering to lockdown measures, which she is “definitely not complaining about”. 

Both McMahon and Silfen, while they are currently home with family, reported struggling mentally at the onset of the semester.

“Even though I’ve surrounded myself with family while being back home, I cannot help but feel somewhat isolated in a remote learning environment”, said McMahon. 

“Most of my friends are back in Dublin, and most of my local friends are back at their college elsewhere, so there is some degree of loneliness that is tied with online learning from home”.

Like Desjardins, McMahon cited the long-distance support of friends as being a source of motivation, bringing with it “the reassurance that I’ll see them again later in the semester”.

However, he has struggled with motivation to perform his schoolwork from home: he finds that “the lack of separation between [his] work and home environment can sometimes result in a lack of motivation or focus on [his] studies”.  

Similarly, Silfen, who also spent the entirety of her first term at home, reported that “it is strange to be one of the only students I know taking classes in EST, having to wake up and sleep at strange hours”. 

“I have certainly struggled with the motivation to complete my work, or listen to an online lecture, simply because it does not seem as ‘real’ or ‘tangible’ compared to in person class,” she continued. 

She sourced much motivation to perform schoolwork in the past from meeting with friends in a public space to complete her assignments, but “trying to replicate this scenario online after hours of Zoom class and lectures often sounds more tiring than appealing”. 

In general, however, although most students expressed chagrin at having to remain online for the second semester in a row, they believe that the decision was necessary and expected. 

While international students are forced to change travel plans and sit in self-isolation, Silfen maintains that “the severity of the pandemic definitely justifies an entirely online semester”, and although she will remain in New York for the term, she believes it was “the right call”. 

Audrey Brown

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