Survival Guide

The less than glamourous life of an international student

Upon finishing high school at eighteen, Ivan Chafardeth was determined to go straight into University. With the declining rate of Venezuelan high school students jumping into a third level programme, this in itself would have been an achievement.
Criminal activity and casual violence had become an accepted reality for the teenagers in his neighbourhood. It isn’t a surprise that most inevitably find themselves trapped in social circles that encourage this negative behaviour. Ivan’s family feared that as soon as Ivan became independent, he might be persuaded into joining one of the many gangs that terrorised the hectic inner city streets. Desperate to give him the best opportunity in life, an aunt, who had already been living in the outskirts of Dublin for over two years, suggested coming here to study.
Studying abroad is a dream often pursued and glamorized by most young people, but for a juvenile Ivan, who already had his mind set on a university in Caracas, it’s a reality he never planned for. Just like the many entrances into Dublin City University, Ivan’s path to higher education wasn’t as quick and easy as he had expected.
As if getting ready to tell a joke, Ivan grinned and crossed his legs, brushing invisible dirt off his grey skinny jeans and continued talking about how reluctant he was to leave the life he loved. With him he had brought very little English and no knowledge about the European educational system. Unknown to him, he still had a language, financial and cultural barrier to overcome.
He spent five years learning English grammar in high school but he was never made use it. Even when he enrolled in a language school in Dublin, he soon came to realise that when you’re a foreign student studying English, you’re bound to be surrounded by other foreign students. Most of them will conversate with each other in their native tongue, which actually makes it harder to learn English outside of the classroom. It wasn’t until he landed a job as a live-in au-pair for 7 months that he started to gain the fluency he required. He was earning money and gaining knowledge so he couldn’t complain.
When asked which country he prefered, he paused and looked left, choosing his words carefully. “The experience of living in Ireland has been amazing. I enjoy every single second and obviously the situation back home is not very good.” He hesitated, trying not to linger on the topic too long. He quickly continued, “It’s very bad, there’s no food, people have to queue to buy any kind of products.” He then smiles, clearly ready to move on to a different topic. The conversation changes to how liberal Ireland has made him considering he comes from a conservative background.
Homesickness is something Ivan has only began to struggle with. He explained that when he first arrived, he was too young to feel homesick, “I was just 18 years old. So I was enjoying all the freedom of being alone and stuff.” At that time, his connection to home was still strong, “I have so many responsibilities and I live with an Irish student, it’s just so hard to be stressing and not to have anyone there to support you.”
After spending so long working towards becoming a full-time student, Ivan feels a bit annoyed. He explains that since Irish universities charge non-EU students three times as much as EU students, they should include additional facilities into every university to help foreign students adjust better.
Foreign students know very little about their rights on a student visa, and even having a staff member assigned the role of providing information would be beneficial, he argued. He thinks people often forget that foreign students are inclined to suffer from loneliness and are more likely to be excluded in classes. Even something as simple as a regular language exchange night could help unite Irish students and foreign students.
Ivan checks his watch and arranges his notes on coding. In less than an hour, he’ll be sitting a class test. He opens the brown buckle of his suede bag and puts the notes in. When asked about where he’d like to see himself in the future, he said that he hopes that all the work he’s put into getting an education is worth it. He hopes to land a job working for a global company such as Facebook or Google and now, when he imagines his future, it’s in Ireland.