Dublin has been no stranger to hosting representatives from the European Union in recent years – just ask the Finance Minister Michael Noonan – but a different cohort of continental visitors that stay a little longer and enjoy a more better welcome are Erasmus students.
Established in 1987, this academic exchange programme has perfectly dovetailed with the expansion of the European Union and the ability to travel freely within its continental borders. With over 4,000 scholarly institutions signed up to participate in the scheme, the list of possible destinations is a long one. Dublin – an English speaking capital city – is a popular choice amongst travellers. Residents of our city must wonder what those visiting make of us; well why don’t we find out.
Valentijn de Jongh (24) is a civil law student from Leiden, The Netherlands and he chose to spend his academic sojourn at Trinity College Dublin because he visited the campus in his teenage years. When asked what his initial impressions of Dublin were, two main points sprang to mind, “One thing that has surprised me is the weather; it is not too bad! Also, sometimes the English spoken by the lecturers and the students is a little different and difficult to comprehend.”
Kristie de Jong (19) – a Dutch student studying International Communication and Media in Utrecht, The Netherlands – initially didn’t plan on visiting Dublin. “To be honest, I chose Dublin for a simple reason. I actually wanted to go to London as it is an English-speaking capital city, but because my home university didn’t have any partnerships with colleges there, I chose the next best option, Dublin and the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).”
Kristie isn’t regretting her decision though, and she has taken a particular fancy to one of Ireland’s core traditions. “I really like the live music in the pubs; at home you don’t really have that. To just go into a pub you want and listen to the live music all night, that is really great. I even know some of the Irish songs now!”
Martin De Neuville (21) is a Belgian student enrolled on a mechanical engineering course in the Université Catholique de Louvain. Like Valentijn, he is also studying at Trinity College and both are involved with the college’s hockey team this season. The chance to play hockey in a different environment was a factor in Martin’s choice, but he has found the work/sport balance a little unfamiliar here. “The way of teaching is quite different to what I’m used to. The majority of lectures here are mandatory and there is not a lot of continuous assessment, so almost of the grades depend on the exams.”
Accommodation and the rise in rent prices has been a talking point in Irish society in the last 2-3 years and it is a problem that Erasmus students are not immune to, with both Kristie and Martin having to deal with the fallout. “It’s so expensive! To live in my room of 8m2, I have to pay around €170, which is insane!” Kristie said.
Martin added, “Accommodation is a terrible problem here in Dublin. I’m actually still looking for something closer to the city centre. I really hated my first few weeks here when I was running around to attend room visitations. I’ve seen so many crap places for an exorbitant price. It should really be regulated”.
The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) is a volunteer-based organisation that tries to bring together all of the international students in a given university/city to try and make their exchange programme as enjoyable as possible. The ESN Dublin team are based in UCD and have organised events this semester including trips to Belfast, Kerry and Glendalough, as well as an international dinner and an end of semester Gala night.
A recent QS Best Student Cities survey placed Dublin as 32nd on the list of top places to study in the world, a drop of 17 places from the corresponding survey done 12 months ago.
When asked what complaints they often receive from Erasmus students, the ESN Dublin team were in unison when they stated that the public transport system and the weather were the main issues that left visitors feeling aggrieved.
Martin himself has not been impressed with the transport network in Dublin, “The public transport is far behind other European capitals. It’s very expensive and the traffic is so dense that you lose a considerable amount of time.”
With the debate raging on about how Irish students represent themselves whilst abroad – either on J1 visas in America or during their summer holidays – should the Erasmus programme be promoted more in Irish colleges to encourage more people to take this academic avenue to travel?
The ESN Dublin team’s webmaster Sean Judge thinks so, “I myself went abroad and loved it. It gave me the chance to meet new people, see new places and get a lot of new stories as a result.”
So if any future Erasmus students are mulling over the possibility of visiting Dublin or indeed Ireland, these final words of advice come from ESN Dublin’s President Aoife Sands. “Try your best to get your accommodation sorted before coming to Ireland, look into setting up an Irish bank account if your currency is different, and bring an umbrella!”