Ireland might be a small country, but our universities, institutes of technologies and colleges are incredibly diverse.

Every year, tens of thousands of students from over 130 countries come here to study. Dublin, home to about 1.2 million people – and growing – is the destination of choice for the majority.

Drawn by the city’s high-quality education offering and the possibility of securing a part-time job in one of the major tech firms with a Dublin base, including Google and Amazon. Students who come here consistently say that the city is very friendly and welcoming. To top it off, Ireland is English-speaking (and soon will be the only English-speaking country in the European Union). Many come through Erasmus, an enormously popular EU-funded exchange programme which gives students the change to study or intern abroad for up to 12 months.

I wanted to give something back and make sure that other students had as good an Erasmus experience as I did

Today, international students are making a big mark across Dublin’s campuses, with Indian student societies organising events such as Holi, Chinese students bringing their unique New Year festivities to their Irish classmates and African students, among others, giving Irish universities and colleges a flavour of their diversity. On top of this, there are a number of international student societies which serve as umbrella groups for people from all four corners of the globe. All of these societies are a source of support for newly-arrived students, but they’re also a way for international students to make new Irish friends.

We spoke to two students who are involved in international student societies about what visitors and newcomers to Ireland can expect.

 

Pierre Texier, Erasmus Student Network, Maynooth University
Pierre Texier was born in Dublin to an Irish mother and a French father, moving to France with his family when he was nine, and returning when he was 18 to study at Maynooth University. He’s now in his final year of a bachelor of arts degree, studying Spanish and anthropology.

“I went on Erasmus for a year to Alicante, Spain,” he says. “The Erasmus Student Network (ESN) there organised events and trips for students to meet each other and discover Spain, and it really helped us. So, when I came back to Ireland, I wanted to give something back and make sure that other students had as good an Erasmus experience as I did.”

They really like it here in Maynooth; even though it’s only a small town, it is very accessible to Dublin, which is such a fun city

The ESN in Ireland has branches in Maynooth University, University College Dublin, Dublin City University and Dundalk IT. But, as Texier explains, the society isn’t just for European students. “We meet students from all around the world. Most of the organising committee are Irish students who went abroad and came back, although we do have an Erasmus representative and international representative from outside of Europe. This year, we have a lot of Americans and Germans, as well as some from Germany, Spain, France, Slovenia, India, China, Canada and Japan.”

ESN Maynooth (formerly known as the Maynooth University International Society) has organised trips to Belfast and Kerry – a world-famous tourist destination about four hours’ drive from Dublin – and it regularly holds social nights and fundraisers. “Irish students come to these events to meet people from all over the world, and the international students all say that Irish people are very friendly and welcoming,” says Texier. “They really like it here in Maynooth; even though it’s only a small town, it is very accessible to Dublin, which is such a fun city. International students also like the variety of clubs and societies on offer at Maynooth, and they tell us that it is easy to make friends here.”

ESN members have access to a range of student discounts including cheaper Ryanair flights, and they’re part of a network of over 500 organisations across Europe. See esn.org

 

Tia Zhang, Chinese Society, Trinity College Dublin
Tia Zhang came to Ireland for the first time as a teenager and spent three years in secondary school before entering Trinity College. She’s now in her second year of a management science and information systems studies degree and is president of the Chinese society, which has over 350 members.

Here they’re about socialising and making new friends, whereas in China it’s more about learning a particular skill

“We run events to help Chinese students integrate into Irish culture”, Zhang explains. “We promote Chinese culture around campus. We organise the mid-autumn festival as well as Chinese New Year, which are events where Chinese internationals can celebrate traditional events together with Irish students. We’ve also organised a successful trip to Kerry. Essentially, we are a bridge between Chinese and Irish cultures. We provide authentic Chinese snacks at our events and have tea tastings and Chinese boards as well as movie nights, sometimes in collaboration with other societies such as AnimationSoc – recently, we screened ‘The Rise of the Monkey King’.”

Zhang says that the language barrier can be a challenge for international students, but the society organises Mandarin and other dialect classes, where Chinese students can volunteer and prepare a presentation on the language of their region to teach Irish students a little more. And, of course, if Chinese students ever do feel down about their English-speaking ability, the society offers a network of support and advice from their fellow Chinese citizens. “That said, Chinese students tell me that Irish student societies are different from those in China,” says Zhang. “Here they’re about socialising and making new friends, whereas in China it’s more about learning a particular skill, such as piano in the Piano Society. When they come to these events in Ireland, they get to meet new people and expand their social circle.”

 

STUDENT SOCIETIES AROUND DUBLIN
If you come to Dublin, what sort of international student societies can you find? We’ve put together a selection of the main groups:

Dublin City University (DCU): African, Breaking Borders, Chinese, French, Indian, Islamic, International Relations, Japanese, Korea Society, Spanish, Sign Language.

Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT): Africa, Bollywood, CSSA (Chinese Students Scholars Association), ESS (Erasmus Student Society), Russian
Maynooth University: Afro-Caribbean, Deukema (German society), French, ESN (Erasmus Student Network) Maynooth, Mundo Latino (Spanish society).

Trinity College Dublin (TCD): Afro-Caribbean, Arabesque, Caledonian (Scottish), Chinese, French, Germanic, Hispanic, Indian, International Students, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Modern Languages Society, Russian, South East Asian Society.

University College Dublin (UCD): Arab, African, Chinese, Erasmus, French, German, Indian, International, Italian, Japanese, Malaysian, Russian.

Peter McGuire is a freelance features and news journalist. He also works a researcher and editor. He is a regular contributor to The Irish Times and the Huffington Post, and has also written for the Irish Examiner, Sunday Business Post and Irish Independent.

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