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'I didn't want to put anyone at risk': International students staying in Ireland celebrate Christmas far from home

International students have been faced with the choice of travelling home for Christmas or staying in Ireland far from their families.

Image: Shutterstock/Derick Hudson

EVERY CHRISTMAS, TENS of thousands of students studying abroad travel around the world to visit their families and spending time at home in the break between semesters.

In colleges and universities around Ireland, international students have faced a choice this year between returning home for the break or staying put and spending the holiday far from home.

For those who have chosen to stay, the desire to avoid unnecessary risk has been at the top of their priorities.

“I’ve not gone back for Christmas in the past because of timing with college and the chaos of going home to New York during Christmas as it’s always a bit crazy, but this is the first year where I think it’s genuinely the best decision because I don’t want to put anyone at risk,” said student Maeve Harris, speaking to TheJournal.ie.

Harris is a student at Trinity College Dublin, where she studies English. Her family are in New York, which she calls home, but she chose to stay in Ireland for Christmas because of the risk posed by Covid-19 and the limited interactions she could have with her family even if she did return to New York.

shutterstock_1251160852 Christmas in New York City Source: Shutterstock/FashionStock.com

“Because both America and Ireland are in chaos with Covid-19, I didn’t want to put any of my family members or friends on either side at risk, especially because I wouldn’t get the chance to see a lot of the people I would want to see if I went home, like my grandparents who are cocooning or my stepmom who just had surgery,” she said.

Harris tested positive for Covid-19 in the summer after she had returned to Ireland, which meant she had to isolate twice – once to restrict her movements after she travelled from the US to Ireland, and again to quarantine when she had the virus, so she felt reluctant to travel and face further weeks of isolating.

“After I moved away for college, my family moved into an apartment because there are no kids at home anymore, so if I did go home, I would not only have to isolate for two weeks out of the three weeks I would be home, which would be only a week of freedom, but then we would all be in very close quarters, which is basically a recipe for disaster.”

In Galway, Erasmus student Loïc Le Henaff decided against returning to his home in France since he first received his place on the exchange. 

Le Henaff is studying literature, history and French translation in NUI Galway this year under the Erasmus programme, and he’ll be celebrating Christmas in Ireland.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Le Henaff said: “Since the coronavirus outbreak and my nomination for the Erasmus program, I decided not to come back to France if the situation didn’t get any better, like finding a vaccine.”

“I didn’t want to risk not coming back to Ireland,” Le Henaff said.

“However, I thought the situation in Ireland would have been better, to be honest. Before coming here, the number of cases was low in comparison to France.”

When the Irish government announced the Level Five restrictions, I really thought about coming back home.

“But I stayed and I see no reason to come back home. Even if I’m missing friends and family, I couldn’t spend Christmas with them anyway.”

shutterstock_747282184 Toulouse, France Source: Shutterstock/A G Baxter

Additionally, there were no direct flights available between Dublin and Le Henaff’s hometown of Toulouse.

“I didn’t want to spend too much money to travel back and forth since I already have a student loan for the accommodation here.”

Similarly, international student Andy Tran decided that the financial cost of travelling home to the States, coupled with Covid-19 and other factors, made staying in Ireland the right choice.

“I came to my decision over the summer. I sat down with my parents and essentially I told them that I wanted to stay in Dublin over Christmas,” Tran, who studies political science and European studies in Trinity College Dublin, told TheJournal.ie.

“The first reason is money. Obviously, with everything going on right now it’s costing a lot of money, so it would just be cheaper to not fly back and forth,” he said.

“The second thing is safety. At the time America was not doing the best with Covid-19, and it was over the summer, so Ireland had virtually no cases. I felt it was safer to stay in Ireland than going back to the States.

Although cases are picking up now, I still feel the same way. I’d rather be here than in the States for safety reasons.”

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On top of money and safety, Tran’s family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, so he felt he wouldn’t be missing out on any particular events by not travelling back.

It’s also his last year in Ireland, so he wanted to to stay and enjoy it “as much as possible”.

“It would be easier with my exam schedule to stay here, have access to the library, and I don’t have to worry about trying to fly and also do exams,” Tran said.

shutterstock_1035617257 Trinity College Dublin Source: Shutterstock/Remizov

For all three students, digital platforms will be kept close to hand over the break to stay in touch with friends and family at home as they make alternative arrangements in Ireland.

“I send my family photos of things I do, so if I’ve made a really nice dinner or I’m out with a friend, I’ll send them photos of that,” Tran said, who will be working during the break on two assignments that are due and studying for upcoming exams in January.

“I try to call them once a week and update them on everything.”

Le Henaff has tentative plans to spend Christmas in Cork with a friend, and said he calls his mom and his grandparents regularly to stay in touch, while Harris is celebrating Christmas with her best friend’s family in Navan, Meath.

“I spent Christmas with them last year and they’re fantastic. I’m very excited to be with them again because I know her whole family and they’re absolutely class,” Harris said.

“I feel very lucky not to be spending Christmas on my own and to be able to be in a home with a family to celebrate.”

“I’ve also made sure to send – not that gifts are important – but I bought locally in New York and got gifts delivered to my family, so I’m still thinking of them from far away.”

About the author:

Lauren Boland

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