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A Better Life Away

Why are increasing numbers of Irish students are choosing to move away from home to study.

by Maria Giulia Lipparoni

Students moving to a different country to study university level courses, specifically in English, has been a long-established method for people all over Europe, and the World.

But recently, more Irish students are starting to travel abroad to study courses taught in English.

“It recently became a more frequent ‘trend’ for Irish students to travel abroad,” says Aoife Cooney who works with Erasmus+ National Agency in Ireland. In 2020 roughly 2000 Irish students travelled to countries abroad to study. “This may seem low when comparing it to Italy’s 60 thousand students” she continues, the Covid-19 virus also affected the low numbers as 3400 Irish students went abroad with Erasmus + in 2017

Erasmus + is one of the Irish students’ main pathways and organizations to source courses and study abroad. Their website states that they are “EU’s programme to support education, training, youth and sport”. Erasmus + offers mobility opportunities in different sectors, but an extremely successful sector has been higher education.

“I moved to Italy and met more English-speaking people than I meet in Dublin” jokes Rebecca, who moved to Italy with Erasmus+ to study architecture – at Sapienza in Rome – in English for a year at the start of August 2022. Rebecca was surprised to be greeted by a great number of international students, a vast majority from the United States and Germany.

According to a statistics sheet provided by Erasmus +, France, Spain and Germany are the top 3 host countries when it comes to Irish students. In 2017 over 3,400 students moved to France to study abroad, which showed an 11.31% increase compared to the previous three years.

The Republic of Ireland is home to the 98th best University in the world, which according to “Top Universities” is Trinity College Dublin. TCD offers more than 240 courses, and Dublin alone holds numerous outstanding Universities, with more around the Republic.

So, what is it that is making Irish students want to abandon their home country in order to study abroad.  

Elizabeth Power, who moved to Amsterdam in September 2022, speaks very highly of her time abroad. Elizabeth, who prefers to be called ‘Beth’ studies Sociology at the University of Amsterdam. Beth moved to Amsterdam after failing her first year in Chemical Science at Dublin City University.

“I felt like Ireland just wasn’t made for me, and I think that feeling partially affected my studies.”  Beth explains that she struggled to keep up with the fast-paced work and school life that is required when living in Ireland.

“I was working 3 days a week, going to college 4 days, the cost of living in Ireland is so high that I was barely making ends meet”.  Just like Beth, 8/10 students in a survey stated that working was a requirement for them, even when in college, to stay afloat in Ireland.

Rebecca accompanies Beth in her judgement “Ireland’s costs are the reason I decided to move to Italy”.  She explains that whilst Ireland is her home, she couldn’t enjoy a single thing because all she could think about was the money she was spending. “My first reason was rent. Rent in Italy is cheaper than in Dublin, with the cost of living going up I was persuaded into moving there”.  According to Numbeo, a website that analyses the cost of living in all the countries around the world, rent in Italy is 53.47% lower than in Ireland, with monthly costs of nearly €200 cheaper in Italy. In the Netherlands the average cost of living is only slightly cheaper than Ireland by 1.20% average, however, rent itself is 23.23% lower than in Ireland. Beth says that although the cost of living is horrible, that wasn’t her only reason.

“I wanted to experience something different, something I wasn’t used to.” She grew up in Ireland and never really left the country except for an occasional holiday but Beth felt secluded to a narrow mindset that she wanted to escape. While wanting to face new experiences and opinions, Beth was also scared. She reminisces about the times before she moved, with no idea about how her journey would end.

“I didn’t know where I was going to live until a month before, I never lived alone before, I’ve always been with my parents, how could I possibly make this? I left because I just couldn’t take it anymore, I needed a change and I needed to mature, this decision was the best I’ve ever made.”

She says that leaving the country she grew up in taught her more about herself. By leaving home and everything she knew, she also left her insecurities and troubled past and started anew in a country where no one knew her.

Unlike Beth, Rebecca was glad to have a bit of similarity with her in a completely different crowd.

“I didn’t necessarily miss home, my lifestyle is better here in Italy.” Rebecca clarifies that she felt a sense of familiarity with knowing similar people, or at least speaking the same language as her. She notes that she met two Irish people who had also moved at the same time as her that helped her settle in. “Even though I live in a big city I still feel like I can take a minute to breathe, I felt like I was rushing to get everywhere back home”.

Ultimately, her choice was based on the high cost of studying in Ireland and gaining new experience and insights in her future work field, while getting to encounter new people, food, and views. “Rent was getting too hard to keep up with as a student, Italy is a great spot for architecture which worked in my favour, and no one would say no to a good pizza”.

And for Beth? Working started becoming too much when it led to no compensation, and studying in Ireland wasn’t ideal, especially when her daily commute consisted of two buses to get to university. Amsterdam allowed her to come across new people and new ideas, and a new self, who wasn’t worried about what the people around her would think and how it would affect her. “It started taking me 20 minutes to get anywhere I wanted, I spent more time focusing on myself and improved my school life”.

Both girls still work in the countries they live in, yet they can manage their time more efficiently to allow them to live a life that doesn’t consist of just work and college. They chose to study abroad to live differently and see if it would benefit them. Which it did.

“Travelling can change lives in so many ways and doing it when you’re young and studying is better than the risk of never experiencing it,” concludes Rebecca.

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