University of Limerick welcomes 3,000 international students from 100 countries each year and is renowned for an award winning student support programme.
The international student welcome programme each September is a key part of the student journey to the University and a key objective of the UL Global team is to ensure that the transition from home to Ireland is as smooth as possible.
While that is a well-honed practice in normal times, this year we had to reimagine the whole process… a number of times.
The annual welcome programme includes significant pre-departure communications, a buddy programme, airport welcome, seven-day university orientation including social and cultural events, coffee mornings and culminating in a welcome address from the University President followed by an evening of traditional music and dance.
Josephine Page, Director of UL Global said that “while this year is different, the students’ needs remain the central focus of our work. The Pie News commented ‘As coronavirus continues to dramatically reshape how higher education systems operate, smaller destinations such as Ireland are commanding attention for their approach to supporting international students at a time when others have been accused of allowing them to “fall through the cracks”’ .
“UL’s Academic Planning Group was set up to plan programme delivery and student life for the academic year 2020/2021 and at an early stage developed key principles which would guide UL in developing teaching and learning for the autumn semester.
“International students who were set to travel to Ireland for their studies had the breaks pulled sharply on their planning. These students and their families worried about international travel and what might happen during the planned time abroad, the uncertainty introduced an additional layer of anxiety to the decision making. While UL did not have all the detailed answers in early summer, the key principles were an important indicator of our intentions and helped to assuage some concerns around studying abroad.
“To help address some of the uncertainty around safe travel an International Students Arrival protocol was developed in partnership between the Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS). This sectoral protocol was developed to ensure the safe arrival of new and returning international students to Ireland for the new academic year.
“The protocol focussed on the student’s health and wellbeing before and after arrival in Ireland. Students were asked to show that they has no COVID-19 symptoms for 14 days prior to travel through daily health declarations.
“On arrival students were welcomed at the airport and transported directly to their accommodation where they undertook training on health and safety protocol for COVID-19. Accommodation was offered free of charge for the 14-day restricted movement period, to students staying in the student villages for the year. Transportation was organised at national level from Dublin Airport to all HEIs from August 20th to October 4th and continues at local level for any late arrivals.
All students received a welcome pack and a schedule of virtual events covering the 14 days of restricted movement. “Despite this not being exactly what was anticipated in their dream to study abroad, our international students remain resilient and positive.
“The whole of government approach to supporting international Students in Ireland has been very evident throughout this pandemic. The Department of Justice and Equality has worked to ensure that students’ visas were renewed automatically during the lockdown, the Department of Health continues to provide all COVID-19 related health care free of charge, a move which is warmly welcomed by our international students and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science’s work on the International Student Arrival protocol discussed above.
“It is our hope that this positive start to an academic year like no other will continue as everyone adapts to new ways of teaching, learning and living. The warm reception that Ireland and UL is famous for is still intact, and we have learned a new way to welcome international students that is both safe and maintains the human element,” Josephine concluded.
- Andrew Carey
Some student voices
Luyi Wu, an undergraduate student from China, talks about the buddy programme and her period of restricted movement at UL: 'During this period don't worry about boredom, because the university has a buddy programme, my buddy would often chat with me when she knows that I was in self-quarantine. She explained some school facilities for me which is really kind. Besides, the university also has an orientation week before the start of the semester. During this week, the university holds different activities and lectures, including orientation meetings to explain the timetables, etc. And especially some interesting events, such as cookery class, morning exercise and movie night. These activities were fascinating, let me know more about Ireland and UL, and helped me through the boring self-isolation time. Overall, studying at UL is one of the best experiences of my life.'
Neha Misri from India, MSc in Human Resource Management at the Kemmy Business School puts it very eloquently:
'I cannot thank UL enough for handling the international students’ arrival with such warmth, love and passion in these extraordinary times.'
Roshan Roy from India, joined UL to pursue a Master of Engineering in Mechatronics and said that: ‘Being a travel enthusiast, it was my dream to travel to Ireland and pursue my Masters’. The outspread of the pandemic was a huge turn back to my plans. But UL made sure that everything was done from their side to bring their prospective students to Ireland. On arrival at Dublin airport, the Greet & Transfer Service team sorted all students into groups and led us to the coaches going to respective universities without charging any fee for the transportation. UL had arranged quarantine accommodation for all international students. When we checked in with the accommodation office, they provided us with sim cards, face masks and other essentials. The two weeks of quarantine were well scheduled by UL with Virtual Tours, Quiz nights, Netflix Movie Nights and many other fun and interactive sessions to get started with university life.’
Trinidad Ricke Z is pictured with her mum before departing Chile for Ireland to study an MSc. Work & Organizational Psychology at the Kemmy Business School, University of Limerick: 'The process of travelling always brings a sense of anxiousness and anticipation of what’s to come, at least for me. It’s always a nice balance of happiness and excitement, mixed with a tinge of anxiety and worry. Now, traveling in the times of COVID-19 is a whole other matter. Never mind the constant mask-wearing, constant temperature checking, the constant awareness to new signage you have to follow or the fact that airports seem like ghost towns. It’s the actual realization of how much has changed for us that really hits home for me. The experience of moving to another country in a time of high uncertainty is a big deal and a tremendous challenge. Thankfully, with the help from UL global and the Campus Connect App they offered, it was a bit less of a solitary challenge. The way the university helped us get here, from the constant e-mail correspondence to the pick-up services were a god send for me, it made me feel a lot less alone in a time that was full of uncertainty and worry. Now that I’m settled in Ireland, even though the uncertainty hasn’t eased that much, I’m very glad I took the plunge and decided to challenge myself and move to another country for postgraduate study (even in the times of COVID-19).'