Tag Archives: Culture Shock

My Journey from Gaza to my Trinity College Dream

Salem S. Gharbia arrived in Dublin a little over two weeks ago. He travelled to Trinity College from Gaza to take up his place as a PhD student in Environmental Engineering. Salem wrote us a guest blog to tell us about his journey to Trinity, his first impressions of Dublin, and the place he’s left behind.

Before slipping into your deep dreams, stop! Wake up! It is unbelievable to be a Palestinian citizen from Gaza starting in one of the leading and most prestigious Universities in the world. Because I am from Gaza, my dreams should have been broken by the siege. Standing in Gaza, it takes a big imagination to dream of studying in Trinity College. This September my dream has come true: I start an Environmental Engineering PhD in Trinity College Dublin.


To be from Gaza, what does that mean? Let me shout loudly from my deep wounds and tell you. It means that deep down you feel that you may become a faceless statistic for a displaced people. It means that you could be an injured child and teach others what life is all about. It means that you fool others with your strength and steadfastness while a hidden feeling warns that your end is yet to come. It means that you are afraid to sleep because you could wake up to the worst. It means that you might be a father but you are not able to protect your weak, frightened child. To be from Gaza it means you will never forget that Gaza’s children, instead of eating ice cream, were put in an ice cream freezer in lieu of a morgue. Gaza is a place where right now there is non-stop grieving, lamenting, keening, wailing, weeping and struggling every moment!

However, under this entire painful situation, there was a dream for a young engineer who aspired to help solve the water crisis in his oppressed Gaza; this dream was Trinity College Dublin.

I am going to tell you why Trinity College is a great dream. The first reason is that every brick and stone and grain of sand in Trinity expresses a history of academic freedom. Trinity is recognised for academic excellence and a transformative student experience. Trinity College is a home to some of the most talented minds and most influential researchers in the world.  For these reasons, Trinity College Dublin is a dream for an ambitious researcher from Gaza, a dream that I worked hard to make real.

My Trinity College dream was a thread of hope in my life, but in order to make it a reality I would have to struggle until my feet finally crossed the threshold into Front Square. My journey to Trinity College from Gaza was long and arduous. I arrived at the Rafah crossing into Egypt on 6 August. After four days waiting in a congested and humiliating queue and during a brief ceasefire I was allowed through on 10 August, by showing my Trinity College acceptance letter. It took a further two days of a hard, dangerous and exhausting travel to reach Cairo airport.

Eventually, I arrived to Dublin airport where the immigration officer asked me about my reason to be in Ireland. With a proud heart, I showed him my offer letter from Trinity College, as if it was a VIP card. With ease and grace, at last my Trinity College dream opens wide for me. I start my adventure in Trinity College in a few weeks.

Honestly, to be from Gaza and to share your space in Trinity College, it feels like I am a phoenix rising from the ashes.


Adjusting to Ireland

Coming from England, going to Trinity wasn’t nearly as much of a trek for me as for some of my international classmates. I can still pop home for the weekend if I need to, and there’s no time difference if I want to call home. However, the fact remains, I am living abroad. The cultural differences between the UK and Ireland may not be nearly as acute as I experienced when I spent a year on exchange in Toronto, however they are still there. There are various little quirks which those who have grown up here won’t even notice, yet stick out to us ‘foreigners’ as unusual. I came prepared for a new currency, ready to concentrate on a new accent and excited to discover a new place. However, it is the small things that make living in Ireland special for me, and here are a few of my favourites:

“Your man over there’s great craic”


Although knew that I was going to hear “grand” a fair amount, no one had explained to me what “craic” meant (so I briefly thought that Halls had a massive drug problem when I moved in!) “Your man” also confused me as my friends seemingly pointed out strange men I had never met before as mine. I’ve now appropriated lots of Irish slang and know that “craic” sort of means “fun”, and that “your man” is simply a different way of saying “that guy” (although I have to be careful not to use my newfound slang when I pop home).

Everyone knows everyone!

no stragers

With a population of only 4.5million (of which over half a million live in Dublin) it can sometimes feel like everyone is connected to everyone else when you come to Ireland. I remember getting on a bus in Freshers’ Week and hearing over and over complete strangers deduce their connections to one another (through cousins, friends of friends and incredibly bizarre coincidences).



This might just be my friends; however the pub appears to be Dublin’s default meeting place. Rarely will a cinema outing, or an evening meal finish without someone enquiring “Pints?” If you’re not a drinker don’t be put off; pubs in Ireland are a sociable space where friends meet to chat, not necessarily get drunk, so no one will mind if you stick to something soft.

Planes not trains


One of the biggest differences between my friends who studied in various parts of the UK and me is that every time I need to pop home I fly, whilst they take the train. Although the security checks and baggage restrictions of airports can get a little repetitive, I love the fact that in a short flight I can switch between one country and another (often taking less time door to door than some of my friends spend on trains). There’s something exciting about looking out the window as Dublin comes into focus and you can see just how close it is to the sea, plus you can use your time before the flight to check out some of the other destinations you can travel to during weekends and reading weeks.

“Thanks a million”


Dubliners are very polite, so you are likely to hear choruses of “thanks a million” as passengers get off a bus. Since coming to Ireland I’ve taken up the phrase, on the basis that after “thanks a million” a mere “thank you” practically sounds rude (and after all good manners don’t cost a penny, or should I say cent!)

 “You’re English, but you’re alright”


Ireland’s struggle for independence from Britain remains ingrained in the country’s architecture and culture. Monuments to revolutionary leaders and buildings of political significance are scattered throughout the city, and conversations on Northern Ireland can divide a room. All this means a whole lot of jokes about the English (I think I’ve heard them all). Despite our fractured past, relations between Ireland and Britain remain friendly and every joke I’ve heard about my heritage has been in good humour. Remembering their country’s history remains hugely important to the Irish; however, things have also moved on since the days of revolution and I’ve never felt anything but welcome at Trinity.

Coming Back to Dublin from a Year on Exchange

It’s over, I’m back! Now where’s the fun fair, the balloons, the parade? It’s as if the people I pass on the streets as I come from the airport don’t know where I’ve been, what I’ve done. My memories of a year the other side of the Atlantic (in Toronto) still echo within my head, yet no one around is aware of the journey I’ve taken.

Instead of the maze of narrow winding streets that map across Dublin, I am used to straight ordered lines that stretch for miles in every direction. Toronto’s sports bars filled with photos of hockey legends have been replaced by Dublin’s warm cozy pubs. Ice becomes rain, and I have lost my status as an exotic European (darn!)


Nothing has changed, and yet everything feels foreign. Being back in Dublin is a weird mix of relief and nostalgia; I’m home again, and it’s like I never left. The same buskers line Grafton Street; the same faces smile at me as I cross Front Square. The only real difference is me. Going on exchange has made me view everything from a fresh perspective. The various Irish accents that buzz around me feel heightened and enhanced; and the buildings feel older and more special after a year surrounded by Toronto’s futuristic skyscrapers.


Soon I will meet my friends in the pub and recount stories of surviving a freezing winter, and of the people I met. They’ll giggle when I tell them about how my hair froze and snow frosted my scarf. I’ll tell them of the differences and the similarities, the people and the food. Yet I know they can’t understand the feeling of Toronto, won’t know the people that I’ve met. One day I know that the memories of my year on exchange will merge and melt until only a few remain clear enough to fully relive. But today Toronto feels as present as the streets that surround me.


I’ve missed my friends, the unique atmosphere of an Irish pub. In many ways I’m glad that I’m back where I know I belong. Going away has given me a fresh perspective on everything about university and I am so happy that I can go into my final year excited to be back, instead of dreading the inevitable hard work.

When I came to Trinity, I wanted to experience everything I could. I tried out loads of different societies until I knew where I fit; if there was an event or a party, I was there. So when the opportunity came to try out the challenge of a new university, I had to take it. Going on exchange has given me more than memories or a new line on my CV; it has affected the way in which I view my surroundings. I can now appreciate the best bits of Dublin and remember the best bits of Toronto, and that is invaluable.

Erasmus Experience: A Year in Paris

I started university knowing that I wanted to take part in the Erasmus programme. Everything about it appealed to me; the chance to immerse myself in a new culture, to meet people from a variety of different countries, and of course, to improve my French. I also wanted to get out of my comfort zone. One of the reasons I chose Trinity was because it was close to home. One of the reasons I chose my course, TSM French and Art History, was because they were subjects I already knew I enjoyed. I thought Erasmus would give me the push I needed to get out of my comfort zone and challenge what I thought about myself and the world.

And it did, it really did. I lived in this tiny apartment in the Marais in the heart of the city with neighbours who often choreographed synchronised dances to the tune of Aqua’s Barbie Girl and Doctor Jones.  My district was made up of quirky boutiques, outdoor cafés and gay bars. The best falafel in Paris was sold just down the street and four of the city’s best vintage stores were all within a five minute walk. I studied at the Université Paris-Sorbonne with a timetable that was divided between two separate schools on opposite sides of the Seine. My courses varied from modern art to journalism, to the history of Ancient Egypt. And although I was desperately dependent on my French classmates for help, I did love trying classes that wouldn’t have necessarily been available to me in Trinity. And I made friends with people from across the globe with various backgrounds and life experiences. Friends who invited me into their lives to celebrate birthdays with their families, who cooked me Irish-themed meals to help me feel more at home, who brought me to festivals to dance through the streets of the city, who made Erasmus the experience it was. Spending the year abroad also reminded me of the great friendships I already had, the ones I had left behind in Ireland. Despite being in another country their emails, calls and visits not only gave me a connection to home but also gave me the courage to keep living abroad.

Because it does take courage to live abroad and leave behind the comforts of home. And although it was one of the best years of my life it was also one of the most challenging.

Unsurprisingly, French bureaucracy has a reputation for a reason. Everything is an uphill battle and nothing is ever straight-forward. Hours were spent bouncing from office to office in pursuit of that particular form, or that essential signature. But I learned to be persistent and persuasive, and I suppose having a streak of stubbornness never hurt anyone. University there tends to focus on academic development, rather than the development of the student as a whole. So while Trinity prides itself on its numerous and varied student societies they were often quite difficult to find in Paris. And although this didn’t stop me from making friends it did make it slightly more difficult to meet people. However, homesickness is possibly what intimidates people the most about Erasmus. It’s distressing and disheartening and sneaks up on you when you least expect it. But even though homesickness can be uncomfortable, it’s only ever a fleeting feeling. A phone call home, a coffee with a friend or exploring a new district reminds you of why you chose to move there in the first place.

What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you. And I chose to do Erasmus because change was exactly what I wanted. Given the chance I’d do it all over again.


Aishwarya, a 2nd year Law student from India, reflects on her first year in Ireland

IMG_0451This is my second year in Ireland and to date my experience here has been very special as an international student.  Reflecting back upon the past one year, I can say that it can be grouped in four distinct phases. The first was one of utter chaos! Struggling with the GNIB (Visa) formalities, opening a bank account, trying to settle in, and on top of that, trying to understand the accent! The real test came when I visited Cork in my second week here in Ireland. At first, I thought they were speaking to me in Irish!  But they were not.

The second phase was more relaxed. This was when I had settled in,and started experiencing the various facets of College life at Trinity. This was the time when I got involved with various societies, started making good friends, and experiencing Irish culture in general. This was also the phase when the course difficulty level sky-rocketed.

The third phase, I can say, consists of my memories of “exam-time”! The value of every minute was realised then! I remember coming into the library at 7AM a week before exams started only to find myself without a seat it was so busy! The atmosphere was intense, but I guess when Trinity says it strives for academic brilliance, it really does mean it! And I am only glad that phase was over sooner than I could imagine.

The fourth phase I hold very dear to me.  I would say it is when I actually felt like an adult for the first time. I applied for the Global Room Ambassador position, and luckily I got the role. Having regular shifts to work at during the week meant responsibility, and a good one at that. But the joy of holding your first pay-slip was a different ballgame altogether. The value of the numbers on it do not matter, but to know that whatever is on it is your hard-earned money (arguably hard-earned), gives a form of satisfaction which is unparalleled. Further, to realise that your work is appreciated by your peers and those above you in the office hierarchy is a very good feeling to have. Not to mention the number of students who benefit by the few hours you put in every week.

All in all, the past one year has taught me things I never thought I would know,and that is what makes my experience here in Trinity very special.