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Let's Talk Student Experience during COVID19 with Colum Cronin, Snr. Int. Student Advisor at DCU.

"I think that the response across the board in Ireland has been really outstanding and admirable, I think that our international students and our international population have played an enormous role in that. I think you can see the diversity in our health care workers in our frontline staff. And I just think that this should be celebrated. I think that is a great story. And I think it shows just how valuable international people are. And I think that is an absolutely wonderful example of the greatness of diversity. And I suppose just to everyone out there, look, it is, you know, it is a cliché at this point, but it is an unprecedented time. So be kind to yourself, be kind to others. Recognise that, you know, people fuses are maybe a little bit shorter than others, so just be kind to another lookout for one another. And if you know, keep in touch with your friends, if you have not heard somebody in a couple of days, maybe they're feeling down, just send them a message and see how they're doing. And if you need help, be it from your friends or be at from your institution, ask for it."

Q: First of all, I just want to begin with understanding the impact of COVID19 from your perspective on the lives of international students and how much they have changed, or how significantly they've changed in the past couple of weeks because it has been quite a short period of time?

Sure. So, I think that the obviously things have changed quite dramatically for a number of different cohorts. Okay, so you have your current international students who are studying at institutions across Ireland. And for those students, you know, they have had to move online with their study. And that is obviously a big change when you shift mid-semester. For the students who are due to come to Ireland next year, there has been, I suppose, a level of uncertainty around what is going to happen with the next academic year. And then for people who are on say, stamp 1G, I suppose for some of those students, you know, there's a change in either in terms of working from home, or you know, for some of them, if they're essential workers, there's probably, you know, they're working even more than previously. So, I think for everyone it has changed. It seems like the online learning piece from talking to students has done well. I am on my podcast recently; I was talking to a student from India who is studying at DCU. And he is kind of talking about that the change. So, I think, you know, people recognize that things have to change. But and I think there has been hopefully an understanding both on the sides of institutions and on the sides of the student in terms of making that change.

Q: Column as you are aware that many colleges have shifted the teaching methods as you stated earlier, to online classrooms; what are your thoughts on that? Albeit it is a very positive move, what are your suggestions to best deal with the new style of learning?

I suppose there's a couple of things to it. I think this situation will change a lot of things going forward. I think, though, obviously, a change mid-semester is difficult because you're teaching in classroom person, pedagogy is different from teaching online. So that was the change that had to be made rapidly. But as I said, I do think it seems to have gone pretty well. I think most institutions have been really good about responding to students and helping them where they can. And in terms of, I suppose advice to students, it would be to, I think, to keep in touch with your lecturers keep in touch with your institutions. And from what I understand, every institution still has its support services in place. And they while they might be working remotely, and it might need to be done, like, you know, like zoom like we're doing, and all have support in place, their academic supports, career supports, your students supports, they're all in place. I know, it's understandably very stressful time. And sometimes for some of us, the way we react to stress is to withdraw into ourselves but to try to overcome that and to reach out. I know a lot of the institutions are doing kind of virtual droppings and things like that. And, I think that the important thing is if you are struggling, let people know that you need a bit of help. Because it is transitions are difficult, okay. And so some of us negotiate different transitions differently. Some people, the move from primary school to secondary school goes really well. And then the movement from secondary school to university can be difficult, equally, other people might struggle initially and then find the transition to the third level much easier. So don't be too hard on yourself. If you're finding the transition difficult. And there is a lot of stress around at the moment there is a lot of uncertainty. So it's understandable if you are not, you know, responding in the way that you usually would. So I do think it's important that students reach out and ask for help if they are struggling. I think you know, it can be difficult. being away from home especially for international students. You know, all your traditional support structures are, are no longer in place. And you're only sometimes getting news, you know, virtually, which is difficult. When you know that we all see things on the news that, you know, you talk to people on the ground, I know from my own experience and are talking to friends around the world, and I've seen things on the news and I say, you know, my situation, oh, well, that's the situation may be in one part of the city, but in my part where, you know, things are totally different. So that I just think to be aware is unique, it is unprecedented. There are levels of stress, and just, you know, reach out and ask for help, when it's appropriate.

Q: I think just adding to that, and you said, the virtual drop-ins and people could feel lonely. What are your suggestions on maintaining a good social life and, you know, because in school, we have the Students Union, who's looking after all the events and making sure that people are living healthy, they're meeting people and there is interaction? So what are your tips on interacting in today's world?

Sure, I think there's a couple of things to bear in mind in relation to this. I think that it is important that you build time in to have, you know, fun, and be that, you know, reading be that playing video games be that interacting. Most students’ unions are doing a lot of online events. I have seen a huge number of droppings a huge number of quizzes, and bingo. So, there's been an awful lot of things that are still happening. So, I would say to check out your own institution, see what they're doing. And usually, the SU across the board in all the institutions I have worked in have been really active on social media, and they're really good about getting back to people and they will help to get you involved. So I would say that, you know, really important just to keep an eye out, because everything I've seen in terms of all the institutions, they are holding all sorts of different events, so they're doing what they can. And I think the other thing I would say that I think can help when sometimes it can feel that there's a little bit of a drift that there's all this additional time. And, you know, if you're on your own or you're away from home or you're homesick, what do you do to be productive, and I think maybe trying to take some of that time to be kind of productive, and to look at things like your, say, your LinkedIn profile, okay, if you don't have a LinkedIn profile, maybe now is a great time to get one set up. Okay, because being ready when we come out the other side of this because we are going to come out the other side of this and being ready then to take advantage of the opportunities that will be there. If you already have a LinkedIn profile, then, you know, reading online about like the tips for the best sort of LinkedIn profile and updating your profile, making sure that maybe you set it up, you know, three or four years ago and the photo that you used, you know, why wasn't exactly workable, or maybe you know, you've changed. So, look at getting a great photograph. So, you make a good first impression, look at updating all your information. They're also a whole load of kind of online, free online, you know, kind of courses to up your skills. So, I'm not saying everyone needs to do that, okay, because some people are probably struggling with the transition, we talked about that. But if you do find that you have additional time, then take advantage of it. You know, learn more about Excel. You know, that's something that can be a benefit to everyone. I mean, I work with international students, but I use Excel all the time. So you'd be amazed and sometimes you think, oh, I'll never use this. You will. And so I think looking online, see if there are online courses that are available, just building a little bit of productivity. I'm not saying to spend all your time doing it. I'm not saying that. In all your time socialising, we're looking to build a little bit of time so that you are you know, you have a structure, I do think having some sort of structure can really help.

Q: A student has been asked to remove their belonging from the college's hostel and is currently in India?

I suppose, you know, in general, what I would say about that is there are going to be, you know, he's not going to be alone in that situation. Okay, there are students who were definitely travelling or out of the country and you know, not in a position to do that and may not have contact. So I would reach out to whichever the institution is and just explain the situation, explain it and outline it to them calmly because I think everyone's under stress at the moment but just explain that there isn't anyone to pick it up right now. And asking them could they just keep it in storage, and that, you know, it will be picked up when there is somebody available. I think most institutions will honestly try to work with you as much as possible within reason they really will. But I think it's just about communicating to them and explaining it to them. They might not understand that there isn't anybody to pick it up, they may have just made an assumption because it might be, you know, the case that there are, say 95% of people do have either available themselves or maybe have a sibling or an aunt or an uncle or a really good friend who is able to pick it up. So it might be that they just, you know, it's an oversight, they're dealing with a lot and I'm sure are trying to keep the students who have remained safe. So, my advice in this instance is to get in touch, explain the situation, ask them and you know, kindly could they look after it until such time as it is able to be picked up.

Q: Would you also like to address those master students who may be in the middle of completing their thesis and hopes to find a job, once they get a Stamp 1G, and what the market would be like for these students in different sectors of Ireland?

It's an interesting question because I suppose right now, it's difficult for those students. I understand you're in the middle of your Masters, you have that, you know, up to this point, you're probably doing the work with the Career Service, you were probably going to, you know, a meeting with some of the companies. I know Google had open days in February and in March, so I'm sure some of the students who are participating there. I would say that we have seen some positive reports come out, okay. There are going to be you know, obviously it will have an impact and right now, it's having a huge impact. But there was an OECD report that came out that said Ireland would be the least impacted economy and you know, we've seen Facebook say that they expect to take on an extra 10,000 people this year. So, I do think in many of the sectors in which Ireland is strong, there will be growth. I mean, look, here, we all are now using zoom. I mean, I suppose I use zoom previously in my job, but I know, not all my colleagues did. But everyone is suddenly using zoom. Everyone is using tech in new and innovative ways. And I think that's something that will continue. And I think that will be built into our new normal when we get out the other side of this. So I would say to people that you might need to consider, you know, companies that may be traditionally you didn't think of, so I think sometimes if you're doing maybe just for examples in English lists, right, let's just say and creative writing, Facebook and Google always look for those types of graduates and a very good friend who was in Trinity did Creative Writing Master's there, is now working for a start-up. And because that person is a very good writer, and they were looking for somebody who was able to write like proposals and, you know, makes introductions for them. So there I do think there will be opportunities, I think for people directly in tech, say Software Engineering, Data Analytics, AI, IoT, they're going to be huge opportunities when we come out the other side of this because there's an enormous amount of data that's being gathered that will continue to be needed. Okay, because when we begin to restrict or to ease the restrictions, we're still going to have we're going to need even more data than usual. Okay, because we're going to have to monitor things, we're going to have to see what the impact is, are people still adhering to the ease restrictions. And how is it all going? So, I think that right now things are not good, what I do think Ireland will bounce back. I think that the reports have said that it will probably take a little bit of time. But I do think you know, there, there will be a new way of doing things. I think certainly some of the more traditional ways will change. But I would be quite hopeful and that's why I'm saying to people to try to be somewhat productive to read around the subject. You know, I think that's good advice in college anyway. But when it comes to your career, read around like your career does not have to be linked directly to your qualification. So, think about what doors your qualification opens doors, are you and what are the skills that you will need to demonstrate to an employer that you are employable. I think like, we need to realise what employers are looking for in interviews a lot of the time is they're taking a chance, okay? They're trying to get to know you and they want to minimise the risk. So that's what they're trying to find out in an interview like we're making an investment in this person; are we really rolling the dice on this? Or, you know, is this somebody we feel would be well able to do the job? So I would say that do your research, make sure your CV and your LinkedIn profile are up to date that you have, you know, the strong basis of a cover letter. And I am I'm hopeful that when we come out the other side, you know, things will, things will pick up and in a relatively short space of time, I am hopeful.

Q: What are your tips on the take-home exams? Because, you know, if I had taken home exams, I had Google on one, and the other would be copy-paste. But like, what are your tips? (Disclaimer: We are not advising anyone to copy-paste answers as that could lead to serious plagiarism disqualifications)

All the institutions are doing things to help the students, so I know that there are a lot of videos out there in terms of preparing for the new sorts of examinations and assessments. I know that most of the institutions have their academic units working on producing documentation for students on what to expect. So, I think again, it's probably trying to find out what your own institution has out there. And see if there are, you know, other examples online that you can read about. I think a lot of it is going to be you know, ensuring that you have the right information, but I do think institutions have been pretty good. I've seen emails go out to students, explaining, you know, what to expect and trying as best as possible to prepare them for it. So, I know we all get a lot of emails, but I think it's important to look through to see you know, what other stuff that's coming true. And because this is new, okay. And sometimes, you know, we might kind of hurdle an email as such if it comes, but this is a new situation for all of us. So, I think any tips or advice that can come from academics will be really useful. And I mean, they're all of the institutions would have had online learning already. So, there are people who have a lot of experience and a lot of expertise in online learning and who are doing things to help prepare students to utilise the resources that are available to you, don't think that just because you're not on campus, you don't have access to the support services that you would have, they are in place.

Q: As an international student advisor, could you also explain some of the steps taken by the Irish Naturalization Immigration Service to look after those students who may have their visa expired and students have the right to Work 40 hours a week, something like that? Could you shed some light on some of the key steps taken by this?

Sure, yeah. And I suppose this is me speaking in a personal capacity as somebody who's dealt with the immigration service for a time, but I'm not speaking on their behalf. But I do really think they can be commended for the steps they have taken. You know, I think they've been pretty clear from the outset. And I think they've taken decisions that have benefited students. So right now we're in a situation where they made a decision so that anyone whose permission, your IRP card, if that was expiring between the 20th of March and the 20th of May, that was automatically going to be extended for two months. I think for most students you're probably looking at, realistically they will have been given permission until September, or December. So that won't be a huge impact, I think, if you are somebody who falls, you know, outside of that would be to get in touch with immigration, they really, I think Irish immigration can be frustrating at times because it's such a human system. Okay. But it differs from the UK in that respect. But I think that's the nice thing about it is they do take things on a case by case basis, there is that human element, they do look to try to understand things. And I suppose, I guess we'll have to see, you know, when the restrictions come to be, you know, eased again, I mean, we're looking at another say, week and a half or so before there's probably an announcement. Will they extend out the closing of Burgh Quay, it may do, we don't know. But if they do that, I think INIS has shown that there's a willingness on their part to respond to that. Now, if anyone with permission expiring post the 20th of May, we'll find out well before that, if it's going to be extended out. And if that is the case, I would imagine INIS will take the necessary steps. The other thing that they have done is that they have said that, you know, students who have jobs or who are working can work full time as long as they continue with their studies. Okay. And you continue with your studies, your assignments, your exams, you can't just drop that because there will be questions if you end up you know, repeating, but I do think that was a positive move because it means that we have students here and particularly, you know, Indian students who would be working, would be essential workers like who are working in say grocery stores, and we need to keep those grocery stores open, who would be working in care homes, who would be working in a lot of the areas where we need the toes to keep functioning in order to keep people to be able to remain at home and to keep the rest of us safe. So I do think that was a really positive move. And I do think they, you know, kinda be commended on that. And, you know, the other thing is that they have said, and again, I think it's probably gonna affect a small number of students right now. But they have said that those moving on to the third level graduate program, right now we're going to be able to do so online. Again, I think for most students, you know, people don't have the results yet. We're not really in that situation. It's going to be after the exams and assessments. And you know, for undergrads, that they will probably be getting their results beginning sometime in June, for some of them, and obviously for postgrads, it's going to be a little bit later, it will depend. So I would say INIS has done a really good job of when they make a decision, they communicated pretty immediately and effectively on the website. So keep an eye on on the website, because there will undoubtedly be some updates as we move along into May. And if the restrictions are, you know, continue, because presumably, they're gonna need to find a way to you know, there will undoubtedly be some people who will need to register, but I imagine they'll want to reduce the number of people registering. So I would say keep an eye on the INIS website. They do communicate decisions when they make them.

Q: And the last question may sound a bit weird. But as a student, we are not really used to do grocery shopping. Right? And we used to have takeout or you know, take away food, ready to eat meals, what would be your suggestion, what a student can buy as a weekly supply so that they don't have to go out of the house every now and then?

I think that the wonderful thing is the ability to cook, like is if you can read or even if you can watch a video and you can cook okay, because I mean YouTube is a wonderful resource in terms of trying to come up with ideas. You don't have to have enormous experience in order to be able to cook. So I think for students, it's probably you know, again a little bit of personal taste like what are the things you enjoy. But like for you know, I mean, rice is a pretty good staple. And then you can add whatever you want to that. And it's not like you have this incredibly or nice preparing a meal from scratch, there's a lot you can get out there. And I think that we've seen probably in recent times with the arrival of Aldi and Lidl is that, you know, a lot of competition in the market, which is reduced prices. So I do think it's affordable to be able to go and get stuff. You know, I mean, pasta is obviously you know, another thing that I see a lot of students use and you can quite simply add any pasta sauce into that. And so I think that, you know, depending on what you enjoy, look up to see what you know what are simple recipes, there are a lot of places you know that you can go online and find kind of simple, three, four or five-ingredient recipes. And then just kind of pick those, pick those up and go from there. But I think also to make sure when you do go to your grocery store shop during the week to pick up some fresh fruit and vegetables to make sure that you're getting your vitamins that you need. Because we know that that' important as well, you can't just live on, you know, instant noodles, that that isn't going to sustain you. And so, I think this hopefully might be an opportunity for people to really learn how to like what it is they enjoy. And cooking can be a great way of I suppose, you know, building in some time to focus on something, so your mind isn't on your exams or it isn't on worry, but it's a very practical thing to build in some time. Actually, maybe you have to chop vegetables, cook them and requires focus. So I think that you know, cooking for yourself can be a really, really valuable skill. Certainly.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Colum Cronin for his valuable time and continuous service to support international students during COVID19 in his role as Senior International Student Advisor at Dublin City University. Don't forget to check out his podcast here called Adventures in Advising which looks at different aspects of higher education and examine everything from the student experience through to kind of building networks.



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