Irish dual degree students reflect on first year abroad

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In 2015, Brock expanded the Business Administration Co-op International Dual Degree program, offering incoming students a choice in their international destination for the first time ever. Now, the first cohort of dual degree students to attend Dublin City University in Ireland have a whole year abroad under their belts.

Fourth year student Diana Chan was one of seven students to travel to DCU. Initially, there were 10 openings for students in the program to attend DCU. Three students attended Neoma business school in France and approximately 27 other dual degree students chose the German track.

“Dual Degree is a unique program that allows students to get two undergraduate degrees from two different universities in 4.5 years. Students study at Brock University for their first two years or two and a half years, depending on their exchange selection, and have the choice of choosing to go to NEOMA Business School (France), Dublin City University (Ireland) and European Business School (Germany) for the following year and a half or two years. On top of this, global experience students will complete a co-op term in each country allowing them to get the best of both worlds.” said Chan.

Presented with the three choices, fourth year student Kellie Williamson’s decision was clear.

“The main reason why I chose the Irish track at DCU is because I knew that their economy was booming at the time and that many large corporations were keen to hire student talent,” said Williamson. “Additionally, I have always wanted to visit Ireland since the culture there has always intrigued me.”

Chan, however, had not originally planned on pursuing the Irish track.

“Originally Ireland was not my first choice. I was thinking of going to Germany or France as the two programs allow me to learn another language. In the end I settled on Ireland because there is no language barrier and many multinational companies have their headquarters based in Ireland,” said Chan.

Both Williamson and Chan worked co-op terms at Virgin Media Ireland — Chan in human resources and Williamson in communications.

“I have come to realize that that career path is what I wish to continue with, especially in the telecommunications industry,” said Williamson.

Chan’s experience this past year has also shaped her career goals.

“I learned throughout this placement that I would not mind living in Ireland and potentially see myself working in Dublin after graduation,” said Chan.

In transitioning from Canada to Ireland, Chan and Williamson took time finding their footing.

“Since we were the first cohort to take part, there were many pieces to living in Dublin that took time to sort out. However, within a few weeks we felt extremely comfortable in the area,” said Williamson.

Chan noticed few differences living in Dublin compared to the Niagara region and Toronto.

“There are not as many people living in Dublin as Toronto, the architecture is a bit different but other than that many things are quite similar. There are many times that I forget that I am living in Ireland and not in Canada,” said Chan.

That being said, both Chan and Williamson found academics to be different overseas.

“Throughout our first year at DCU the majority of our classes had no continuous assessments, which are midterms and assignments. Instead our grades were made up of 100 per cent final exams or an assignment worth 30 per cent and an exam worth 70 per cent. The exam period at DCU is after a month long Christmas break, giving students plenty of more time to study than the few days at Brock,” said Chan. “One major item that I like about the Irish academic system is that professors really challenge students to think critically as opposed to memorizing.”

The new academic format was unfamiliar, as were many experiences the two had outside the classroom. Nevertheless, Williamson said it was a learning opportunity.

“A valuable lesson that I have learned from the past year is to not be afraid for an adventure. At times, things may appear overwhelming and stressful, but those temporary fears are what stop you from taking on a new opportunity,” said Williamson.

Both Chan and Williamson have taken risks since initially choosing the Irish track.

“Overall, I am very happy with the first cohort to go to DCU. As expected, there were some rough patches and lack of clarity of the program before coming to Ireland. We learned quickly that there is no reason to panic and that we will eventually learn the answer to our questions,” said Chan.

In terms of rough patches, Williamson hopes the program can improve access to living accommodations in the future.

“Currently Ireland is experiencing a housing crisis, which can add extra stress on any student seeking accommodation,” said Williamson.

As classes have just begun, this first cohort has welcomed the incoming students to Ireland and shared what they have learned thus far.

“We have learned a lot about ‘just going for it’ and taking chances since our time here started, but we are so excited to have welcomed in the second cohort that just arrived in September. This has been an amazing learning experience and it is something that I am proud to share with others and help those who are on their way here too,” said Williamson.

While both spoke about friendships with other Brock students abroad, they also highlighted connections made with students from across the globe.

“My experience at DCU has been more than a dream come true. It has been great to take part in classes with students from around Europe and form close friendships along the way,” said Williamson.

Moving to another country for two years, earning two university degrees in four years, and being the first group to do so at a new university was a complicated experience with both positive and negative moments, according to the two students. Ultimately, Chan highlighted the uncertainty and Williamson offered optimistic words in light of it.

“This program is still relatively new at Brock University and I am unsure how being in this program will influence my career,” said Chan.

“If I could say anything to the Brock community, it would be to seriously consider an exchange or working abroad for a term,” said Williamson. “Although it may be a big step, it is one that you never know will put you in the right direction until you give it a chance.”

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