Start building a bright future for your children: an Irish university graduate’s personal story
In an increasingly globalised world, having a global vision has become essential. It is common to see parents send their children to study abroad to broaden their horizons. From building global connections to honing language skills and experiencing a new culture, the benefits of overseas education are invaluable.
According to UNESCO data, there are currently 36,420 Hong Kong students studying abroad. The United Kingdom is the top destination (44.7%), followed by Australia (26.5%) and the United States (19.1%). With the rapid development of the Irish economy and job market, Ireland has become another popular choice in recent years. Data from the Irish International Education Center (IIEC) shows that an increasing number of Hong Kong parents are keen to send their children to study in Ireland. To date, more than 6,000 Hong Kong students have graduated from Irish universities.
Gallen Leung, who was born and raised in Hong Kong, is one of those 6,000. He went to Trinity College Dublin in 2013 and obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Economic and Social Studies in 2018 followed by a Master’s degree in Marketing one year later. He is now based in Ireland where he works for an Irish digital agency. Due to the recent national lockdown in Ireland, Gallen returned to Hong Kong where is working remotely – a true work-from-‘home’ set-up.
We had the opportunity to interview Gallen to understand more about what it is like to study and live in Ireland. Having resided there for more than eight years, he describes his journey as an eye-opening experience. Watch episode one of the second series of Immigration Insights, where Gallen talks to our Regional Director Jeffrey Ling about life at school and shares his challenges and some advice for those planning to study in Ireland.
Why study abroad in Ireland?
“When I was about to take the HKDSE exams, I decided I didn’t like the examination system, so I made the decision to study abroad. My parents picked Ireland because the residents are mainly Irish; there are not many Asians. I could immerse myself in Irish culture and become more comfortable with people from different backgrounds,” Gallen recalls. Unlike Australia and Canada, where the Chinese community makes up 5.6% and 5.1% of the population respectively, or the US where it is about 1.5% Chinese, the main ethnic group in Ireland is White Irish (82.2%), followed by other white (9.5%), Asian (2.1%) and black (1.4%), with just 0.4% Chinese, a figure lower than that in the UK (0.7%).
Parents who value the English education system often choose Ireland as an alternative to the UK. “Ireland has the third-best education system in Europe, which is a good place to study overall,” Gallen says. Aspiring entrepreneurs and students wanting to pursue degrees in business administration or management in particular will be hard-pressed to find a better destination for study than Ireland; the country is becoming the new Silicon Valley as more behemoths of the business world move their headquarters to Ireland.
Higher education institutes such as University College Cork, University College Dublin, and Trinity College Dublin are some of the best in the world. Trinity, in particular, specialises in entrepreneurship, and boasts the largest number of start-ups and new businesses to be developed by students in all of Europe.
While academic success is extremely important, it is worth noting that the primary goal of the Irish education system is to provide an all-round education thanks to the broad spectrum of cultural, artistic, sports, psychological and spiritual development offered on top of preparation for academia. “I really enjoyed my undergraduate study in Ireland and I wanted to further my education in this amazing country. I have been living in Ireland for nearly nine years now, and I see myself as Irish and want to stay here for the rest of my life,” says Gallen, who also showed his gratitude to his teacher, “I am very grateful to have met the professor in my Master’s degree. He helped me from beginning to end, gave me a lot of suggestions and most importantly we became friends. He was one of the factors that made me enjoy my Master’s.”
Landing in Ireland
“I was shocked when I first arrived in Ireland because I was used to living in a city and had never been to a country with no tall buildings. The nation is covered in lush green grass and rolling hills, which is very different from Hong Kong,” he says. “Apart from the resplendent greenery, it was also surprising to see how nice the drivers are in Ireland. Unlike those in Hong Kong, they let you pass the crossroad first even when it’s a green light for them. You can cross the road in Ireland with your eyes closed!”
Quality of living is another key reason that people choose to study and live in Ireland. Its residents benefit from the natural environment. As an island on the edge of Europe, its low-rise cities provide exceptionally pure air and water quality, and green rolling countryside is within minutes drive of anywhere in the country. Ireland is also globally renowned as a high-quality food producer and is mostly self sufficient in this respect. It is also one of the most talked-about food destinations in Europe – see our previous blog for more information.
“Ireland has a slower pace of living than Hong Kong, with high quality of life. Irish agriculture is well developed, the quality of food is high but at an affordable price. Also, it’s really easy to travel around Europe from Ireland with cheap flights. I am a big football fan and it takes just HKD 200 to go over to England to watch a game. My summer is always like a European tour,” Gallen added.
Social inclusion is one of the most talked-about topics among expatriates during settlement. Ireland is a friendly, safe country, which is why international students get so much out of the Irish experience. A study by the World Economic Forum (WEF) found that Ireland ranks 9th on a global list of the attitude of its native population to visitors.
When we asked Gallen how he felt about making friends, he replied, “it is not challenging at all; most Irish are nice and friendly. You can easily make friends after one pint of Guinness! I got along with a group of boys during my undergraduate studies. We were close in those four years and we still gather now even though we have started working. Our tradition is to come out every Christmas to do a Secret Santa and 12 pubs challenge.”
“The country is very inclusive. The Irish are friendly to foreigners and are generally casual and nice. As one of few Asian students in the school, I never felt left out in class,” he adds.
Gallen has a few tips for newbies. “The main thing is don’t be shy. Just don’t be afraid to speak; don’t be afraid to make friends.” To help settle in, he said, “try to get a part-time job during your studies. That’s what I did to overcome these challenges. I worked in a department store, which helped me to understand the culture, and also improved my speaking and listening skills.”
Tips for choosing schools and things you need to know
Similar to universities in the UK, academic results in Hong Kong are recognised by Irish universities, which means students can apply for undergraduate programmes directly based on the requirements. Some universities also offer scholarships for international students who study abroad in Ireland.
Commenting on the difficulty of applying to Irish universities, Gallen says, “It depends. If you are applying to average universities, it is not that difficult. However, for top universities such as Trinity College Dublin (TCD) or University College Dublin (UCD), then you have to get good grades and a minimum of 6.5 overall in IELTS. Medicine and accounting are both popular subjects in Ireland. One tip is to do your research before applying to any university. The ranking of the university doesn’t reflect the subject rankings.”
When asked about the challenges he has encountered when he was new to the country, he says, “One of the biggest challenges was living alone in a brand new environment. The most difficult moments had to be the first three months in Ireland, when I lived without my family. Homesickness is the worst thing in the world.” Also, embracing cultural differences was important, “Irish English is not difficult to understand, but the cultural difference was a big factor, where I had to take some time to adapt to the lifestyle. Unlike in Hong Kong, people in Ireland don’t have much to do after sunset, mostly just go to a pub or club, or go to the gym.”
The future of studying and working in Ireland
The Irish Government sees education as strategically interlinked with national planning and has successfully developed programmes at all levels to establish Ireland as an international base for technology, science and the financial services. Gallen can see the opportunity in Ireland. “As the economy is booming in Ireland, the Irish job market is very prosperous at the moment, especially sectors like IT, finance and pharmaceuticals. Also, with Brexit, the future of Ireland can only get better and better. Many big companies’ headquarters are moving io Ireland, which means more opportunities for us to work for big, well-known firms. And many large infrastructure projects are under development, such as railways and underground.”
The education and job markets are closely linked – read our recent article on Ireland’s labour market: “Ireland’s Job Market – Which professional sectors are in high demand?”
The interview closed with a typical question – if you could choose again, would you study in Hong Kong or Ireland? “I would still choose Ireland without a doubt. Studying abroad widened my horizons and broadened my mind. I would not have got to where I am now if I hadn’t studied in Ireland.”
Studying abroad can be a life-changing experience, and Ireland is certainly one of the top destinations to consider for your children’s education. With its inclusiveness, well-developed education system, thriving economy and booming job market, it ticks all the boxes. In 2019, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) noted that Irish graduates are the most productive employees in the world among international companies, which further affirms the quality of the nation’s education.
Through the Ireland Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP), your children can obtain Irish permanent residency status in four to six months and will be eligible for Irish citizenship through naturalisation when they are aged 18 or over and have been residents in the state for at least five years. Once your children become Irish citizens, they are entitled to live and work in Ireland, EU member states and the UK. Contact us now to learn more about our IIP Programme.