A strange but magical time to study in Galway
The roads and beaches are quiet, the city’s famous pubs and restaurants are closed, and yet for many of the students who came to Galway Cultural Institute (GCI) to study English in 2020, this has been a strange but magical time.
Many students choose to learn English in Galway because of the city’s wonderful nightlife and the friendliness of its people, but few of those who arrived here in February could have imagined what lay ahead this year.
On March 12, the Irish Government announced that all schools in Ireland, including our language school by the shores of Galway Bay, would have to close within 24 hours in response to the global coronavirus pandemic.
For students who had made the huge decision to change their lives by coming to Galway to study English, it was a strange time. Some of their friends wanted to go home, hotels and restaurants had also closed down, and they wondered what to do with their time.
Thankfully, GCI has been able to respond to this unexpected change. As soon as it was possible, existing English classes at the school were moved online and many GCI students began to study from the comfort of home.
It was a great way to stay in touch with friends, class-mates, and teachers, as the scale of the coronavirus pandemic became apparent all across the globe. For the students, it was a new way of learning and a great way to stay in touch with everyone at GCI.
Galway's empty streets
What do our students say
For three of our students who arrived in Galway in February 2020, it has been a time of adventure and great change. The online classes provided by the team of expert teachers at GCI have given a great focus to their days.
Kayla from Nicaragua
“When the school closed it was very difficult for me and I was very frustrated, but I also feel very good and very safe here in Galway now,” says Kayla Isabel Sandigo Davila, who is originally from Nicaragua.
A Pre-Intermediate student, Kayla watched her house-mates leave Galway in the first two weeks after the lockdown. Then she was delighted when her friend and classmate, Nadia Bea Gonzalez, moved in and they began to do online classes together.
“We asked the school if we could be in the same class,” says Kayla. “We live together, we cook together, and we study together. We have good Internet in the house. The online classes are good because the teachers speak very clearly. Nadia is very friendly. We go to the supermarket together and practice our English together. I am very comfortable and very happy here in Galway.”
Kayla said she was happy because the director of GCI, who speaks Spanish, kept in touch with her and Nadia every day. She was getting a lot of text messages from her family in Nicaragua, but she now feels Galway is one of the safest places in the world during the Covid-19 pandemic and she has made a lot of Irish friends.
“I was not scared here in Galway. The virus was out of my control. I would recommend Galway for anybody who wants to study English. Even though it’s a small city, I think it has everything. It has the sea, lovely restaurants and bars. The people are so friendly. I am very, very happy here. Maybe I will come back here again after all this is over!”
Housemates and classmates Kayla and Nadia on the Salthill prom
Nadia from Spain
Nadia Bea Gonzalez, from Spain, loves the experience of living and studying with Kayla. She admits that they do speak Spanish sometimes in their Salthill apartment.
“A lot of my friends went home after the schools closed down in Ireland, but I was really happy to stay here in Galway. It’s a new experience for me. When the school offered us the chance of online classes, I was happy to be able to do them while I am in Galway. I am happy to be able to talk to Kayla and study together every day.”
She said the director of the school, Celestine Rowland, calls her regularly to make sure that everything is ok and they are not experiencing any problems.
Aged 21, Nadia really misses the Latino nights at Monroe’s on Wednesdays, but she loves Galway so much that she is determined to come back in a year or two when the pandemic is over.
“When everything closed down, people were so sad. But now I am very happy with the school and how it has looked after us. Our online teacher, Daniel Gallagher, is amazing and he prepares so well for every class.
“If we had any problem, we could ask the school. The school stayed in contact with us all the time. For me, my English has improved a lot. We have a very good teacher and our neighbours here in Galway are so friendly.”
Nadia enjoying the sun at Blackrock Diving Tower
Caio, from Brazil
Advanced student Caio Eduardo Batista, from Brazil, had six weeks of “normal” classes at Galway Cultural Institute before the school shut down in response to the pandemic. He keeps a close eye on the news from Brazil and, like Kayla, he believes he is safer in Galway than at home during the pandemic.
“The situation in Brazil is not so good right now, so I’m happier to be here in Galway,” says Caio, who is from Belo Horizonte. “As Karla said, I was a little bit frustrated when the school had to close down. But we know it’s a worldwide thing and it’s happening to everybody. I had to accept the fact that everybody had to stay home.
“At first it was a bit weird, as you can’t imagine Galway without pubs and restaurant open! When we started the online classes, things started to get nicer. It was good to have something to do every day.”
He was working in a casino near GCI for three weeks before the lockdown and says both the GCI and Irish Government have taken care of him during the pandemic.
“I learned a lot of English at work,” he says. “Some of my co-workers had very strong accents, but I was getting used to it. And the customers were very friendly. To be honest, working in the casino wasn’t where I expected to work. But it was a good experience to see how it works, because casinos are not legal in Brazil!
“My family know that I am fine and that I will call them if something is wrong, but they know I don’t like to be bombarded with questions every day. It’s been a little bit difficult to see the situation developing in Brazil and I think Ireland has done a really good job in the pandemic.”
Caio on the Salthill prom
Caio has also been amazed by how friendly the Irish people are. He goes for a cycle every evening with one of his neighbours.
“In Brazil, some people say that people in Europe are cold and not curious. But I have found people here in Galway to be very friendly. I was very happy about that. People like to get to know you. I have made a friend who lives very close to my house and we go cycling together. She has some very good friends who love talking to me about life in Brazil,” he says.
“This situation right now was completely unexpected. Instead of just worrying and thinking about how bad the situation is, I am trying to focus on the good things. I am here, I am healthy, and I am in happy with Galway and GCI. This downtime in Galway has given me an opportunity to think about my life. By focusing on the good things, I am making the best of this time here in Ireland.”
-- * A digital journalist based in Galway, Ireland, Ciaran Tierney won the Irish Current Affairs and Politics Blog of the Year award. Find him on Facebook or Twitter here. Visit his website here - CiaranTierney.com.