Impact & Opinions | Tionchar & Tuairimí

Are we Ready for Internationalisation?

Are we Ready for Internationalisation?

29 July 21
 | 15 MINS

New to the Parish: Michal Molcho arrived at NUI Galway to do a post-doctoral fellowship I 2005. 17 years on, Professor Molcho is the Vice Dean for Internationalisation, leading the internationalisation strategy in the College of Arts, Social Sciences & Celtic Studies. Settling in Ireland was not straightforward, especially when it came to Galway’s temperate climate, Galway’s diverse set of local dialects, and much more…

Coming to Ireland

As a doctoral student I knew early on that upon completion of my PhD I would need to move out of my home country for a period so that my experience would not be limited to the set of skills I had developed in my Alma Mater. Hence, when my Irish colleague asked me if I would be interested in a post-doctoral fellowship in Galway I agreed without a moment of hesitation. And so, in January 2005, I arrived in Ireland for an 18 months post-doctoral fellowship. Seventeen years on, I am still here, and certainly not for lack of choice.

Settling in Ireland in January was tough. Prior to arriving, I learned that Ireland had a temperate climate.

So much to learn

Settling in Ireland in January was tough. Prior to arriving, I learned that Ireland had a temperate climate. It did not feel like temperate that winter and I was not prepared for the short days, something that one cannot comprehend until they experience it first hand. I also was not prepared to have my English challenged the way it was. I thought that I was fluent in English, and yet I struggled to understand not only accents but also sentences (‘that projector is a bit manky but yer man can help with that’) or sentences that I understood but still made very little sense (‘come here to me now’). But it’s all part of the learning, and I was OK with that. It also did not bother me that much that my social opportunities were limited; not going to Mass and not going to the pub left me with limited socialising opportunities (I joined the triathlon club instead), and I soon learned that people here anyway tend to associate with their school mates, leaving limited opening to outsiders. Indeed, most my friends in the first few years were outsiders – either from England or from Cork… but it was all part of the experience.

What I have learned 

It is not easy to be an outsider but it also comes with opportunities: I got away with saying things that would not be acceptable from someone who knows the culture (or at least I think I did, but sure, nobody told me otherwise). I found most people to be caring, like the one that insisted on getting the pronunciation of my name properly on our first meeting which was actually really thoughtful (as opposed to the ones who said about me ‘it’s a she!’ which still makes me laugh to this day). Others kindly introduced Galway to me and took me to places known only to locals. On the other hand, I was repeatedly laughed at when mispronouncing words in English, and being on a short contract and vulnerable, I did not feel I could discuss it with anyone. I witnessed racist comments from colleagues (‘the Polish are taking our jobs’, said a colleague, and when I replied that as an immigrant, I also took someone’s job, he said – ‘yes, but you are not like them’). And of course, there were the unavoidable harsh comments about Israel as if I am responsible for the doing of my government and irrespective of my opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I also learned that Ireland, and more so the West, seems to lack the belief that it has much to offer to international folk, despite its rich history. Yet for me, the opportunities here are truly endless (yes, even if travelling from Galway is a hassle, but it’s also the case for so many other places). Hopefully, this particular viewpoint is changing, as did many other things in Galway during the years I’ve been here.

How Galway has changed

First of all, net migration (more people coming to Ireland rather than leaving it) was positive for the first time in Ireland in 1996, with a peak in immigration between 2006 and 2008.  This large migration made massive changes in the landscape, in languages spoken in the country, in food availability, and coincided with the globalisation of Shop Street in Galway. Local shops were closed and global chains took over, taking away from the character of Galway city. I was involved in a large research project at that time when we considered translating the questionnaire into various languages to make sure that we did not exclude those not fluent in English. We also spent time to find the correct terminology, moving away from ‘non-nationals’ (a term that I hate as it uses the absence of Irish nationality rather the presence of different nationality) to ‘foreign nationals’. In 2007 this was a conversation that needed to be had, and I’m relieved to know that today it is no longer the case. What has not changed, however, is the unique vibe that this city holds and which makes it so special.

I did not like the globalisation of Shop Street, but internationalisation is still vital for our community. As someone who moved country, I know how enriching this experience is for the individual, but it also contributes greatly to the whole community. Diversity of people, of opinions, of experiences, will enrich all communities.

Why internationalisation is important

I did not like the globalisation of Shop Street, but internationalisation is still vital for our community. As someone who moved country, I know how enriching this experience is for the individual, but it also contributes greatly to the whole community. Diversity of people, of opinions, of experiences, will enrich all communities. The experience of my students who have spent a semester or a year abroad is transformative. Having exchange students in class enriches the experiences of all students, especially in courses that tend to be otherwise homogeneous. Having staff members who were educated in different education systems brings with it alternative ways of thinking and challenges our own ways of doing things which, I believe, is crucial for our development as a learning community. But for that enriching mutual exchange of ideas to truly happen, we need to make sure that we give all our students and colleagues a positive experience, recognising that for this to work, we need to nurture our students – Irish and foreign alike – and extend the links that we create with partners around the world. Once we achieve that, we are truly ready for internationalisation.

And as for me….

Seventeen years since I made Ireland my home, I am still a ‘blow-in’ in my local rural community, but being invited to (and attending) all the local weddings, I also feel I belong. When we just moved in to our little piece of Heaven, the locals were intrigued: two girls, a strange language, not Catholic (not even Christian, for God’s sake). They asked around, talked about us (oh, we know!), and then, gradually, opened up. We got help if we needed a hand in the garden, we had people stop for a short chat on the way to the fields when they saw us walk the dog, and one day, to my utter bafflement, one local farmer even stopped by to offer me his son. ‘We have planning permission for this site, and I am sure that if my son knew that there is someone here waiting for him, he would come back from Australia,’ he said, and when I politely declined his generous proposal he said,  ‘And what about your sister’?  A few years down the line, and after the marriage referendum was passed, our neighbours, who made sure we knew how happy they were for us, simply asked us when we were going to have our ‘day out’.

We still do not go to Mass or to the pub, but we do feel included. And, finally, after years of attempts at growing potatoes (‘sure, it’s easy, you just put them in the ground’), this year we seemed to have passed this ultimate test (just to learn that you don’t just put them in the ground after all; you actually need to give them a lot of TLC), I feel I may have overcome my final hurdle for Irishness. Oh, and ever since my citizenship ceremony in Dublin, and I mean literally on the way home that evening, I started to believe we could actually win the World Cup. Or at least qualify….


Prof Michal Molcho

Vice-Dean for Internationalisation, College of Arts Social Sciences and Celtic Studies, NUI Galway


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