For most students in their final year of school, dealing with one application system for university is stressful enough. Now, as a final-year international student, Arthaud Mesnard looks back with amusement at how he once thought applying to four different systems was a good idea. Sending off applications to universities in France, the UK, Ireland and even as far afield as Canada, Mesnard admits that he had his work cut out for him in trying to meet all of their individual requirements. However, it was clear that there was only ever one place his heart was set on: “I’m half French, half Irish, and whilst I grew up all my life in France I always wanted to come here. My mother is Irish and studied at Trinity and I have family in Ireland so it was a bit of a no-brainer. I’d visited Dublin at least once a year and I absolutely loved what I saw of the city.”
Yet, as many unsuspecting freshers find when they arrive at university, what you think you know and what you actually know are two very different things: “I thought I knew Dublin until I came to live here and then I realised I actually didn’t know a thing.” All students find their initial few weeks at university overwhelming, but being an international student only intensifies this. Mesnard smiles as he recounts his disbelief at finding Irish culture to be something other than what he had expected: “The whole thing just took me by surprise. Having to get used to it wasn’t something I had been preparing for.” When pushed further on what he meant by this Mesnard points out that whilst Ireland is known for its friendliness and warmth, going past that and establishing relationships with people is somewhat more of a challenge. “In Ireland everyone is really friendly, but it’s actually quite hard to make friends. In France, people are much more distant and standoffish, but once you’re friends with someone, you’re really friends.”
I’m half French, half Irish, and whilst I grew up all my life in France I always wanted to come here
Landing into Cunningham House, Trinity Hall, on his first day in Ireland, Mesnard was like most students who find themselves in that position: a little taken aback at the surroundings. “There was such an eclectic mix of people there, and instead of sharing my flat with six people, I had 14 different roommates.” In a ready-made social scene of 1,000 students all living together, guiding each other through the same experiences, Mesnard acknowledges that it was something that helped him adjust quickly to independent living: “It definitely helped with making friends.”
During the course of our interview, Mesnard points out that as a fresher he never imagined the experiences that followed. Having become a Scholar, Mesnard co-founded the company Pledgenotes with classmate Simon Curran to “connect students in the same course but different years so that they could sell notes, books and grinds”.
I know how hard that is, I was so overwhelmed in first term I spent most of second term trying to catch up
Whilst studying in Paris during an Erasmus exchange, he started a collegiate branch of En Marche, the political party newly founded by now-President Emmanuel Macron. He’s quick to point out that being a fresher is the best time to try new things, even if they don’t work out. “I would recommend starting up a business or a society to anybody … Pledgenotes didn’t work out as a concept but it was a fantastic experience and I learnt a lot from it.”
Asking him if he had any other advice for incoming first years, Mesnard smiles the knowing smile of a final-year student. A smile that hints that the only way you’re going to learn all of this is by experiencing it all yourself. He did, however, offer some valuable words of wisdom: “In first year you should be going to everything, every society event, every night out – try and meet as many people as possible. I know how hard that is, I was so overwhelmed in first term I spent most of second term trying to catch up, but it is so worth it in the long run.”
With that, there isn’t much left to be said. No one is ever really ready for first year, but as Mesnard wisely advises, give it your best shot. You won’t regret it.