‘College in Ireland was different – boys were really awkward talking to the girls’

New to the Parish: Marisol Gonzalez Troya arrived from Spain in 2008

Marisol Gonzalez Troya: ‘Studying in Dublin really gave me an insight into Irish culture.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Marisol Gonzalez Troya: ‘Studying in Dublin really gave me an insight into Irish culture.’ Photograph: Nick Bradshaw


When Marisol Gonzalez Troya decided to spend a summer working as an au pair in Ireland her parents thought she was crazy. She was 17 years old, had just started a law degree at university in Malaga and had no savings. What’s more, none of her friends or family members had lived abroad.

“It all happened really quickly. I told them I’m going to Ireland for the summer break and the following week I had everything sorted. I had asked my teachers for advice on where to go to learn English and they all agreed Ireland would suit me. They said the Irish were more laid back than the English, they said the people would be more similar to us in the south of Spain. They also told me if I could understand the Irish accent I’d be able to understand any other accent.”

Gonzalez Troya spent the summer of 2008 in Cabinteely, a far cry from her family’s home in the Spanish Costa del Sol. Born in the picturesque “white village” of Olvera in the province of Cadiz, Gonzalez Troya’s family moved to the outskirts of Malaga when she was three years old. “The reason my parents left was because of work, there were more opportunities on the coast. My dad did electricity work but also gardening and building maintenance; he did a bit of everything. My mother looked after apartments doing cleaning and housekeeping.”

Before 2008, Gonzalez Troya never considered leaving her home in the south of Spain. However, after her first year at university she decided spoken English was vital for her future career. Her first three months in Ireland were spent desperately trying to understand her host family while caring for their two small children. “I didn’t know anyone in Ireland and had very little English but was forced to open a bank account by myself. I had to learn and by the end of three months I was able to communicate.”

I really liked it here and the family made me feel really at home. But I felt the experience I got wasn’t enough

While her language skills did improve, Gonzalez Troya was unhappy with her level of English. “I really liked it here and the family had made me feel really at home. But I felt the experience I got wasn’t enough. It was too short and I wanted to get a job somewhere in Ireland.”

She decided to defer her studies in Spain, found a job as a waitress in a coffee shop in Farmleigh House in Phoenix Park and moved into a flat in Dublin. “I said okay, when the one year point arrives I’ll go back. The main concern for me was that I really needed to finish my studies.”

However, when 12 months had passed, Gonzalez Troya still didn’t feel ready to leave. “I was meeting so many people from places I didn’t even know existed. They came from all around the world to live in this little city. I found it fascinating that you could meet all these people and get a view of their culture that was so different and unique.”

The student had also been following the news of the global economic crash and knew that the possibility of finding work in Spain was becoming increasingly unlikely. “That was the year things started to get pretty nasty in Spain because of the recession. It was so negative at home. People were losing their jobs, they couldn’t pay their mortgages, they were losing their homes. The people who had jobs were scared if they got sick they would be fired. There were no rights for workers.”

Her parents also recommended their daughter stay in Ireland to avoid the worst of the crisis. “They said to me ‘don’t come back home’, it was heartbreaking to hear that from my parents. It made me want to go back even more. It’s not easy to hear that.”

Continuing English classes in Dublin, she found a new job as an event and cafe manager at the Science Gallery in Trinity College. There she was introduced to a fascinating new world of scientific debates and exhibitions and began to investigate science-related degrees in Ireland. After four years working at the Gallery she applied for a degree in environmental health and was offered a place on the four-year course at Dublin’s Institute of Technology. However, before embarking on her new academic adventure, Gonzalez Troya spent the summer back home in Malaga.

“I wanted to see how it was so I could make up my mind about the next step. It was an eye-opener. I found a job in a cocktail bar and was working 16/17 hours a day, six days a week just to get €850 a month. I did three months and was like, that’s the end of it. Obviously the weather in Ireland can be hard but why would you want the Spanish sun if you have to work all day? You literally have no life and see no one. It’s not worth it.”

My career and studies have always been a priority. I wouldn’t have been happy if I had just stayed here and didn’t finish studying

Afterwards, she returned to Ireland to begin her studies but found university in Ireland very different to back home in Spain. “The boys were really awkward talking to the girls and they would plan everything separately, boys and girls, most of the time. I thought that was very strange. Studying in Dublin really gave me an insight into Irish culture. I still loved it but it was so different to Spain.”

Determined to complete the four-year programme, Gonzalez Troya supported herself by working in coffee shops. “I wanted to get a job that I felt proud of, that was my main reason for studying. My career and studies have always been a priority. I wouldn’t have been happy if I had just stayed here and didn’t finish studying.”

Shortly after finishing the course, Gonzalez Troya began applying for jobs and was offered a position as a junior health and safety officer with the Collen construction group. Seven months into the job she is very happy with her role in the company. “It was extremely hard to be working nearly full time while in college full time and doing all the projects in a different language. I thought I couldn’t do it and was close to giving up in the last year. But now I feel like all the efforts have paid off.

“I consider Ireland home now. It’s amazing to be able to do what I want in work, it’s so satisfying. I feel that I am complete now.”