‘I’m one of the Covid-19 college guinea pigs. It all coalesced into burnout’

New to the Parish: Daneisha Pile arrived from Barbados in 2019

As a child, Daneisha Pile often daydreamed about the house she would one day build for her family. She was born and brought up in the Christ Church area of southern Barbados, and her family shared a small home with aunts and cousins. "My dream house had ample space for everybody and simple amenities such as a bathroom indoors and space for a dog. Don't get me wrong, the house where I grew up was like a castle to me. But I still spent my days thinking about the ideal home."

The youngest of three siblings, Pile was always artistic and loved drawing from an early age. Her parents encouraged her to pursue these talents and as a teenager, she started sketching ideas for buildings. She chose subjects which would enable her to pursue studies in this area – maths, physics, art and technical drawing – but by the time she reached her final year of school, she felt lost.

“I don’t think I got enough guidance in terms of what to do next. Everyone in my school seemed to have their stuff together and knew what they wanted to do when they were 18. With me, I knew I had the passion and talent but didn’t know where to go.”

I've come to appreciate how the world of architecture works in this country

On the advice of her mother, Pile decided to study for an associate degree in visual arts at Barbados Community College, a place where she says she "finally found myself".

“I got out of that bubble of being in a school uniform to a place where your personality can flourish. You meet more people in tune with what you’re interested in.” After graduating from her initial arts degree, Pile moved on to an associate degree in architectural studies at the same college.

"Even though I had so much fire in me, when I finished that course I was in the same predicament I'd been when I finished secondary school in that I could not attain the financial aid needed to pursue a full bachelor's degree. I applied for a place at Montana State University and they offered me a scholarship but it wasn't a full scholarship. I was grateful but it wasn't enough."

Along with all the other graduates from her community college class, Pile also started applying for jobs as an architectural assistant. “I threw my net wide but it wasn’t easy because everyone else in my class who wasn’t going to university overseas did the same thing. A lot of my peers were male and at the time I didn’t think that was a disadvantage but I quickly realised it was.”

On a number of occasions Pile discovered a male classmate had been selected over her for an assistant role. She knew she had higher grades and was a better candidate and felt confused and disillusioned.

Irish-owned studio

Then, a college lecturer sent her an ad for a job with an architectural practice called Argo Development Studio. She was surprised to discover the studio was Irish-owned, with offices in both Barbados and Dublin. Despite strong competition, Pile was selected for the role and started working under the company's managing director, David Campion.

“The fact that I could go home and tell my parents I’d been offered a job with this firm meant everything to me. I was over the moon, my parents were over the moon. It felt like the stars were starting to align.”

After two years working with the company, Pile was approached to take part in a newly-established scholarship programme which would enable an assistant in the Barbados office to study for a full architecture degree in Dublin. In September 2019, Pile set off to Dublin to begin her studies at TU Dublin while also continuing to assist with Argo projects in the firm’s Irish office.

Given her previous studies, Pile skipped straight to second year of the course and spent her first semester on campus getting to know her classmates. Then, halfway through her second semester, Covid hit and she was sent home to her small apartment in Greenhills in southwest Dublin.

“I’m one of the Covid-19 college guinea pigs. We’re that new generation of students who study for our degrees at home. I’m naturally an introvert so the idea of remote learning didn’t seem that daunting at first. But being in your room every day takes its toll on you after a while. Luckily where I live has ample space but I still felt disadvantaged as an international student because I wanted the full experience of being here. Architecture is a collaborative process, not being in a classroom with face-to-face feedback sometimes frustrated and demotivated me.”

Pile did not live close to any classmates and so was unable, during lockdown, to grab coffees or go for walks with the friends she had made at university. “That caused me to regress into a hole and, while I managed to maintain my schoolwork, my social life suffered.”

Burnout

Pile returned to campus one day a week in September 2021 but the pressure of studying alone without peer support for 18 months had really started to affect her. “I felt tremendously stressed and overwhelmed. I started to feel imposter syndrome and had ridiculous thoughts of ‘Do I really deserve this?’. I was an overachiever and that’s not healthy. It all kind of coalesced into burnout.”

I've been able to come out of my comfort zone, broaden my perspective on culture, meet new and interesting people and, most importantly, learn to care for my mental health

In the end, with the support of a Croatian classmate, she decided to speak to a college counsellor. “Architecture is stressful and unfortunately I had to reach a brick wall before seeking help. But I’m so grateful to that friend.”

Pile is keen to point out that her colleagues at Argo have “been nothing but supportive” and “always make sure I do what I need to do”. She also believes the pandemic taught her how to set boundaries and be more disciplined with her work-life balance.

Despite the struggles of the past few years, Pile loves Ireland and hopes to remain here for a couple of years after she graduates from TU Dublin. "I've come to appreciate how the world of architecture works in this country."

Being in Ireland during such a challenging period has enabled Pile to “realise my self worth and talents in a meaningful way”.

“I’ve been able to come out of my comfort zone, broaden my perspective on culture and meet new and interesting people, and most importantly, learn to care for my mental health; an ongoing journey, as it is so easy to overlook at times.”

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