‘In Dublin I feel like I’m a part of a living history’

New to the Parish: Ketlyn Mara Rosa arrived from Brazil in 2020

When Ketlyn Mara Rosa was eight years old, she heard music by The Beatles for the first time. She didn't understand the lyrics on the vinyl records her older sister played but still memorised the words. "Straight away I loved the sound of English and I think that's the main thing that attracted me to the language. It sounded so poetic and pleasant." Rosa would go on to study English at university and follow a linguistic journey which would eventually bring her to Ireland in the middle of a pandemic.

Rosa is speaking to me via Zoom from her small apartment beside Blessington Street Basin in Dublin's north inner city. She opens the conversation by describing how lucky she feels living next door to this picturesque city centre garden. The Brazilian academic is particularly appreciative of its beauty after going through the winter lockdown alone and in a smaller studio flat.

“I spent January, February and half of March without actually meeting any other person,” she says. “I wanted to follow the health guidance not to meet people indoors. I know most people did the same but a lot of them live in a house with others. I was completely alone.”

Rosa moved to Ireland in October 2020 after securing a postdoctoral research fellowship at Trinity College's Film Studies department. Before coming to Europe, she had spent most of her life in her home state of Santa Catarina near the city of Florianópolis in southeastern Brazil.


“Growing up there was like growing up in paradise. You have access to beautiful beaches and my best memories from my childhood are going to the beach with my family and being outdoors in this natural environment.”

After school, Rosa studied for a degree in English language and literature at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (UFSC Brazil) and spent a semester abroad in the city of Detroit, an experience she says was "a dream come true".

“I’d always really connected with American culture and it was my first time studying cinema which is my area of expertise now. Being immersed in that environment where everyone spoke English all the time was very overwhelming. I stayed in this dorm and it was like straight out of a college film. But Detroit is such a welcoming city and people were really friendly.”

After completing her undergraduate studies and teaching for a while, Rosa and her older sister, who had specialised in Shakespeare’s writings at university, applied together for a Master’s in English linguistics and literary studies. “The entire programme was through English which is unusual for Brazil. Normally you can work with American, British and Irish literature and cinema but it’s done through Portuguese.”

Rosa specialised in war films and went on to pursue a PhD focusing on this genre. In 2017, she secured a four-month scholarship to work on her PhD at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. "I felt really welcomed and the only problem was the weather. Even spring and summer felt ridiculously cold. But it was an incredible opportunity to go to such a prestigious university."

After completing her PhD in 2019, Rosa worked for a year as a professor at a private university before securing the funding for a two-year post-doctoral research position at Trinity. She arrived in Ireland in October 2020, just as the country began imposing Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions.

I was fully concentrated, I had no distractions, it was like a boot camp for thesis or book writing

"When I arrived I had to self-quarantine for 15 days in an Airbnb. The window of my apartment in Drumcondra was my window to Ireland, it was the only thing I could see. It was frustrating being in Europe and stuck inside but at the same time I was in a comfortable position in a warm apartment, I had food, I had internet. I just needed to have patience."

Rosa started venturing into Trinity College for work in the months leading up to Christmas. However, like everyone in Ireland, she had to lock herself away from mid-December. "Christmas is always a big thing in my house so my family felt sad that I was here alone. But we Zoomed a lot, we watched films together and we found a new way to celebrate. Feeling sorry for myself wasn't going to help, we just had to adapt. But the worst part came afterwards when the restrictions really kicked in."

Watching from afar as the Covid-19 emergency escalated in Brazil was also “very nerve-wracking”, she adds. “I wanted everyone in my family to be safe and out of any sort of danger and I was constantly calling them and asking did you wear a mask, did you use hand sanitiser? I was always checking to make sure everyone was safe.”

Rosa threw herself into her research during the long winter lockdown and focused on writing chapters for a book she’s working on. “I was fully concentrated, I had no distractions, it was like a boot camp for thesis or book writing. It was still hard but I actually think now something positive came out of it. I really focused on what I needed to do and I’m ahead of schedule with my work now.

“I did miss interacting with people but I did a lot of exercise so I wasn’t cooped up. And you see people in the streets, it’s not like you’re in this zombie apocalypse world. People would tell me ‘you don’t really know Dublin from this experience’, but I don’t agree. I think I experienced my Dublin. Everyone has a different version of Dublin and in my version there weren’t many people but it was something I cherished because I worked really hard to get here and to be at Trinity. I don’t think it’s lost time.”

Rosa feels her priorities have shifted during the pandemic. “When I first applied for the fellowship it felt like it was the only thing that existed on Earth. But then everything changed and my concern was arriving here safely and maintaining my health and my sanity. All of a sudden it was just about living and being alive.”

Since moving to Blessington Street, Rosa has researched the 1911 census records for the building where she lives. “I could see the people’s names and ages and professions who lived here and it felt like I was in the middle of history. That’s what I feel like in Dublin, that I’m part of a living history. I like that people in Dublin recognise this history and the importance of looking back and remembering what happened before and learning from that. History is really alive here.”