‘Living in Dublin on about €13,000 a year is not easy. But we were good at saving’

New to the Parish: Ricardo Filho arrived from Brazil in 2013 and again in 2016

Ricardo Filho, an engineer from Brazil, who has lived in Ireland since 2016 with his wife. Photograph: Alan Betson

Ricardo Filho, an engineer from Brazil, who has lived in Ireland since 2016 with his wife. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Ricardo Filho was earning €250 a month in his job as a co-ordinator at an English-language school in Brazil when he received word from UCD that he had been awarded a scholarship to study at the Dublin university. The grant would cover all tuition fees but not living and travel expenses, or the €3,000 needed to secure permission to study in Ireland. Based on his earnings, Filho realised it would take nearly a decade to gather the funds for the trip. He had to come up with a different plan to get the money.

“That’s how I came up with the idea of selling raffle tickets. One day I had to print off some papers for my undergrad thesis and it cost about 5 per cent of my salary. So I wrote out a sign by hand which said ‘I’m the only student in Brazil who got the tuition fees scholarship to do my masters in Dublin, it’s my dream, please help me.”

Filho spent eight hours a day for the following two months walking the streets of his home city of Barra Mansa, not far from Rio de Janeiro, as well as the surrounding streets, holding up the handmade sign he had designed. At first donations were slow but as time passed, and word spread on Facebook of the young student with an Irish scholarship, the money started to add up.

Really shy

He had secured a TV and some beauty products as prizes for the raffle but found most people showed little interest in what they could win. “I was really shy back then and it was difficult to ask people for money, it felt strange. I was trying to cover my face all the time with the sign. But people were hugging me and crying and saying it’s beautiful, I’m proud to be in the same city as you. One person told me that I had to show my face and be proud.”

Filho had visited Ireland for the first time after he was awarded one of the Brazilian government’s Science Without Borders scholarships in 2013. He spent 18 months in Ireland, including a year studying English and six months studying energy and mechanical engineering at UCD in Dublin. The first engineering student in the family, Filho was also the first member of his family to study abroad. “My family cried a lot because they missed me but they were very proud. It felt like it would be impossible because Brazil is such a huge country and we’re from a small city so we don’t have many opportunities. That’s why they were shocked when I got these opportunities.”

Ricardo Filho made a sign – which said ‘I’m the only student in Brazil who got the tuition fees scholarship to do my masters in Dublin, it’s my dream, please help me – and sold raffle tickets in order to come up with the €3,000 needed to secure permission to study in Ireland. Photograph: Ricardo Filho
Ricardo Filho made a sign – which said ‘I’m the only student in Brazil who got the tuition fees scholarship to do my masters in Dublin, it’s my dream, please help me – and sold raffle tickets in Brazil in order to come up with the €3,000 needed to secure permission to study in Ireland. Photograph: Ricardo Filho

Studying at UCD initially felt like walking on a film set, says Filho. “It was my first time leaving Brazil, I had no idea what it was going to be like. It was the lockers and the students, the people looked really different in Ireland. And all the big rooms with the theatres and the professors using screens. The atmosphere was like an American move. Compared to my university in Brazil UCD was amazing.” Filho was also struck by how safe he felt walking around Dublin at night. “It was the feeling that you can walk around at 2am and it’s okay. It’s way safer here than in Brazil.”

Having completed the scholarship programme, Filho returned to Brazil determined to find a way back to Ireland to continue his studies. “The agreement was I had to spend at least 18 months in Brazil after the programme. But the second day I got back I immediately started emailing UCD to say please, I want to go back, how can I apply for scholarships? I think I sent about 200 emails to UCD.”

In September 2016, after three months of daily fundraising, Filho boarded a flight back to Dublin. He was accompanied this time by his wife Luana who he had married during his time back in Brazil. Filho dived straight into his two-year master’s at UCD while Luana found a job as a childminder. “She didn’t speak any English at all when she arrived in Ireland. I remember the first interview she was really nervous but now her English is better than mine because the kids helped her a lot.”

Safe

At first the couple lived in a three-bedroom house in Kimmage which they shared with five other people. “Financially it was a challenge because I wasn’t working. It was a full-time masters and she was a childminder so living in Dublin on about €13,000 per year is not easy. But we were good at saving money.” The couple then moved into a house with three others in Inchicore where, for the first time, Filho remembers not feeling safe walking the streets at night. Next they moved to Rathmines where they spent a year living in an attic studio flat in a Georgian house.

Filho enjoyed his engineering studies and built up his confidence through class presentations but struggled with his masters thesis. “I went to the psychiatrist in UCD because I was having panic attacks because of the thesis. The average pass in Brazil is 70 and in UCD it’s 40. But to get 40 here you have to work three times harder than to get 70 in Brazil. I had to study way harder to reach the level of the Irish students, that was the main challenge for me.”

Having secured his Portuguese passport through his grandfather, Filho decided to stay in Ireland after graduation and find work. He attended a CV clinic at the Engineers Ireland office in Ballsbridge and two days later interviewed for a job. Shortly afterwards he was offered a position with the PM Group in Tallaght where he still works today. His wife has also found work in banking in Dún Laoghaire and the couple are renting an apartment in Sandyford. “It’s amazing to have our own place and have that feeling that you can do whatever you want, you don’t need to worry about other people.”

The couple are now saving for a mortgage to buy a home in Dublin and have built a close circle of friends during their time here. “I’d say I have more Irish friends now than Brazilian. Maybe after we’ve retired we’ll go back to Brazil but we’re definitely staying here to live.”