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'Living in direct provision strongly affects your mental health' - Asylum seeker who was awarded place at RCSI

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Anna Kern is now a physiotherapy student at the Royal College of Surgeons

Anna Kern is now a physiotherapy student at the Royal College of Surgeons

INSPIRATION: Anna Kern was offered a place at RCSI after scoring 575 points in her exams

INSPIRATION: Anna Kern was offered a place at RCSI after scoring 575 points in her exams

15/8/2015  Anna Kern who has just received 575 points in the Leaving Certificate at home in the Knocklisheen Centre in Meelick, Co. Clare 4 kms from Limerick at the desk where she studied which also is used as a food preparation area. Photo Liam Burke/Press 22

15/8/2015 Anna Kern who has just received 575 points in the Leaving Certificate at home in the Knocklisheen Centre in Meelick, Co. Clare 4 kms from Limerick at the desk where she studied which also is used as a food preparation area. Photo Liam Burke/Press 22

Anna Kern from Colaiste Nano Nagle, Limerick

Anna Kern from Colaiste Nano Nagle, Limerick

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Anna Kern is now a physiotherapy student at the Royal College of Surgeons

Student Anna Kern, who was awarded a place at the Royal College of Surgeons while living in direct provision, has said that living as an asylum seeker "strongly affects your mental health and social connections with others".

The Ukrainian student achieved 575 points in her Leaving Cert when she was studying at Colaiste Nano Nagle, Limerick in 2015.

She studied five hours a day in a one-room house to achieve her dreams of studying physiotherapy and was awarded a place at the Royal College of Surgeons.

The college waived the €25,000 a year fees that Anna (20) would have had to pay as a non-EU international student, after her inspiring story received a lot of media attention.

Now halfway through her four-year course, the aspiring physiotherapist told Independent.ie that while she's enjoying her course, she feels bad for other students in direct provision who haven't been as fortunate.

She said: "I love my course. It's very intense but it's what I wanted. It's so rewarding. However, I feel bad for those in direct provision who haven't been as fortunate as I have been.

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15/8/2015  Anna Kern who has just received 575 points in the Leaving Certificate at home in the Knocklisheen Centre in Meelick, Co. Clare 4 kms from Limerick at the desk where she studied which also is used as a food preparation area. Photo Liam Burke/Press 22

15/8/2015 Anna Kern who has just received 575 points in the Leaving Certificate at home in the Knocklisheen Centre in Meelick, Co. Clare 4 kms from Limerick at the desk where she studied which also is used as a food preparation area. Photo Liam Burke/Press 22

15/8/2015 Anna Kern who has just received 575 points in the Leaving Certificate at home in the Knocklisheen Centre in Meelick, Co. Clare 4 kms from Limerick at the desk where she studied which also is used as a food preparation area. Photo Liam Burke/Press 22

"It would be great if they had the opportunity to study and implement their skills in real life. Not being able to work, study or contribute is very frustrating for asylum seekers."

Anna escaped the conflict in Ukraine in 2013.

She travelled to Ireland with her mother Lyndmyla, a trained nurse, brother Andriy (16) and sister Olga (12).

Her family live in a direct provision centre in Knockalisheen, on the outskirts of Limerick City.

Anna's mother worked as a nurse in a children's hospital in Ukraine and she's hoping to get a permission to remain in Ireland so that she can work.

"She's hoping to get a job as a registered nurse and continue her career in Ireland," explained Anna. "She wants to help people get better and contribute to Irish society."

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Her brother Andriy did his Junior Cert this year and is considering entering veterinary medicine after his Leaving Cert. Her sister Olga loves music and art. She's a member of the CBS Pipe Band in Limerick and aspires to become a dentist when she leaves school.

Anna told Independent.ie that she's happy they have settled in Ireland but she says the family faced some initial challenges when they first moved here.

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INSPIRATION: Anna Kern was offered a place at RCSI after scoring 575 points in her exams

INSPIRATION: Anna Kern was offered a place at RCSI after scoring 575 points in her exams

INSPIRATION: Anna Kern was offered a place at RCSI after scoring 575 points in her exams

She said: "Irish people are kind, honest, well-mannered and tolerant. They are ready to help you. And I enjoy living in a society that cares about me. It's heartwarming that I found great friends in Ireland.

"But one of the main challenges asylum seekers face when [they come to Ireland] is learning English. It's very hard to communicate. You simply cannot ask for directions, you cannot explain your problem to the doctor, you cannot ask for the bus timetable... it is very frustrating.

"When we arrived to the country, English courses were offered one or two times per week, which is definitely not enough to communicate with native speakers. If you wanted to have more classes per week, you have to wait about half a year because of a long waiting list. By the time you get your place, you could be moved to another city."

It has also been hard for the young student to break down some prejudices people have about asylum seekers and said that life in direct provision is "socially isolating".

"Being a student in direct provision can make you feel socially isolated. You cannot stay with your friends after school to enjoy your time because [you have to catch] the last bus to the centre and it seems other people are scared to come to the centre as well.

"You usually make friends with people who live in the same centre and feel isolated from the rest of the society. Often children and teenagers in direct provision try to avoid talks 'Where do you live?' with their friends because of the prejudice and fear that the relationships will get worse or be ruined. It strongly affects your mental health and social connections with others.

"People think that refugees or asylum seekers came to Ireland to avail of social welfare payments and not contribute to the society. [But they] are willing to work and pay their rent, bills and expenses if they are allowed to. Unfortunately many stay in direct provision for years, not being allowed to work or educate themselves, losing their skills.

As she works enters the second half of her physiotherapy course, Anna has faced some issues in her direct provision centre in Dublin. Loud noises at night keep her awake and she has found herself falling asleep in some of her lectures.

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Anna Kern from Colaiste Nano Nagle, Limerick

Anna Kern from Colaiste Nano Nagle, Limerick

Anna Kern from Colaiste Nano Nagle, Limerick

Her grades have suffered and she's worried that she may not do as well in her exams as she had hoped. It's made her feel "anxious and frustrated".

But she said that she is determined to achieve her goals and hopes that she will be granted refugee status before she finishes her studies.

"I hope I get my status before I graduate so that I can work, that's my wish."


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