My graduate story is one I like to imagine is a story with no final chapter. Learning is something I value highly, but after years of feeling underachieved and unintelligent I discovered the traditional educating system wasn’t a good fit for me. I grew up with four siblings who all excelled in exams and schoolwork. I was an average student but in comparison to my siblings I felt out of place.
Throughout my life I have had high expectations for myself, in 4th class I was adamant I was going to become an occupational therapist. In 3rd Year, this dream faded when I saw my grades and I lowered my expectations. The CAO process wasn’t one I look back on fondly! I had constant anxiety regarding my choices and if I was making the right decisions. My older brother had gone to University to study general science and I felt that I should do the same. At the time, I don’t believe I even enjoyed Science, I studied it so I could continue my attempt to mirror my siblings who all aced their science exams.
I went on to study Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmaceutical Sciences in DIT. My first year I excelled, and my joy came from the sudden peak in my academic marks. I wish I had known how quickly that would change! Early on in my second year, my grades dropped, and I started to experience regular anxiety attacks that I hid from family and friends. The friendships I had formed faded and by my final year I was only barely attending labs due to depression. Two months before I began my final year project my asthma started to play up and my doctor believed it was caused by the exposer to chemicals and hypersensitive lungs. Great! A chemist who can’t work with chemicals! How ironic.
With the help of my family I continued my degree. I had constant supervision in a lab by myself for my FYP. At the time I thought this was mortifying but I had the constant attention of my supervisor I was able to complete my project and my degree with his help. I hated everything about DIT, about being in Kevin Street and about my college degree. So much so I refused to attend my graduation or even pick up my degree. I don’t feel ashamed that there is no cert framed on the wall with my dad and brother. I’m happy I completed it, but I’m annoyed at myself for the effect it had on my mental and physical wellbeing. It was around this time that I decided to move jobs, I started working in retail and met a great bunch of friends who helped me slowly but surely.
I took some time off to decide what my next step would be. Where my learning style differs from my siblings started to come into play here. I learn through interacting and experiencing. I can sit down and study until the cows come home but this won’t do me any good. With this realisation, I knew the best thing for me was to travel. My older brother had made frequent summer trips to the US to be a camp counsellor with CCUSA and through these connections I applied for a Canadian IEC visa. I had spoken about it for months, but my final decision was somewhat impulsive. I booked a flight for one month out, no job, no accommodation, no idea what I was thinking! I ended up finalising a job and accommodation the same week I flew out.
Packing my bags, I couldn’t help but thinking what the hell I was doing! A 23-year-old with severe flight anxiety, not only was I flying by myself for approx. 13 hours, but I was moving by myself. I left my friends and family my comfort zone and arrived in Vancouver on March 15th, just in time for Paddy’s day I thought. I had high hopes for March 17th, but the celebrations were overshadowed by jet lag. The following day I hauled 2 suitcases, one large Milltown duffel bag (You can take the girl out of Milltown ha-ha!) and a packed bag packed across the city to get the bus to my new home away from home, Whistler B.C.
For those of you who have yet to visit Vancouver, make it your first post COVID trip! Driving the sea to sky highway with the Coast Mountains on my right and the Pacific Ocean on my left I wondered was this what the next few months would consist of. Boy was I in for a treat!! I had bagged myself a job in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Wanting to start my experience as soon as possible I started my new job the very next day. I began working in a call centre for Whistler Blackcomb Mountain Resort. This job came with some extremely juicy perks, one being access to the mountains whenever I felt like it.
It wasn’t long before I had started making new friends, learning to live independently and finally losing the overwhelming pressure of underachieving I had fabricated in my head. My confidence grew and so did my sense of adventure. I learnt how to ski, bungee jumped (twice!), went on my first wine tour, fell in love, experienced heartbreak, learnt to camp in the wilderness, seen wild bears and humpback whales. With every day came a new adventure, and with every adventure grow my appetite to learn. I wanted to know every detail about black bears. Why did they enjoy chilling out on the hill I walked home on every day? Why are orca whales returning to Vancouver? Why is the snow later this season? How is the water in this lake so blue? I questioned everything! And with every answered question came one internal question. Why is my appetite to learn returning?
I had spent so many years trying to achieve the same merits as my siblings I had ignored the fundamentals of learning. I had ignored my passions because I felt they weren’t academic enough and although I didn’t look down on those who chose a trade, I refused myself the opportunity of exploring a trade.
Unfortunately, my Canadian experience was cut short due to some unprecedented circumstances. With a heavy heart I returned to Ireland. I had attempted to return to travelling but my plans have been put on hold due to the current pandemic. This has given me time to explore online courses, masters, and job opportunities in what I have found to be my passion. The environment and nature! I know now to look outside the box when it comes to how I learn, to explore all options before settling on one option because it’s considered the norm. Travelling offered me the freedom I had longed for; it opened my eyes to a wide range of opportunities and thought me to overcome my fears.
I’d like to conclude with a saying my Mam engrained in me since I was young, one that became my life motto when travelling. Without it I would have never gotten the courage to do what I always considered impossible, flying to New Zealand! – “Feel the fear and do it anyway!”
You can imagine how many times I said that (and “Sacred Heart of Jesus, protect me!”) in 2019 travelling on 17 flights amounting to approximately 93 hours on a plane.