Four Years on the Inside: What College really taught me

I began my college experience fueled by a stubborn insistence on leaving the small town that I had grown up in. I thought I didn’t care where I went, once it was away. I couldn’t have been more wrong in that approach. For my first year of third level education I made the bi-weekly two-hour bus journey to attend the University of Limerick. Without wanting to start this article off on the same sour note as my college experience, let’s just say that UL was not for me. Nothing lived up to the image I had painted in my mind. This is not an article bashing UL, I know plenty of people who truly thrived there. There were a lot of things that should be factored into the long explanation as to why I wasn’t happy there but the overwhelming simple answer is just that it wasn’t the right fit. This was overtly evident from the beginning, after just one week of classes I found myself in my kitchen at home uncontrollably sobbing to my mother. However, I stuck out the year. Whether that was due to previously mentioned stubborn tendencies, or a fear of being a college-drop out, I’m just glad that I did. I now look back on my year in UL with gratitude. It was absolutely one of the toughest years of my life and I by no means would ever want to relive it; but it was a struggle that I needed to face, it forced me to grow up and ultimately made me a stronger person.

I am lucky enough to live just one village over from Maynooth and so when a friend recommended that I try applying for a transfer I felt that I had nothing to lose. So ignorant in my insistence on moving away from home for college, I hadn’t even put Maynooth University on my original CAO application. That summer I found myself in quite a similar position as I had the year before, (im)patiently awaiting the news of whether I would be accepted into 2nd year at Maynooth University. Therefore, without wanting to sound too obsequious, I would just like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the Admissions Office for helping me through the entire process, two years later I am still so grateful for all that they did for me.

I found myself starting afresh in September 2014 at Maynooth University following the highly-anticipated call from the Admissions Office in August. Although I had spent my childhood taking walks with my family around the grounds of South Campus, MU felt strangely alien and intimidating to me on that first day. However, I was glad to find a very different environment to the one I had found in UL. Perhaps it was simply a change in my attitude or that I had the comfort of knowing many of my old friends were also studying at Maynooth, albeit in different courses. I made some friends in my classes and much preferred the Maynooth approach to teaching my course. However, I was still dealing with a crushed self-esteem following the previous year and so didn’t have the guts to join any societies. Having been on the ESN committee this year, I now know that joining a society is one of the best ways to make true friends and feel far more integrated into a college community. So, any fellow transfer students reading this, or even if you’re just feeling a little lost on our big campus, look up the long list of clubs and socs and see which ones would fit you. Just trust me… and thank me later.

Regardless of my improved situation in 2nd year, I still had a burning desire to spread my wings and ‘get out’. So, when applications for Erasmus and Study Abroad opened, I eagerly went along to every information sessions and fair, wrote my personal statements and filled out various application forms. I was accepted to my first choice, Fordham University in New York City, and finally felt like things were falling into place. I was lucky enough to have the full support of my parents and so following my 2nd year exams I began eagerly preparing for the big move. I set out alone on what has been one of the greatest years of my life. I blossomed in New York. I was living in a cramped bedroom in an old apartment block, but New York City became my home from the minute I landed in JFK. I came out of a shell that had protected me all my life, but that had hardened during my first year of University. Living alone in a place so unfamiliar forced me to be far more confident and sure of my capabilities. I found friends that I now consider family, I had the opportunity to study some truly fascinating subjects, and fulfilled a dream that I had been chasing long before I foolishly filled out my CAO form at 18.

I am now coming into the final weeks of my final year. Which is a thought so frightening that I have tactically made the subconscious decision to bury myself so deep in study that I won’t have to acknowledge it until my exams are finished. My time at University has been a roller coaster to say the least. Three different Universities in four years, yet each one has taught me invaluable lessons that go far beyond the lecture hall.

When I look back at the person I was four years ago, I am baffled by how much I have changed and grown. College is a time to learn, we all expect to learn something going in. For those of you reading this that are just beginning your stint at third level education, all I can say is treasure your time. Yes, try to learn all that you can academically (you’re not paying those hefty fees for nothing) but give yourself every opportunity to grow and learn in other aspects of your life as well. Your time at university will change you, regardless of whether you want it to or not, so use your time wisely and allow your changes to be for the better. For those of you reading who are like me and are facing the real world on the not so distant horizon, here’s me raising a metaphorical glass (because I have far too much work to be doing right now to actually have a drink, let’s be honest) to us and all that we have and will achieve.

I will be sorry to say goodbye to student life, but I genuinely think I am ready for the next stage of my life.