Have you ever had that punch-in-the-stomach, gut-feeling that something just isn’t right? That hollow, sinking instinct that warns you away from doing or saying something? I got it when I was in my first year of college studying Psychology in University of Limerick. It was nothing to do with the course content or where I was living, I just felt really unsettled and for a long time I put it down to the fact that I had made this huge transition from secondary school to university, moved away from home with almost nobody I knew and was out in the world alone. But when first semester came and went and I felt no more settled than a chronic procrastinator on exam day, I knew I needed to do something about it.
Long story short, I decided to take a year out and move to Canada. Hands down, it has been the best and most exciting thing I have ever done in my life. Initially however, I really struggled with the concept of taking a year out of college. It was so against the norm to me; I was nearly afraid to tell people. I was worried people would think I couldn’t handle my course or I would turn into some wasted, college drop-out. I know now that that was complete nonsense but it wasn’t a common thing then and with those of whom I shared my exciting news they seemed utterly perplexed and found the whole scenario incomprehensible! I was patronisingly advised against it over and over with the warning: “You’ll never go back to college and then where will you be?!”
Funny thing was, it took that year out to show me that college is not the be all and end all. Your life is no less valued if you don’t go to college. To be honest, I envied those who were in college because I thought that they all knew exactly what they wanted to do and I didn’t. I really envied that. Until I found out that wasn’t the case. It turns out most people haven’t a clue what they want to do. They’re in a course because they thought they had an interest in it and felt compelled to follow the traditional path of school, college, career, marriage etc. My argument? How are you supposed to know what you want to do if you haven’t at least gone out and tried a thing or two? Go see some of the world, try a few different jobs, take up a new hobby, challenge yourself and develop some passions.
I knew I was doing the right thing for me and that in itself was one of the most important things I learned from that year out. You learn things about yourself that you never even knew existed but how could you when you were never faced with that type of adversity? I worked in a completely new area that I had never experienced before. I learned how to ski. I made friends from all over the world. I travelled from Toronto to Montreal, New York to Niagara. I have memories of people and places that I will cherish forever. I have seen what it’s like to be a part of a completely different culture. I tried new foods, a new language and lived out of bag, scraping pennies together 4,000 miles away from home. College can’t teach you that.
Life is not about building the person you should become, it’s about unravelling all that you are now as a result of society, family, friends and other influences and finding the core of you underneath. A year out on your own will do more for you than you can ever imagine. It doesn’t have to be mid-college, before or even after, it can be at any stage of your life. But it’s talking that time to acknowledge that you need to do something for you. It can be travelling for a year, working, volunteering, whatever it is, you will learn more about yourself in that year than you will all throughout college, trust me. If it’s something you’re considering, you won’t regret it.