When I began my studies at Queen's University, Belfast, I always knew that there would be opportunities to work and travel abroad. In October 2012, I attended a presentation on working at summer camps in the USA. Although I was intrigued and knew it would be something that I would thoroughly enjoy, I just thought 'three months is too long to be away.' I remember that is exactly what I said to my friends outside the venue especially as I had only ever been away for one week from my parents.
That weekend, I couldn't get the programme out of my head. Of course I wanted to do it. The perfect way to meet people, travel, learn skills and hopefully make an impact on campers' lives. I talked it through with my parents and I began the application. Months of saving and waiting to go through the steps all led up to the day that changed my life and started my wanderlust: February 11th 2013 - the day I got placed at Timber Lake West summer camp. A place that quickly became home. I left Belfast on June 10th, flew solo to New York, traveled two hours North to camp and ended up having the most defining 13 weeks of my life. I learned more about myself than I could ever have imagined.
Then the year of waiting begun. Every day camp was all I would think about. I began interviewing and promoting for Camp Leaders so that other young people could change their own lives and others by doing something worthwhile in summer 2014.
Then a new opportunity arose - Study USA. A program operated by the British Council and as they put it:
Stand out from the crowd by studying for one academic year in the USA - discover your business and management skills and experience another culture at first hand...
At the beginning of the academic year I attended a Study USA workshop to get a feel for what all was involved, how much it would and to get tips for applying. I spent many nights in October redrafting my application until it was as good as it could be. I went to bed every night dreaming about what a year in the USA could be like. On 2nd December, I received an email inviting me to be interviewed. I prepared rigorously for the interview - practicing what I would say and making a scrapbook to describe my life to date and to show that I am a person who gets involved in everything possible. On the day my answers didn't come out just like I had planned but my passion for the programme was clear.
The next most memorable day in my life would be January 10th. I had just been picked up by my dad from the usual Friday Rooney's bus home from Belfast. As a university student, forever lacking in mobile data, it was only when I got in to the wi-fi of my house that I would hear the email notification alert that when opened would tell me I HAD BEEN ACCEPTED ON TO THE PROGRAMME. Screaming. A lot of screaming. Hugging my parents, ringing my sister and of course making a Facebook status.
The next step would be to pick which college would be best for me. We were given a list of colleges, all over the United States with varying numbers of students and organisations available in each. I studied each carefully and with the help of my friends and family I picked three great choices to talk about in my next interview with an American College representative. On the 27th February I trekked over to the Belfast Met - Titanic Quarter Campus in my fancy clothes to talk about my options. I knew that most of the colleges began in August and even though I couldn't have been more grateful to be on the programme, my biggest worry was how this would affect my chances of going back to my second home, TLW.
On the 14th March, I was offered my place at the University of Evansville, a place that I would soon fall in love with. I was delighted to get one of my top three choices. Since January, I had been working three jobs, studying harder than ever before as failing wasn't an option and the hardest bit - sorting out my two consecutive visas. I had talked it through with the Study USA representatives and the Camp Directors, and I was able to do both!
On June 16th, I flew off to New York again for another incredible summer at my favourite place on Earth. New friendships, new challenges and being able to see my campers from 2013 grow up to become incredible young women. A dream summer.
I left camp on Saturday 16th August for three much needed days in Ireland. I spent the short time I had with family and friends, watching GAA and eating potatoes. Perfection. In too short of a time, I was packed and ready to say goodbye again. On Wednesday 20th August, I set off on my next adventure. And now here I am, in Evansville, one month in and already having the time of my life. I plan on writing a blog to describe my time here, what I get up to and the differences and similarities with life at home in Ireland.
For now, to all the people that got me here, I will forever be thankful.