When I sat my Leaving Cert in 1989, a nursing career was the dream but I didn’t achieve the necessary points. I did a Pre-Nursing course while working in the Intellectual Disability field where I discovered that nursing actually wasn’t for me. I decided to au pair in Belgium to give me time to think and then, as a stop-gap, I got a job in the airline industry which I loved. Ten years, three airlines, and thousands of air-miles later, I married, had children and changed career to an office job closer to home. When my marriage ended, I was struggling with my mental health, was no longer working, and was feeling entirely lost in a world that had moved on without me. My skills were out of date. I was out of date.
A few years passed when, through a chance meeting with a friend of a friend, I found out about an adult career guidance service associated with Kildare Wicklow Education and Training Board (KWETB), and based in Newbridge. I called in on a whim to make an appointment, to find out if I had any options to help me upskill and so return to the workplace. Less than two weeks later, I walked into my first class in ‘Community and Health Care’, a FETAC Level 5 Vocational Training and Opportunities Scheme (VTOS).
While taking that course, my self-confidence and my health improved dramatically, and I remembered how to function as a ‘real’ person again. When my tutors suggested I should apply for third level, I was shocked but delighted, terrified but excited! The Newbridge VTOS team helped with every step of the SUSI and CAO application processes. I attended the open days at Maynooth University and decided that Social Science was the course for me. When I received my letter of offer I was over the moon.
My four children were aged from 6 to 11 when I returned to education so I was very fortunate to get reduced cost childcare that was available at the time. When I moved on to college, I received the full SUSI grant and retained my social welfare payment so I’ve managed financially.
That September, Maynooth Access Programme hosted a Welcome Day for all students entering through the HEAR, DARE schemes and mature students, so my first day on campus was with many people who were just as nervous and unfamiliar with the territory as I was. We were welcomed by so many friendly staff and faculty, and offered so much support and information, that the major fears were allayed. I met people that day who remain great friends today.
As a mature student, I absolutely love lectures and appreciate the level of inclusion I have felt from the lecturers and my much younger peers. I have discovered a passionate love of learning and feel so grateful every day to have gotten this opportunity. But that’s not to say there haven’t been challenges. However, I have been supported by several of the student services provided by Maynooth, including the Budget Advisor, Counselling Service, Medical Centre, and MAP staff. Everyone on campus just wants you to succeed!
During a presentation on that first day, Dr. Rose Ryan, Director of Maynooth’s Access Programme, gave us a piece of advice that has remained with me. She said that while we all have responsibilities in our daily lives – children, older parents, work, running a home – when we come in the college gate in the morning, we should allow ourselves to be students first, the rest will still be there when we go home in the evening. That has been the most useful advice anyone gave me. I have focused 100% on the experience of being a student, both with my studies and the endless cups of coffee and stimulating conversations every day with people in exactly the same boat as me.
Now, nearing the end of my degree, I know that I am not finished learning. I hope to progress to a Master’s programme (and maybe even beyond!) and eventually find fulfilling employment in a field I can contribute to, and where I can make a difference.
I still suffer occasional ‘impostor syndrome’ and wonder how I am where I am, but those times are less frequent, and I know that while I might not have gone where I intended to go when I left school in 1989, I have ended up exactly where I needed to be right now.