Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Sponging up life education in Canada

I have found independence during a study exchange in Toronto, which has woken me up to the realities of adulthood, writes Martina Gannon.

Thu, Dec 13, 2012, 14:39


I have found independence during a study exchange in Canada, which has woken me up to the realities of adulthood, writes Martina Gannon.

Martina Gannon: 'I have sponged up life education here in Canada as well as new academic knowledge'

I am sure every “full-grown” adult recalls despairingly the moment they realised they could progress no further in life with just a mere part-time job and “travelling experience”. Somewhere amongst the enlightening education and bashing against competitive shoulders on an exchange year in Canada I fell from my comfortable idealist tree. I landed violently, presented with several startling realisations. Hold up – I won’t be a student forever? I can’t be a freelance hippy writer riding on a mere smile and a shoeshine?

At 20 years of age, mid-way through an uncertain Arts degree at NUI Galway I had decided to satiate my thirst for adventure and applied for a year’s exchange to Ottawa University in Canada.

Before I had fully processed the concept of flying solo for a year over 3,000 miles away, I was suddenly hugging goodbyes in Shannon airport. I scuttled off to departures leaving behind a teary-eyed, fearful mother, and a little sister who ominously reminded me to “watch out for bears”.

I alighted in Toronto warmed by the kindness of a fellow 65-year-old passenger whom I hitched a lift with to downtown Toronto.

I found myself in a house with four other international students, one Spanish, two French and one English. My multicultural education began immediately. I imparted wisdom on the Irish tradition of “craic” and they shared the exoticism of their geography, languages and cultures.

After a month of “Irish style socialising” and facing severely deflated bank balances, we sobered up quick. Most of us had just three months’ money left to stretch out over seven.

The seasons strutted along, but that secretly feared homesickness never came. My family hung up on me one day on Skype without even a glimmer of hesitation or sadness, and I suddenly realised that they didn’t need me anymore, and that I didn’t need them so much either. After twenty years of being a misfit at home in Ireland, I had found my niche in a place where I could so easily be anonymous.

I felt empowered by the freedom I had gained, but with that new-found independence came increased responsibility. I was facing seven impoverished months, which forced the reality of adulthood on me.

My pessimistic (bordering on nihilistic) French housemate told me: “You will end up in boring, meaningless job, there is no such thing as a job you will like. The world is f**cked, especially Ireland.” We went to war, I as the eternal idealist and he the monstrously pessimistic economics student. Several investigative Goldman Sachs documentaries later and I understood exactly where his pessimism came from.

This study-based stint of emigration has banished my youthful shield of ignorance about politics, global culture and the economy. I have sponged up life education here in Canada as well as new academic knowledge. After this year I can never be the same again.

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