It’s a graduation from the (Study) USA!

(Dear reader: I apologise wholeheartedly for utilising that musical pun, and moreover for the unintentional consequence of its being stuck in your head.)

Miley Cyrus I most certainly am not, but I did indeed have a party (of the combined academic, voluntary, adventurous and internship variety) in the USA as a successful recipient of a ‘Study USA’ scholarship. As you may know from other blog posts, I was a Business major at the wonderful Coe College in Cedar Rapids, IA for the academic year 2014/2015, and I had a truly marvellous time.

This week saw the official conclusion of the scholarship programme for my cohort of peers and myself, as we underwent a graduation ceremony in the beautiful Barnett Room of the Belfast Harbour Commissioner’s Office. It was lovely to see all the other students and hear about their experiences, and we could all empathise with the deflated feeling we all experienced upon our return home to Northern Ireland in the summer.

And so it was that on Thursday 29th October, it was essentially the end of an era as I walked up to receive my certificate from members of the British Council.

A certificate confirms it: I have graduated!
A certificate confirms it: I have graduated!

It is rather funny that this little piece of paper signifies so much: my successful survival in a country I had never before been to, my ability to adapt to a new college, new country and new educational system – let alone a new course of study. Yet it also symbolises the friends I made there, the brilliant people I met, my exposure to Greek Life and the US legal system via my internship. It reminds me that I was constantly challenged, endured tough spells, but ultimately conquered fears and overcame tribulations to succeed. So many memories and adventures are summarised by that glossy page, and in holding it I hold on to those memories, feelings and thoughts.

I will be honest and say that whilst it was a lovely ceremony and a thoroughly enjoyable occasion, it was bittersweet. Bittersweet in the harsh realisation that this is a chapter of life which has concluded. I am proud of myself and all my peers for successfully completing the programme, for challenging ourselves and enjoying the many opportunities and experiences afforded to us. But the year is over, and time marches on. I have amazing memories, but I do miss my friends and that next second home in Coe campus. I suppose I just fear that I will never meet those people again, or ever see Coe and Iowa generally again. Studying abroad is an amazing experience which I will always recommend, but I suppose I was not prepared for the influx of feelings upon my return – you adapt so readily to your new environment that it becomes home. Thus to return home is a shock to the system.

Perhaps it is also fear of the unknown, in the sense that as a final year law student, I do not necessarily know what I will be doing this time next year. When I was living in America, I knew that I had another year to dwell on the future; as November appears on the horizon I realise that time is racing by and the future, resplendent in hopes, vague promises and whispers of opportunities lies ahead. I am someone who likes to plan, to be organised and have a schedule. Not knowing what I will be doing next year yet or how my future will turn out does rather concern me.

But there is a strange twinge of joy in that observation: the future is indeed opaque, but so vast and promising. It is what I make of it, just like my study abroad experience. Thus instead of fearing it, I should – and will – consider it a new and exciting challenge to overcome. America taught me the importance of being independent, overcoming obstacles and seeing things through to the end. It would be a waste not to apply this knowledge and experience to my future. As I would frequently remind myself in the middle of bustling US airports as I carried heavy bags and my travel documents, you are the one in charge of yourself, and only you can see this through: no one else will live this for you. (I also repeated this as I had to lug a huge suitcase up flights of stairs and across platforms travelling from Gatwick to King’s Cross in London during one memorable summer of work experience. I was exhausted, it was an unbearably warm afternoon in a huge crowd, and not a single soul offered to help me either carry my bags or hold open doors. I had to get myself to my hotel; no one else was going to. And that I did – complete with a joyful attack on the hotel bed.)

With my Study USA certificate in hand, I remember that I can adapt, I can overcome, and moreover I enjoy the challenge. It is tangible evidence of my ambition and drive, of my will to succeed. And whilst the graduation ceremony marked the conclusion of my study abroad chapter, it also in fact marked the commencement of a new chapter of my life. I fully intend that it will be as adventurous, exciting and interesting as the previous one.

If you want to find out more about my year abroad and my American adventures, why not check out my website


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