After a wee tour of the West Coast (LA (and its gorgeous beaches) and Las Vegas) it was home time. I flew back to Evansville to get my return flight to Chicago O’Hare and then Dublin airport as my final destination. I stayed with a friend who took me out that night for one final night out in Evansville. I was sad to leave the people that had become my family for the last year. It was so weird because I was conscious of the fact that everything that happened in that year and the people I met were only known to me. It was like a little alternative universe.
I returned to reality with a hard bump at the end of May 2013. I distinctly remember it was when Radio 1’s Big Weekend was in Derry (plz come back). Coming home from America was bittersweet. Bitter because you finally settle into your college and the American way of life and then you are transported both emotionally and physically back to the real world. The world where you are set to finish uni and begin your career, be a grown up and learn how to adult. Sweet because you get to see your family and friends again and all the things about home that you missed. I do think I experienced an element of reverse culture shock and had to readjust to my old life again. Here are some things that I noticed…
- Absolutely nothing about Ireland had changed..my mammy and daddy still had the same routine and when me and my brother had surprised them at Christmas time by landing home unexpected they were sitting having their 6 o clock tea as usual watching BBC news
- I had most definitely changed…..some things for the better…others for the worse.. I was so so pale as I had gotten out of the routine of applying fake tan. I remember going to the Limelight with no tan and honestly I must have looked like some sort of martian. When I look back at the photos I look like my friends sickly friend (which unknown to me at the time I very much was)
- I was a lot quieter but that was more of a result of my broken heart and the insomnia that I experienced. This bothered me as even after all the amazing experiences I had that year, my mind was focusing on the one shitty thing that happened.
- I had a new group of friends in the shape of my Study USA cohort. We still love to reminisce about our year away to this day and organise meet ups.
- Jeez but the weather in Ireland is SHOCKING. I used to rock up to class in America in a wee pair of shorts so I really missed that.
The other thing that was weird upon returning to Ireland was that I was unemployed for the first time in my life. I think having a job was a big source of independence and happiness for me at that time and I found it so strange spending so much time at home. I eventually got a job at the start of August in the wonderful Office of International Support at QUB but two months of not working and being stuck at home was hard for someone who was travelling independently just months before.
The difference between college work in America and my degree at QUB was HUGE. I got such a big shock as I resumed my normal life. I would say the difficulty level of an undergraduate degree in the US is comparable to GCSES – A-Level here. My friend took a class where she had to calculate the area of a circle and that’s something we learn in Year 8 here!! I did take a few senior level classes which were difficult but honestly I dunno why I was trying to make life hard for myself!! One of my class tests had a question for extra credit which consisted of listing the professor’s favourite football team…no seriously.
I sat down to my classes in QUB but I noticed that the heavyness was getting so bad.. I had experienced this before but it was now accompanied by a level of panic as I battled to stay awake. I would leave the lecture hall to splash water on my face as I noticed myself falling asleep during class. I would review my notes after class only to be puzzled as to what I had written. My notes were illegible and I may as well never attended the class. Some of the modules that you take in university would definitely induce sleep but this was extreme.
It was also around this time I started to worry about what I would do after uni. The legal market in NI was saturated with solicitors and it’s very much who you know. My daddy is a farmer, I didn’t have any connections and I also didn’t know if I was cut out for the legal world. I had heard that accountancy firms were taking on Law graduates into their tax departments. My rationale was that Tax was Law ….simples…or so I thought!!!
I had an interview day in October/November time, which consisted of a business case study and an interview with two partners. This was sorta like good cop/bad cop. My first interview was lovely, the partner was with a lovely man (who I think has now since retired). I remember the interview was actually in a hotel room that they had put a desk in and cleared out so it was a bit bizarre but he came in and greeted me cheerily and offered me some water, which I happily accepted. Nerves had reduced my mouth to the Sahara desert. He was a lovely man who took a great interest in my year in America and talked about his daughters and his own interests. The interview went well and at the end he shook my hand and gave me his business card. I learned later that if you received the business card it was a secret code for getting the job but I didn’t know that at the time! I came out of the interview walking on air at how well it had went, my first professional interview (aside from my part time jobs). When I think back I am certain I would never have set foot in that big four firm if he hadn’t backed me. Also, Study USA had given me lots to talk about so I was so so glad I had this in my back pocket.
It was time for the second interview. This interview was to assess my responses to the business case study. It started ok, he greeted me warmly and said that his sister in law bore the same full name as me. Very quickly things started to go south… he took one look at my marks and said the words that I will never ever forget..
“you did very well at A-level and you are just doing ok now…is there a reason for that?”
At the time I was HORRIFIED by this and equally embarrassed. Now when I think back, a complete stranger seen there was a great difference in my marks and wondered why? I was in the phase of trying to appear like everything was fine outwardly. I’m not even sure what I said back if I’m honest but the look of doubt in his face scars me to this day. He asked me if I was familiar with the format of the Chartered Accountancy Exams. Truth be told, I just about knew their names and the different levels. Little thought was put into this massive career decision other than I desperately needed a job. The big four were offering me a training contract for three and a half years the consequences of which I didn’t fully understand. Another thing he said was:
‘this career isn’t for the faint hearted’
I sweated through the entire interview, the better I answered the more difficult his questions got. I came out of the interview feeling completely defeated and certain I was never going to get the job I desperately wanted. Later, a director told me that when they discussed the candidates together in the boardroom I was put as their top candidate but I felt like the biggest failure coming out of that interview. It’s crazy how you are perceived and how you perceive yourself. For me, I couldn’t have thought worse of myself.
A phonecall in the new year confirmed that I had been offered a job. I nearly cried with relief and could not believe that I had gotten the job after such a rotten second interview. I was less than half way through final year and I had secured a graduate job. However all I could think about was the requirement of obtaining a 2:1….what if I didn’t get it? What if I was sleeping through vital lectures?
I decided to go to the GP again…but this time they would listen to me. This time, they would take me seriously because I had no other alternative. It wasn’t normal to fall asleep during class. It WASN’T because I was young. Something was really wrong and I knew it deep down. There was a lot at stake and I wanted answers.
I arrived at the GP with my lecture notes tucked under my arm. I didn’t bother entertaining any of the usual questions they asked and instead in a very law student fashion, placed my hard evidence in front of the medical judge of my condition. He took one long look at my scratchy sideways writing and referred me to the Neurology department.