While staring blankly at the free food shelf in the cupboard of a small hostel in Ireland, I had a sudden flashback... Three years ago, to the day, I was standing in front of a different cupboard, a world apart, hoping that something new had miraculously appeared in the 15 minutes since I'd last checked. For anyone who has written or is in the midst of writing HSC exams, you know what I'm talking about. That's what months of study does to you and I was the queen of procrastination. At the time, life beyond exams seemed an insurmountable task. Three years later, with the help of some abandoned pasta shells, a collection of colourful memories, life on the Irish road and the prospect of another few months in Scotland, I've realised that the HSC was only a small piece of the puzzle that has made up some of the best years of my life. For those of you gazing hopefully into cupboards now, keep focused, but be excited - so much more awaits...
Standing at the open cupboard in my kitchen at home, all those years ago, I could never have dreamt where I'd be today. My mind occasionally wandered past exams but I was probably more interested in deciding which biscuit to dunk into my tea than embracing the reality of existence post-exams. I can lay some of the blame for this on the overwhelming decisions to be made and the one question, I know every Year 12 student dreads, - 'so, what are you going to do next year?' Suddenly a life mapped out by school bells becomes one where you have to march to the beat of your own drum. With this new rhythm comes a liberating amount of freedom! But, what to do with it? The questions soon start multiplying. Assuming university is where you're heading, what are you going to study? If you decide on something, are you going to take a year off? If so, should you apply for a gap placement, take off travelling or find a good job for a year?
It all comes down to choices (profound and original, I know). There are so many options open to those who look out for them. If you want to fly to Katmandu and spend eight months experiencing Asia then, with a bit of hard work, you can do it. It you want to board a flight to the UK in January and work in a school for a year while adventuring around Europe and having the time of your life, you can. If you want to find a job, save up enough for that car or to get yourself ahead, you can. If you want to go straight to uni and have worked for it in the HSC, you can.
My advice? Follow your interests and intuition. There is no one way to play out life. Everyone's 'picture' is made up of different colours and forms. All I know is that the decisions you make and the dreams that you dare to have lead you to experience the kind of moments that shape who are you. I'm only a small way in to discovering the bigger picture. The future is going to be full of decisions but here I am today feeling as if the steps I've made have put me exactly where I want to be. Three years ago I couldn't have told you I'd be on exchange in Scotland but I could have told you one certain thing. I wanted to see the world. So, take the one thing you are sure of and run with it. If I hadn't my life would be very different.
Ireland, my home for the week and its rugged green landscape, cliffs that drop into the sea, cosy pubs and generous people would've only been a figment of my imagination. Travelling through Eastern Europe, popping over to Stockholm and Paris for the weekend, seeing St. Petersburg in all it's winter glory and living in beautiful Scotland would've all been things I'd dreamt of instead of experiencing first hand. I wouldn't have met some of the best friends I've ever made, had a chance to study in a different country, had the kind of fun that makes you smile every day of the week, or, more incidentally (ironically, for someone who never knew anything about golf before), found myself walking around the most famous course in the world watching a friend play in a pro golf competition. If you give yourself over the world you never really know what situation you'll find yourself in.
Today, it's Galway. The rain is falling in sheets, the wind, howling, the boats, rocking in their moorings but the pubs that line the barrow lanes are snug , warm and graced with old slate floors, warn timber, roaring fires, fiddles, and the lyrical charm and infectious spirit of the Irish. In the company of strangers I feel very much at home.