Mature student. File photograph.
My love of people and getting the message out there gave me the motivation to do two and a half years of study at the North West College of Further and Higher Education.
The course of choice was a part time Foundation Degree in Science, Responding to Drugs and Alcohol Misuse.
As a lone parent of three teenagers and having had come through some difficult times myself, I began this back to education experience with all the determination to better my own life and hopefully enable change in the people I would encounter knowing that I have always wanted to help people.
Being a non-driver, I had to rely on public transport to get from Donegal to Derry. The only bus I could get was at 9 am which meant I missed almost all of the first lecture, something which would become another obstacle later on in the course. This meant getting home very late as well.
First experiences of going back to education are important, especially if you have confidence issues.
Arriving in late on the first day, I had missed out on the morning tea break where everyone in the class had relaxed and got to know each other. That feeling you get walking into a crowded room and everyone turns, stares and goes silent.
“Well,” I thought..,or maybe I didn’t think at all....
I continued to my seat and before sitting down I threw my hands in the air and announced: “I am the one from Donegal and am going to be late every week, so get used to it.”
Everyone erupted in laughter. The ice was broken and I became part of a wonderful group of students.
Assignments were daunting and the research lecture which I was absent for most days left me feeling inadequately informed to complete the tasks.
The importance of a positive and supportive mentor who understands the difficulties mature students have to face, both in completing assignments and sitting exams is vital.
I was not eligible for the Back to Education grant as the course was in the North.
The comparative cost of education North and South of the border was a factor in choosing the course. Fees for a similar course in the Republic of Ireland were €2,500 compared to £350 in Northern Ireland, plus the cost of purchasing books.
However, I recall the morning I got on the bus in Donegal Town to learn that the fare had increased from €17 to €23.60. This information threw me completely. Not alone did I have to find an extra €6.60, but making adjustments to a household budget with three teenagers was difficult.
These are the sacrifices and challenges I had to overcome as a mature student, financially and from a time management point of view.
There were other challenges which impacted on my return to education as well.
Past experiences at school where I was always dismissed by teachers, had left me with the thought that I was not good enough in school. I had a lot to prove to myself. I needed to do well for me.
Although it was tough, I feel these challenges have made me stronger.
I have now graduated; something I didn’t think would happen.
I feel very privileged to be part of the only group of students in North West who have this qualification. My kids and family are very proud of me.
There is one piece of advice I would give and that is, no matter what age or how many obstacles that stand in your way, going back to education and achieving a degree is possible.
Volunteering with the homeless, I see first-hand that there are people who need assistance in trying to cope with daily life.
For myself, I have so many ambitions now --to find employment, take up further studies, continue with my volunteering and encourage people to go back to education.