It was early on the third day when it first hit me. We were having a discussion about the Willingham reading from the night before. Rachelle had just said something profound and I knew. I had to come back for more of this next summer.
I started the Michigan State University, Masters of Educational Technology program online. And if you ask anyone I came in contact with during that time, they will tell you that I was incredibly impressed. It was probably the first post-secondary learning experience I have had that didn’t feel like jumping through hoops to earn a piece of paper at the end. The assignments were realistic, useable and FUN! I didn’t think it could get much better.
And then I experienced the Overseas component.
My original plan was to do Year 2 overseas and finish the rest online during the subsequent school year. Compounding that decision was the fact that I was scheduled to go on an Alaskan cruise with my family during what would be the first week of the Overseas program next summer. Before I got there, there was really no doubt in my mind that I would not be returning to Ireland to complete my degree.
And then I got there.
Prior to this summer in Ireland I would have told you the biggest life changing experience I have ever had was my first trip abroad, to Italy, in 2010. I had always dreamed of going to Italy and the trip with my cousins did not disappoint. It came at a very important time in my life and affirmed for me that I COULD. That word, “COULD.” I could do anything I set my mind to. My life had a multitude of possibilities and I COULD reach out and grab any that I wanted. It was incredibly empowering.
This summer in Ireland definitely equalled and possibly even surpassed that Italy trip in terms of its impact on my life. It allowed me the greatest professional growth experience I have ever had. Every summer, teachers aim to spend time working to better themselves and their content for the next school year. I am no different in that desire. This summer was the first time I have ever concentrated this amount of time and focused energy into bettering my practice. The program is so well organized and the teachers provide just the right amount of pushing and support, that I was able to achieve things I never imagined possible.
However, not every part of this process was sunshine and roses. The idea of spending four weeks working and living with a group of complete strangers was actually terrifying for me. It was very far outside my comfort zone that I even considered doing it. Five years ago, prior to that Italy trip, I would not have even entertained the idea. But off I went anyway.
And then I met some absolutely incredible people.
It was amazing to be surrounded by a group of people who were so passionate, driven and excited about their profession. I was blown away by the talent, openness and work ethic, exhibited by the people in my class and the other two cohorts. The learning
I had experienced online was increased exponentially by being immersed in this group of amazing people. The connections that were forged this summer were so strong that already within a week and half of returning home I have met-up with two people
from my class. I have known these people for only a month and already they are a very integral part of my life.
Even though it was only the third day when I first knew I needed to return to Ireland, I made a promise to myself to wait until I had finished the summer and been home for a few days to commit to the decision.
And then I experienced graduation.
I hate graduations. They are usually pretty boring. After my own (pretty miserable) college graduation I decided I never had to go to another graduation again. I gave myself permission to skip them all! I have since been to a few, but I was still pretty adamant that I was never going to participate in one myself again. I am a graduate of UC Santa Barbara, but I don’t really have an emotional connection to that school. Michigan State University is a completely different experience. I will, most likely, earn my Masters Degree from MSU without ever setting foot in Michigan. And yet, I feel more connected and more a Spartan than I ever did a Gaucho. This energy and experience was present at the graduation recognition ceremony on the final day in Ireland. I sat in the audience watching people I had just met, four of whom I had spent the summer learning alongside, get recognized by the University for their hard work and achievements. The ones they had already accomplished and the ones they are headed out into the world to achieve.
And then I knew for sure.
Hey, Ireland…see you next summer!