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An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne Marie Flynn

The email from an acquaintance in the tourism world landed in my inbox at 5.30pm on December 17, as I was finishing up work for Christmas.
“I am just forwarding on details on two Tourism Masters Degree Programmes … in case they are of interest to you.” Oh boy.
Returning to formal education at any age was most definitely not on my agenda. Since a brief  dalliance over a decade ago, I’d sworn my days of studying part-time while working – or studying at all – were done. It’s nearly two decades since I finished full-time third-level education, and when I skipped out the doors of NUIG, I’d sworn those immortal words – ‘never again’. Academia was interesting but the study was a challenge; procrastination and cramming were my real strengths.
But sometimes, as well as curveballs, life throws you opportunities, and as it turns out, one of these Masters programmes was right up my street. So far up the street it was practically knocking at the door demanding a cup of tea. I couldn’t not do it.
There was one hitch; I’d already missed the closing date for applications by a week. I had to act quickly. By the following afternoon, after a begging email to AIT, I’d been taken in hand by the faculty team who went above and beyond and squeezed me into a spot – vacated by someone who had given up their place that very morning. Fate? Maybe. Luck? Absolutely. Either way, I’m a student again.
And it’s been quite an adjustment.
Part-time, online study is a whole different ball game from my leisurely Arts degree as a young one in Galway. I now need to be motivated, organised, diligent and disciplined (so basically, to undertake a complete lifestyle change). It requires navigating a whole new array of online technology, and a high tolerance for screen time – lectures and reading are both online.
Getting to know a whole new group of people, including lecturers, in 2D from the spare room, is interesting. It requires being accountable to yourself, on top of a full-time job. It’s probably just as well there isn’t much else happening these days!
Over the years, despite being notoriously indecisive, the best moves in my life have been the rash, instinctive ones. They require a rapid leap of faith, a feeling of the fear, and if they work out, they somehow mean more than the decisions agonised over for weeks. This had better be the same.
I am lucky to have the opportunity to do this, and it’s important to note that I’d never have looked twice at that email on December 17 had it not contained the words ‘online’ or ‘funded places’. The first year of my course – a brand new postgrad and masters programme – is almost fully online, meaning no travel time. It is also 90 percent subsidised under the July Stimulus Programme, a welcome initiative by a government that many – myself included – are quick to criticise. There is no way I would have been able to undertake this otherwise.
Lots more similarly accessible opportunities exist - a browse through will outline the options available to businesses, employees or unemployed persons.
So, how is student life? Well, I have a student card now and I get a discount on the train, which is highly useful at present. I have access to a whole new library for free. I have new friends in my computer. I have reading and assignments piling up and panic growing in the pit of my stomach. I have discovered that I am still excellent at procrastination and cramming.
So, not that different to the first time around. But it has given me the opportunity to network with people in my industry and learn from them; it has already given me guidance and reassurance in my day job. It has given me access to knowledge and experience from all around the world, and it has boosted my confidence at a time it was badly needed.
Will the coffee-fuelled late nights ahead, swotting and sweating, be worth it? I suspect it may well be – eventually. I’ll keep you posted.