Leaning on others to stand along
A support system is essential to independence
COMMUNITY IS A strange word. It changes for everyone over time. When I was little I used to think of community as a physical place. I thought of my school, my sports club, the places where I used to meet friends, as my community. It was anywhere near my home that I found familiar and comfortable. It played a big role throughout my childhood, always providing a basis for my life.
As I moved away to college last September I realised that my day-to-day community was about to change. In a city as vibrant and lively as Dublin, it felt like I was seeing new things every day and there were few things that counted as regularity.
Except the relationships that I built around me. I began to realise that I no longer need a physical setting to feel part of something. I have come to see my relationships with my family, friends, and colleagues as my community, the people with whom I interact on a daily basis and who I have come to rely on in good times and bad. In essence, I have begun to define my community as my support system.
I was like any eager Leaving Cert student last summer, beyond relieved to have the exams out of the way and impatiently waiting for the next stage of my life to start as I looked forward to my adult life beginning. I relished the sense of independence that was associated with leaving school and deciding where next to go with my life. I couldn’t wait to leave my family home and make it on my own, even if there was the small detail of needing financial support. It was the small things such as going grocery shopping that really had me excited.
It may seem like a mundane, silly task, but being able to walk into a supermarket and pick out what I wanted was surprisingly liberating. I felt as if I was free to become the person I wanted to be. That I could feel all this from just a shopping trip may seem a bit over the top to some people. But it was an important part of learning to make decisions and assume the responsibilities that came with moving away from home. I highly enjoyed my first year of college and loved living in my own apartment, but it wasn’t a year without challenges. With my newfound sense of freedom came a need to grow up fast and learn to stand on my own two feet. No one was there in the morning to tell me to get up and make it to that 9am tutorial. No one was there to encourage me to stay in college for a 6pm economics lecture, even though it was already dark outside and I knew I would have to wait at least 20 minutes for a bus home later. There were days when all I wanted was to come home to a dinner on the table and have a clean set of washing done for me.
I had more than a few days when I thought about packing it all in and moving back to the comfort and security of home in Kerry. I realise now, I wasn’t alone in feeling this way. It’s okay not to be completely comfortable with college life straight away. There will always be those days when you’re tired and just want to hide away.
When adults reminisce about their college days they all have a twinkle in their eye and generally say something along the lines of, “those were the days”. There aren’t many people who say that college life is tough. This is why I am so grateful that I took the time to define what made up my community in Dublin. I realised that I always had a support system around me to get me through the tough days. Even if it was just to be able to call into my older sister Ciara on the way home from a lecture, or know my parents were at the end of a phone call, I knew I could get through the tough days with their support.
It’s ironic really, but looking back on my first year of college I can now see that I couldn’t have been independent without the support of friends and family. The community I have built for myself has been my greatest asset and made my first year in college one of the most exhilarating, exciting and fantastic years of my life. I just can’t wait for it all to begin again in September.
Ruth Baker is a Youth Advisor in Headstrong.
This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times. Headstrong would like to thank the Irish Times for their ongoing support.