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Back to School: 'I was broke and suffered from depression, which I drowned out with alcohol'

An education bleeds into the way you view the world and your movement through it, writes Conor Reynolds.

Conor Reynolds

AT TWENTY THREE I was broke, unemployed and suffered from depression that I drowned out with alcohol. My education consisted of half a Junior Certificate.

Needless to say education did not agree with me. This left me with a conundrum in my twenties since I was not qualified to do anything or didn’t know how to do anything. I had no trade and found no satisfaction in any of the minimum wage jobs I worked. I had hit a dead end.

Becoming a mature student

I did not want to go back into the education system I had rebuked in my teens. The idea of returning to sit the Leaving Cert exam seemed too daunting. So I re-entered the system as a mature student via the FETAC system on a media studies course.

I have found the whole idea of getting a higher education in aid of getting a better job an erroneous one that misses the point. Those with a degree will statistically find it easier in the job market than those without, but this is not the point of it.

From that FETAC course I got accepted onto a diploma course in Rathmines College and from there I moved on to obtain an honours degree.

There’s more to education than qualifications

I realised that I was earning something of greater value than a more desirable CV, I was learning how to learn. A college education teaches you how to critically analyse vast quantities of information, how to break down the structure of an idea and view it from different angles before reconstructing a counter argument or agreement.

It forces you to continually back up your arguments with relevant data, academic work and statistics. In a seemingly post truth era this may become a most valuable skill set.

It is also going to instil in you a level of knowledge and understanding that you will realise bleeds into the way you view the world and your movement through it. In your chosen field of academic study you will be assigned texts and material which will dominate your thinking process as you mull over and digest new information.

At first nothing makes sense and then it all begins to click and you find yourself drawing lines like a conspiracy theorist from one idea to the next, joining theories together with red twine in your mind.

Debating the issues of the day

shutterstock_312295037 Source: Shutterstock/Rawpixel.com

The social element of being in a higher or college community is for many the most noticeable difference. Your classmates are not the local children from the community, but a vast array of adults with different opinions and backgrounds.

I have found some of the most important connections I have made with people were forged while I was in college. You may find yourself sitting and debating the issues of the day in coffee shops and bars, recently armed with newly digested theory.

Your viewpoints will be challenged and changed after hearing a counter argument from an individual with an altogether different upbringing or thought process to you. You may find you have learnt how to listen better.

My first task was 500 (badly written) words, in which I had placed no paragraphs and probably about 3 full stops. At the end of that year I was capable of building a 6,000 word assignment with an introduction, body, conclusion and a solid bibliography.

Continuing in academia

At the time of writing I am continuing my education by engaging with theory and academic work on a master’s course. The hope is that with this extra level of education I will gain good employment, but to be honest I don’t care about that.

My studies over the years have opened up my mind and expanded my knowledge of the world. While my current studies are hard and stressful, it is incredibly interesting and satisfying to learn about new theories as well as viewpoints and I welcome the challenge of critically analysing new subject matter.

For anyone who is thinking about returning to education I cannot recommend it highly enough. There are systems in place that will cater for all level entry points. I know it seems like an incredibly high mountain to climb, but it is such a rewarding one.

I am not the same person that I was six years ago, I don’t even recognise that person. Higher education gave me a direction and a brand new tool set with which to prod and investigate the world.

2016 has been one of those years in which we have seen change can be sudden and dramatic, from Brexit to Trump, to the many passing on of well known cultural figures. This is a way for you to make 2017 a more optimistic year in your life.

If it seems daunting or hard remember Aristotle’s words: “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.”

Conor Reynolds is a student living in London with an interest in current affairs and all things radio.

‘I found it really tough because I couldn’t even type’: What it’s like to go back to education>


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Conor Reynolds

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