"The world is your oyster, hon. Go out and give it your April Dawn all," my mother wrote in my graduation card.
She believed the world was my oyster, but the rest of the world didn't seem to. I moved back into Mom's for a few months after a fruitless job hunt. I had applied for job after job, not just in journalism, but also in clerical and the like. In hindsight, I probably should've sucked it up and applied for retail work, but the five months I did it in college were more than enough. No matter where I applied - New York, California, Colorado, Virginia, Iowa, Florida, Missouri, pretty much every state, and various countries - I couldn't get a job.
Finally, I secured a temp-to-hire job in medical billing. The office was full of wonderful people, including a terrific boss, and the pay was good. Working hours were fantastic - 8.30am to 5pm and I knew I would probably never get those again.
But Mom had said the world was my oyster. And I had decided a few years previously that I wanted to move abroad and experience life outside of the American bubble. So, I took a chance and applied for the working holiday visa to move to Ireland for a year.
I'm pretty sure most of my family thought I was crazy. "You're moving to Ireland? Why? Do you know anyone there? Where are you going to live? What about a job?" No one in our family had really moved so far away before. My cousin had lived in Norway for a couple years, but she knew someone there. My aunt didn't understand why I wanted to leave the Ozarks.
I knew the "where." When I made the decision to apply for the visa, I researched similar experiences. While there were many working holiday stories available for Australia and New Zealand from Americans, there were few for Ireland. One guy had moved to Cork for a bit and his description was so detailed that I decided to research this place I had never heard of. (Let's be honest: most of us across the pond only hear of Dublin and Blarney Castle - the latter of which happens to be in Cork.) The images I saw were beautiful. I decided I would start there, then maybe end up in Galway. I wanted to live in or around a city, but not too metropolitan, and Cork city sounded perfect.
After a few weeks visiting a friend in Iceland, I arrived on 23 October 2016 in Cork city, where I knew no one, had no place to live after the first six nights in hostels and didn't know how I was going to find a job. A year minus five days later, I left Cork city knowing and caring about more people than I can possibly begin to count, leaving the room I'd occupied since the seventh night in Douglas and once again with no job. But, I'd had one, then another and then an internship at the local paper.
This is probably one of the hardest things I will ever have to write. My stomach is in knots as I type and I can feel that dreaded lump in my throat. The year is over, and now I'm back in the States.
When I decided to move to Ireland, I just thought it would be a nice experience. My ultimate goal was England - specifically, London. I'd been an Anglophile for as long as I could remember, and I'd decided after my time at Disney that I wanted to live there.
Actually, I'd never really had a strong desire to visit Ireland before that summer. It was the number one place on both my mother's and sister's bucket lists, but for me, it was only one of those places I thought about going so that I could say that I did. My dream was to see Italy, France and England, which had come true for my 24th birthday. Ireland would be lovely, I was sure, but I didn't expect much from it.
I certainly didn't expect it would become home. I definitely didn't anticipate that I would find a family. I had no idea the year would reignite my relationship with Christ, or that I would learn how to spell Taoiseach without Google, be able to say the most basic of conversation in Irish, fall in love with almost every sweet, fizzy drink (soda) or food you can think of in the country, become a fan of hurling or write as many articles in four months at the Cork Independent that I had written in four years at The Scribe.
And I had no clue that I would be heartbroken the day I left.
To everyone who made me feel at home, thank you. To the older woman who helped me bring my luggage to the hostel on that first day, thank you. To Cork Church who welcomed me in and made me a daughter, thank you.
To Stacey, the first person I properly met in my new life. Our visit was short-lived, but nonetheless memorable.
To Reuben and Maureen, who gave a much-needed talk that night about moving to Ireland without knowing anyone.
To Aoife and Karina, who came up to a shy introvert trying to blend in with the wall paint that first night at Young Adults and introduced themselves.
To Marisa, who came up next, connected, messaged, invited and ultimately became as close as a big sister.
To Cynthia, Makhieba, Constance, Praise and Rebecca, who were always there to talk about anything.
To Maggie, who clicked with me so instantly that first day of Sky training that everyone thought we had known each other previously and/or were related.
To Shannon, Gosia, Bethany, Nikita, Eimer, Marta, Tasha, Laura, Anointed, Emma, Shannon, Kiara, Roisin, Blessing, Tasha, Alex and Ella, who are all epic girls on fire for Christ.
To Marco, Shane, Richard, Patrick, Danny, Gerry, Isaac, Fletcher, Ben, Jordan and Nick, some of the best guy friends a girl could ever ask for.
To Pastor Stephen, the first pastor I met at my new church, who made me feel so at home. To Pastor Hamp, for giving me a place to live. To Pastor Nick, for all of his support and encouragement of my writing.
To Noel, who became like another grandfather. To Anne, who became like another grandmother. To Christine and Ann, who became mothers. To Nicole, Jon and the kids, who became family. To Deco, who became an uncle. To Andy, Frank, Wilma, Terence, Carol, Bernice, Sharon, Paul, Mary, Maurice, Patrick's mum, Ronan, Parry, Katherine, Noreen and Jacintha, who all became family.
To Sophia, who knows she's my favourite kid.
To Filipe, Bia, Lais, Ana Paula, Cácio, Lucas and Guilherme, for teaching me Portuguese. Obrigada!
To Michelle, for teaching me Irish during that road trip to the Young Adults weekend.
To my fellow Americans: Crystal, Abby, Alexis, Jess, Tyler and Chelsea.
To Margaret, JJ, Ryan, Stephen, Gradie and all the work we did at the paper.
To Wendy, for giving me the opportunity to show my skills in professional journalism that no one else would.
To Alan, Lou, Brian, Niamh, Ian, Alan, Charlene and Eileen, for making my time at the Cork Independent a wonderful experience that I will treasure forever.
To Joy, Rory, Francis, Dwayne, Christina, Rhona, Sophie, Oisin, Eoin, Kieran, Richard, Vincentia, Rob and all those poor annoyed customers that didn't want to pay more.
To Shannon, Matt, Darragh, Ally, Brigid, Asia, Aisling, Monica, Rose, Paula, Lanre, Lucy, Evelyn, Jurgita, Dara, Michelle, Chacka, Martin, Rachel, Ola, Brian, Ade and Michelle, for making an unbearable situation bearable.
To Syed, for proving there is still good in the world.
To Richard E. Cook, one of the most cheerful people I have ever met.
To my housemates: Lois, Maddy, Amber and Kiara, who made a house a home.
And finally, to Annemarie. We may not have known each other long, but the little time we did have was awesome.
Two years ago, I visited London for the first time and was determined to see it again, although knowing I probably wouldn't. Three days ago, I boarded a train from Edinburgh to London, where I proceeded to spend the next two days. Lads, ye haven't seen the last of me yet. Somehow I'll be back. Someday.
In the meantime, back in the home of the stars and stripes.