Onward and Upward

Posted in Life on July 23, 2014 by James McConnell

I’m in America. I’m in New York. I’m 3016.97 miles from my hometown, my family and my (home) friends. I’m spending twelve weeks working and living here on a J-1 visa and, at the time of writing, I am half-way through.

I left home early in the morning of 11th June with my Dad. Surprisingly, I wasn’t nervous; it seemed like a normal day. I slept as normal the night before and, to be honest, it kind of felt like I was going on a holiday, maybe even a holiday with my Dad. We got to the airport, I handed over my luggage to the lovely lady at the check-in desk and my Dad and I parted ways. I went through security and seated myself in the departures lounge. It was then that it suddenly hit me that this was for real. I started to get nervous.

Fast forward six weeks and here I am, living just outside the small town of Bolton Landing, working in the Laundry department at The Sagamore, a local resort.

In a way, these six weeks have been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of emotions. I’ve been scared, I’ve been happy, I’ve had (self) doubts, I’ve been welcomed, and I’ve heard “Hey, man” more times than you can shake a stick at. Maybe some of these emotions are surprising to some people but, to me, they’ve been part-and-parcel of the experience. Truth be told, I was aware back home that, at times, I would possibly have rough days here and that it all wouldn’t be rosy fields. But, I think it was OK to think that and, in some ways, the rough times have been beneficial; they’ve challenged me to cope with the stark reality of not having the familiar forms of comfort around me (and them being far away too): family, friends, and the four walls of my bedroom.

To be honest, the reason I haven’t talked about my actual job much on social media is simply because there’s not much to say. Like I said at the start, I work in the Laundry department of The Sagamore. I realise that laundry may not be the most exciting topic in the world to talk about and, if I’m again honest, the job is actually quite boring; doable, but dull (it would be a different story if I were working at Microsoft or Apple. Nevertheless, I still appreciate the job and the income and experience I’ve received from it).

In a way, though, coming here for me was never really about the actual job, though of course I wanted (and still do want) to perform it as well as I can; it wasn’t even really about the money either. For me, coming here was about doing something different, not just during summer but during any time or season. It was (and is) an opportunity for me (above anyone else) to prove to myself that I can do something like this and, cliché as it sounds, to develop and grow as a person; while I think “Worked and lived in New York for 12 weeks” will look great on my C.V., it’s not the primary reason I’m doing it.

To be honest, I think already I’ve been absorbed (at least a little bit) into the States, the people and the way of life although there are times, even now, when I still can’t quite believe that I am actually here.

I’ve sometimes though if I would ever call the United States home. Would I, or do I, want to emigrate here now that I’ve spent a while living here? To be honest, the answer (for the foreseeable future) is no. The people are lovely, the weather is gorgeous now, and the area is beautiful, but I wouldn’t want to pack up shop, as it were, and move away from home permanently. If I were in a different area working in a different capacity (something more up my street) then perhaps the answer would be yes.

The past six weeks have gone by quite quick, and no doubt the next six weeks will go by just as quick. Most likely, before I know it, I will be packing my suitcase again bound for my native home, and homeland. I will miss my time here, the people here, and the place itself.

I am incredibly proud of myself for having gotten so far (literally!), especially since a part of me wondered back home if I’d even be able to reach here; if I’d be able to find the courage to go. I said earlier that, at times, I still can’t quite believe that I am actually here. It’s hard for me to imagine it now, but I think it will only be when I’m home again that I’ll look back and realise just how significant, and beneficial, an experience this was. I’m not expecting to return home super-loud or super-brash; I think, in a way, I’m the same person as I was when I left. But I do think my confidence and my courage will be greater as a result of coming and being here: confidence and courage to travel (solo or otherwise), to see new places, and to do new things.

I’m not sure who will read this or where I will post this to but I just want to say thank you. Thank you friends and family for your support, encouragement, help and interest in this endeavour of mine, not just in the run-up to it but while I’ve been here. Despite the physical distance between us, I do think about you, a lot, and I look forward to seeing you in-person again; hopefully I have made you proud.

The motto of New York State is Excelsior, meaning Ever Upward; or, to put it another way, Onward and Upward…

Space of Time

Posted in Life with tags on January 21, 2014 by James McConnell

It has been a long time since I last posted an update and for that I apologise; I have, as of late, been ploughing through quite a bit of work for University, and some paperwork not for University (which I will explain later). Even in the first half of last year, I had quite a bit of work for college which didn’t leave much time (or thought) for my Blog. Today, however, I have decided to set aside a bit of time for a bit of reflection.

In some respects, it is baffling to me that it is January already; it doesn’t seem like four months ago (approximately) that I enrolled on and started studying for my Degree in Computing at the University of Ulster. Time over the past couple of weeks has whizzed by; even Christmas almost seems like yesterday – no doubt the upcoming weeks and months will pass just as quick (if not quicker). So far, I’ve enjoyed my time at University. I’ve made new friends (always a plus), found my way to classes (another plus) and kept on top of the work (even if it has been a bit stressful at times). I will be honest in saying that I initially had some doubts a couple of weeks into the Semester; doubts about whether or not it was somewhere I should be and something I should be doing; on reflection, however, I am glad I decided to continue as it has turned into a great experience.

I generally don’t make New Year’s Resolutions but it’s interesting to see and hear what resolutions other people make. According to Statistic Brain, in a study done by the University of Scranton, the Top 10 resolutions for 2014 are the following:

Lose Weight
Getting Organized
Spend Less, Save More
Enjoy Life to the Fullest
Staying Fit and Healthy
Learn Something Exciting
Quit Smoking
Help Others in Their Dreams
Fall in Love
Spend More Time with Family

Most resolutions (if not all) are on a personal level; things we aim to do in order to be better people (in our eyes). Perhaps a resolution of mine this year is to be more self-assured and more confident in myself and to push myself out of my comfort zone – quite literally (I tried “cut back on coffee” but it didn’t last long).

Last month, I applied to a program called American Work and Travel through an organisation called Camp Leaders. I had an interview in Belfast with them on 10th January and found out last Monday (13th January) that I had been accepted onto the program – if all goes according to plan, I will be spending about three months this summer (June-August/September) somewhere in the United States of America. It wont actually be my first time in the States – I have been to America before (twice) albeit on family holidays for two weeks each time (the last time, in July 2006, if memory serves me right) – but it will be the first time I’ll be going to America, and spending time in it, without the company of family. Personally, I’m really excited about the opportunity, if not a little scared (it will be sad not to be spending time with my family or friends on my birthday, which is at the end of July, but maybe I’ll go to a theme park!).

The organisation of Camp Leaders is itself part of an organisation called Smaller Earth and one of its mottoes is “Explore your world”. While I didn’t quite enjoy the recently released The Desolation of Smaug I did enjoy An Unexpected Journey. In The Hobbit films, and book, Bilbo Baggins is a reluctant traveller; a hobbit content with his home comforts; that is, until Gandalf arrives with a band of Dwarves and sends him off on an adventure. Bilbo at first is ill-prepared, even grumpy, but soon finds his stride and courage in the face of danger and death. In An Unexpected Journey, Gandalf imparts wisdom to a flustered Bilbo:

The world is not in your books and maps, it’s out there.

When I look back at the previous two years, it’s quite staggering to me just how far I’ve come in that space of time. Nearly two-years-ago I was a temporary agency worker at a warehouse factory a couple of days away (although I was unaware of it at the time) of being “let go” (or “laid off”, or whatever terminology you want to use) as my contract was nearing its end. I remember driving home on my last day thinking, “Now what?” and wondering where my life was going (if anywhere). If you had told me back then that in two years time I would be studying for a degree and possibly on the road to a summer in the US of A, I probably wouldn’t have believed you – it’s funny how there are times in life when (like Bilbo Baggins) you find yourself in the most unexpected of places – places where you want to be, or perhaps places where you don’t want to be (indeed, what’s quite bizarre is that I drive along a same section of road to University each morning as I did driving to my place of work two/three years ago – little did I think, or know, two or three years ago that in two or three years time I would be driving along that same road but for a different destination).

The next couple of months will bring about quite a bit of change. In May, my sister will get married and (as far as I’m aware) will move out with her husband-to-be into their new house, ushering in a new chapter in their lives (and hopefully an exciting one). I will be honest in saying that, recently, I have thought about how much longer I want to stay at home living with my parents – I will probably still be living with them for the foreseeable future (unfortunate for them!) but with one of my siblings married and moved out, and my other sibling nearly at the same point, I do sometimes wonder about my future at home; will I still want to live here for, or in, the next couple of years (or less)? About two years ago, one of my cousins moved to Australia. Would I want to undertake a similar journey, albeit to a different place? I don’t know.

I probably wont have much free time between now and May/June so this will possibly (if not probably) be my last post for quite some time although, who knows, I may be writing my next one somewhere in a foreign land…

It was at this point that Bilbo stopped. Going on from there was the bravest thing he ever did. The tremendous things that happened afterwards were as nothing compared to it. He fought the real battle in the tunnel alone, before he ever saw the vast danger that lay in wait.