A 4,500 Mile Lifestyle Change

This is a student story from Ruby Duggan, who spent a few weeks with us at ExamTime HQ as a summer intern. She describes her journey with education after moving from Ireland to America half-way through high school. 

From Dublin to Seattle

Ruby DugganLate in the summer of 2012, my family and I packed up and left my childhood home in Dublin, Ireland to pursue a life in the United States. We flew the 4,500 mile journey with no house waiting for us on the other side and a general feeling of excitement and unease at what lay ahead for us.

When my dad first told us about the big move to Seattle, only one thing crossed my mind: I won’t have to sit the Leaving Cert Exam. It was coming up in two years’ time for me and I dreaded it. I didn’t have a notion about the education system in the States but I knew for sure they didn’t have a week of tests that determine your future and that sounded pretty good to me. Turns out that transferring to a completely different education system is a lot harder than I first thought.

Finding My Feet

My first mistake was that I did absolutely no research into American education and so when we arrived I was completely unprepared. As a result of this, and also a really long interrogation by four teachers who seemed to misunderstand everything I said (probably the accent, I reckon), I ended up in all the wrong classes in High School. If starting a new life in a different country wasn’t hard enough, I now was attending classes too advanced for me and filled with material the other kids had learnt but I hadn’t heard of. I mean seriously, what in the world was Calculus anyway? A tip for anyone going through this kind of dilemma: ask for help. Because I didn’t and it was disastrous. I’m not sure what I was hoping for; that I would magically know all the material the other kids knew by just being there perhaps? Whatever the excuse was for not speaking up about my confusion, it wasn’t a good one. When I finally spoke up and was moved (more than once) to classes more suited to me, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

high schoolI spent a couple of months in a state of confusion and frustration from not understanding anything that was going on. One morning I was informed that we would sit the PSAT in the next few days and I didn’t even know what that stood for. Turns out it was a sort of mock of the SAT that kids take to be prepared for the actual SAT, but I’ll tell you now that I was in no way prepared for that at all. Saying it didn’t go too well would probably be an understatement.

One of the most difficult things for me to get used to was definitely the Grade Point Average (GPA), because no matter how hard I tried it seemed like my grades were sliding and I knew that was now going to affect my future. Continual assessment just wasn’t something I was used to. Being a little bit of a slacker in high school previously, homework didn’t seem too important to me. Tests twice a year were the only things that mattered and so I didn’t really bother doing homework unless I thought it would be beneficial to me. Writing out 6 pages from an AP World History textbook just didn’t seem like my cup of tea.

I hadn’t realized until then just how different things are around the world. It hit me that education is different no matter where you go. Switching from one system to another mid-way through your educational career is a tough job and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart, but it taught me so much about myself as a person and also opened my eyes to the world around me. I’m sure all the difficulty I had could have been resolved if I had just spoken up sooner, but now I’m grateful for that time in my life. I began to understand how different countries really are, and I developed a deep respect for all the students around the world who dealt with different, and especially harder, education systems; and for those who don’t have any at all.

Giving it a Chance

There were so many things I had to get use to; the size of the high school, the number of people, the weird subjects, the grading system and the whole GPA thing being just a few. But if anyone is going through a move like this, or planning to go through one, the most important piece of advice I got was to be open to everything. Give it all a chance and you might find what you always wanted. Staying locked away, not taking risks or putting yourself out there will be your biggest mistake because it will make the whole journey miserable, and this experience is an adventure not many people get to experience.

Ask for help, make some friends and enjoy the excitement of a new home.


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