When applying for universities, I couldn’t decide what to do. I seriously considered art, music and teacher training but I didn’t want to make a bad choice on what I could possibly be doing for the next 40 years of my life when I was only 17.  That was why I decided to take a gap year. I had planned to go to the International Jamboree in Japan with the Scouts (my real passion)  and although the camp was for three weeks I arranged to stay in Japan until September.

I knew I wanted to travel, I just didn’t know how I was going to do that. I then discovered the English Speaking Union (ESU) through Mr McAufield which offers many exchanges throughout the world to English speaking schools in Europe and America. This is the perfect way to travel, get an amazing understanding and depth of another country. I completed an application form similar to UCAS when I was in Year 14. I applied for a scholarship to study at American private/Independent school on a full scholarship to experience living the American dream. There was a formal interview in London which also involved a group activity. There were lots of other students from all over the UK.

I was successful for the two term application. (The closing date for is September after you’re A levels so you can wait until results day, see what happens ). My advice would be if you aren’t 100% settled with what you’re meant to do or what to study for the next 3 years of your life, then DON’T DO IT. Take a year, figure stuff out and press the pause button.

From September to December free I worked to earn as much money as possible to help finance my travels and on 1st January I travelled to USA by myself with two suitcases. I was placed  in Emma Willard Boarding school for Girls in Troy, Albany in New York State. During the application you can select a preference but I said I didn’t have one and would go anywhere in order to boost my chances to get chosen.. Boarding life is literally amazing. I roll out of bed and go straight to class, I have new friends, no nagging parents and no uniform. I was unsure about an all girls school but there wasn’t the contrast that I assumed. Because I have already achieved my A levels  I am a post graduate student in USA and I don’t need to do core subjects or compulsory   classes.I chose to study   poetry, US History, Forensics Science, American Studies,  Literature, and Painting. Considering I dropped History in Year 10 and English after GCSE this was quite a change. Forensics is my favourite, it’s literally aiming to create the perfect crime through analysing evidence and talking to FBI agents.

In my opinion the American Education system isn’t very “syllabus driven”, it’s very much working on your skills to make you better. The Math modules are all split up into calculus, algebra etc., they don’t do music or drama grades, the focus is  all looking at individual techniques. Art   is split into individual subjects such as, ceramics, photography, painting etc. I find this really different but  that’s how it will be in university. I have research projects with realistic formats, I have to write a  thesis using proper citations as well as normal home work task and class tests. Being in America isn’t just about studying. I have access any time of the day to a pool and amazing gym facilities including one to one personal training during free periods. I have joined the ‘Model United Nations’ which is similar to the Bar Mock Trial. I play violin in the orchestra and the school has a baby grand piano in the Music department. I volunteer in a street project in Albany once a week for disadvantaged children. I am getting to live in America FOR FREE, go to American football matches, pep rallies AND PROM.I have visited Vermont to ski and SPRING BREAK is looming when  I have arranged to travel to Peru for eleven days.

When I arrived I knew no one.  I arrived completely alone, it was freezing with minus temperatures  and I had to make friends. The first morning walking into breakfast with 400 others was the most daunting but, now  I  see myself walking into halls at university  with no worries, I’ve done it in America and I’ll do it in Edinburgh where I have accepted a place to study International Relations with Law from September.

I would strongly encourage anyone who is interested  to consider this option. The schools that sign up to this programme (ESU)  are highly regarded. I chose an academic scholarship but there are specialised ones for sport. My school has normal fees of $56,000 a year and my scholarship covered all the tuition costs. My parents paid for my flights to USA, interview in London, £100 administration fee, and medical insurance during my stay. I worked in the first term so that I could finance my travels while out in the USA.

Aquinas students have been involved in the ESU process since 2011.  Ciaran Ashe and Ben Horner went to Western Reserve Academy  in Ohio and the Hotchkiss school in Conneticut, respectively.  Jimmy Donaghy also went in 2013 to WRA.  All previous past pupils  applied for the whole year doing the three term option.  Ben is about to become Dr Ben Horner and Ciaran has graduated and works for Ernst and Young.  They still are in contact with their classmates from the States and there’s been multiple visits back and forth. Jimmy is currently an undergraduate.

If you have any queries at all, or would like to know more, check out the ESU American Exchange website, speak to Mr McAufield or facebook me. I’m not even half way through the year and I’M already loving every second of it, and I can see the benefits of this experience massively help me through life.

Niamh McCrossan