My name is Kathleen Lawrence I am an Irish Traveller. 

I have just finished my final year as a student in Sociology and Law at Maynooth University.

My time in university has changed my life.

It has broadened my horizons and allowed me to grow and change as a person while remaining true to my roots.

I work part-time in Pavee Point (an Irish government funded, though non-governmental advocacy organization for Irish Travelers) as a community health worker, where I am part of a primary health care team.

I started Maynooth in 2014.

I never considered going to university. It was not something I even thought about before I started my job in Pavee Point. I simply never considered it an option.

I was only working in Pavee Point a couple of months when I was encouraged by colleagues to do a degree.

I talked myself out of applying many times before I finally built up the courage.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make because I knew I would be putting myself into a situation that was very much out of my comfort zone.

By the time I had finally made the decision to apply, Maynooth was the only place accepting late applications for a Bachelor of Arts degree.

It turns out it was the best thing that could have happened.

College was definitely an adjustment, and not just for me.

My family found it hard at first to get used to me going to college as it is not something that is considered the norm within my community.

It took me a while to fit in to college life. I was nervous and anxious at the beginning, but the support I received in college definitely helped me to get through my first year, and to build my confidence so that I could fully participate in the college experience, both socially and academically.

Over my three years in Maynooth I have made friends, joined societies and improved academically. 

Going to college has been a life changing experience. It has been hard, but it has definitely been worth it.

I learned about the Washington Ireland program in November, 2016. I thought it looked interesting.

The application process was rigorous, involving competencies testing, group interview and personal interview.

 I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to go to America, to be selected for a prestigious program, and to have an opportunity to work with other young leaders from the North and the South is not something that happens every day.

I will spend nine weeks in the U.S. staying with a host family during this period.

I am excited about the chance to broaden my horizons further, challenge my views, and develop my leadership potential.

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Kathleen is spending her summer in America working in the office of Congressman Brendan Boyle from Philadelphia. For more on the Washington Ireland Program, go to their website.

This article appears courtesy of the Irish Echo. For more, visit their website

Kathleen Lawrence