The funny thing about my gap year is the fact that I never really planned for what it would be like to return home to my 'normal' life after all my adventures in Thailand, Malaysia, Spain, and Central America.
I spent so long planning the Divemaster course, Spanish lessons, and voluntary work, weighing up the magnitude of a full year away from home, that I put little thought into the dreaded return.
So, crash, bang, wallop ... suddenly it all came to an end and I found myself back in Galway during the coldest spell in memory, wondering what the hell I had let myself in for, with no car, my house rented out, and the 'delights' of a job I'd been so glad to leave behind 12 months ago on the horizon.
Hello, Galway. Brrr, it's cold!
It was good to see the family and friends, but I remembered how Irish people drink too much during a couple of sad encounters over the holidays. Not being all moralistic or anything, but Christmas at home can be a poignant or upsetting time for those who are not happy with their lives.
People drink too much, to try to forget, and then you see their nastier side when the drink doesn't suit them. I should know, I had enough horrible Christmases of my own after my little sister and my best friend both died around this time of year.
But that's way back in the past and time really does heal.
I know my parents were delighted to see me home, safe and sound, after 12 months of adventures far from their safe harbour.
It was great to go for a few beers with my closest buddies, to hear how they've been getting on with their lives. I do have incredible friends, even if I felt I was in a bit of a 'rut' here before I began my adventure.
The dreaded return to work conicided with an eclipse which made a wintry Galway morning even more depressing than usual ... the streets were deserted, it was dark, cold and windy, and I wanted to crawl back under the sheets or jump on the first plane to somewhere sunny.
A shiver of apprehension ran through me as I walked towards Market Street and the office I had left with so much expectation, hope, fear, and uncertainty 12 months before.
There is probably no more depressing day in the year than the first working day in January, especially for me after a full year of following my dreams. But given what has happened to the Irish economy, I kept reminding myself that I was lucky to have an interesting job to go back to.
And of course, once I walked through that door, the reality was nowhere near as bleak as I'd feared. If anything, I was delighted by the welcome of my colleagues over the first few days.
Ireland is in the throes of an economic crisis and the reviews of the year I'd missed could have plunged me into depression if I had let the radio reports and newspapers get to me.
But there also seems to be a genuine spirit of revolution in the air. People have finally tired of the sickening elite, including the Fianna Fail politicians, who have plunged the island into a mess, even if the sense of rebellion has come too late.
People look around and see the young emigrating again, pensioners and the low paid being punished for the crimes of over-paid greedy bankers, and wonder why did their uncles or grandfathers die fighting for this country.
In Nicaragua, the revolution means far more to the people, even if they are dirt poor.
And yet people in Ireland are re-evaluating their lives, wondering if they really needed all those apartments overseas or monstrous SUVs. They are beginning to remember that friends and family, health and happiness, are the most important things in life, and not the material things some went mad for during the Celtic Tiger years.
So the big question is whether there is any lasting legacy from my gap year? A Danish girl asked me that just before I left Nicaragua and I had no answer.
The truth is, I spent so much time planning 2010 I never really thought what 2011 would be like. I was a bit like a 'fat cat' banker, living life at 1,000 miles an hour without planning for what might lie ahead.
But I have had an amazing time and I am so full of gratitude that I was given, and took, the chance to sail away from my 'reality' for one year.
I don't think I will let myself feel I'm in a rut again. If I want to change my life, only I can change it and in 2010 I learned that there are wonderful people and opportunities out there in the big, bad world.
It is possible to leave wet and cold Ireland and dive every day in the tropical waters off Koh Lanta or help out the poorest of the poor in Nicaragua.
Trying to match a fulfilling life with paying the bills is perhaps the biggest dilemma for all of us.
I've learned to confront many of my fears, even if I probably still suffer from the lack of confidence which is the characteristic of many an Irish male. I was a different person when I was doing an amazingly rewarding job in Nicaragua and the challenge now is not to sink back into the cynical or self-pitying person who decided that Galway life was no fun some years ago.
Yes, I lost my sense of adventure prior to 2010 and it is amazing how some people wallow in misery while others live and love life to the full each day.
My land is in an economic mess at the moment and there is nothing to celebrate while people are losing their jobs and emigrating once again.
We're remembering our troubled history, which I was reminded of in Panama,where the desperate sacrificies of the 1850s Irish were conveniently forgotten back in their homeland.
During the Celtic Tiger years, nobody wanted to recall decades of forced emigration or how the Irish ended up down and out on the streets of London or New York. That script didn't fit in with the unsustainable frenzy or our new image of ourselves as 'sophisticated' Europeans with big property portfolios.
The 'nouveau riche' of Europe are poor again, but perhaps discovering the kind of values, the sheer fun, which made my time in Nicaragua so rewarding. Poor people seem to have more soul.
The Rubber Bandits confounded the D4 types with 'Horse Outside' because real Ireland's sense of fun and irreverence is in the housing estates of Limerick and a million miles from the likes of Ryan Turd and the late Gerry Ryan.
Getting away gave me a chance to review my home life from a distance and returning has challenged me to either take the changes I've experienced on board and build a happier life in Galway or to try out a whole new life, God knows where, in the longer-term.
I don't know where I will be in 12 months from now, but then again none of us really does.
All I know is that last year was the best of my life, that action can turn dreams into a new reality ... and for that I am hugely grateful, as well as for all the wonderful new friends I've made from all around the world.
The challenge now is to avoid slipping back into negativity and cynicism, to bring the wonderful experiences of the past year into whatever the future holds.
Feck it ... me horse is outside!
Why we left the classrooms: by Pauline
3 weeks ago