Want to reach for the stars but scared to leave your comfort zone? Vanessa Maricruz Pulgarin Auquilla, our ambassador from Ecuador and student of International Public Policies and Diplomacy at UCC shows you how.

When was the last time you felt excited? And I mean really excited! Like, seeing your family and friends after a long time excited! Getting married excited! Packing your bags to move to a new country excited! Leaving your comfort zone excited!

I have been excited for all of the reasons mentioned above. However, life is not all about excitement, sometimes it can be about fear too.

I lost my Dad two years ago after a short battle with cancer. Ironically it was an experience that brought me back to life. Losing him made me remember my dreams and how I had put them on hold. I had always wanted to study for a masters abroad. I knew I needed a change so I made the decision even though my hope for the future was still mixed with grief.

As excited as I was for a new beginning I knew that there would be so many people I would be leaving behind as I headed into the unknown.

The first shock for me when I arrived at University in Ireland was that all of my classmates were a lot younger than I was. I’m 30 and everyone else was in their early twenties. I consider myself a confident, grown up woman who has been through a lot but I am also capable of having fun. I decided to forget about my age and join in with the others in the group. After all, age is just a number!

The second shock came when I discovered how the lecturers grade here. I did not know that 70/100 was a good grade here until one of my classmates saw how concerned I was and explained the system to me…phew!

I also had to deal with some issues from back home as well as getting to grips with my academic studies. I was stressed and lay awake at night wondering how people could get in contact with me. I managed it through a combination of long Skype calls and voice messages from my Mum.

I thought I was healthy, running every day, eating salads and fruit, drinking water and enjoying time with friends but deep down I knew something was not OK. One day, as if by magic, I got an email from UCC Student News with the subject “Managing Stress and Anxiety”.  I couldn’t help but wonder was stress the reason I felt physically and emotionally exhausted?

Woman in a winter coat reaching up into the branches of a tree that is covered in fairy lights

Vanessa reaching for the stars

I kept reading the email and discovered that the college offered a free counselling service for students. I emailed them straight away to get onto the waiting list and was contacted shortly afterwards with an appointment. This was the best decision I could have made!

Taking care of your mental health is so important, particularly when you are a long way from home. Adapting to a new country and culture can be difficult and sometimes you need some help and guidance.

Ireland has offered me more than just a place at UCC. Here I have been given the opportunity to follow my dreams and rediscover a passion for my career. I left my comfort zone and with the right professional help I have dealt with personal issues, made new friends and am creating a whole new chapter in the story of my life.

Step out of your comfort zone and reach for the stars. You won’t regret it!