In Ireland, it's a rite of passage for many teenagers between the ages of about 12 and 16 to attend Irish college: sleep-away summer camps where you learn Gaelic Irish, our native language (it must be spoken at all times . . . you'd be told off if you were caught speaking English). And so, the summer I turned 13 I was sent to the Gaeltacht, an area in rural Ireland where Irish is spoken. Usually about three weeks long, these summertime trips to the Gaeltacht hold a particular significance for many. You're living away from home with no parents, surrounded by a group of people around your own age, 24/7. It's all very exciting. Of course, summer camp isn't for everyone, and that's OK, but I'm so glad that my parents sent me to sleep-away summer camp.
Being away from home for an extended period of time as a teenager, even if only for a few weeks, kick-starts a certain kind of independence. Like most summer camps, Irish colleges have a schedule of activities, but you're still spending all of your time with your friends, feeling all of the freedom and excitement that comes with space from your parents. You're essentially having sleepovers every night, staying up late, whispering back and forth to keep the supervisors from realizing you're all still awake. Our phones were confiscated at the beginning of camp, which was initially frustrating, but we didn't miss them for long. It was lovely to realize how freeing it is to not be constantly connected to the outer world. I'm so grateful for all the quality time I got with people who became my great friends, doing fun outdoor activities like hiking and canoeing.
One of the most wonderful things to come from my summers spent in the Gaeltacht were the friendships. While some were short-lived, I kept in touch with a few great friends for years after our summers together. I became pen pals with one girl, and although we lived in different parts of Ireland, we made the effort to meet up with each other once a year. We were young, so we have our parents to thank for facilitating these meetups, driving us the two hours each way to each other's houses and hosting us when we had sleepovers.
Not only do I have my parents to thank for chauffeuring me around to my friends and for sending me to Irish college in the first place, but I have them to thank for so much more. Spending my summers in the Gaeltacht made me realize all the things my parents do for me. There was always something so comforting about returning home after a three-week slumber party. At Irish college, you sleep in a room with up to eight other kids, you're up at 8 every morning, you don't get a choice in your dinners, you walk up to two miles to the school every day, and more. And so, on every return home, I became more grateful for my parents and my home — for each dinner made lovingly by my mum or dad, for my cozy bed dressed with my favorite bed sheets, for my laundry being done for me, for my lifts to school every morning, and for all the things they did to make our house a home.