Every year, young people set off to study at a college away from their homes. Most expect to return after three or four years of studying, but plenty don't. Ten years after leaving my hometown for university, I know now that I will never go back.
For me and others like me, this wasn't a decision that I reached consciously. Instead, I gradually grew apart from my old school friends and as I developed in my new life, I met people with whom I had more in common.
I enjoyed my newfound independence from my family and I started a career. Most importantly though, I fell in love — not just with a man, but with a city and with my new life.
As with everything in life, realizing that you'll probably never go back has its consequences. The way you view yourself, your hometown and your new life all change.
Two homes and none
Most of those who flee the nest find themselves returning at least once a year, even if only for Christmas. On these occasions, you will tell your friends and work that you won't be around, as you'll “go home” for a few days or a week or however else long.
When you get there though, your parents changed your room into an art studio, a wine cellar or just a general storage space. Your things aren't there anymore and you're living out of a suitcase. Doesn't feel much like a home does it?
At the same time, however, your parents are there, you know the house like the back of your hand and if you are really lucky, your mother is making you dinner and doing your laundry.
Home-cooked food and all your washing tended to sounds great. After a few days, though, the reason you left home begins to dawn on you. Why is your family so noisy? Why do you have to tell someone every time you step out the door? Suddenly, you're desperate to get home — your home.
Where I live now isn't as comfortable as my mother’s house; I have to cook my own meals and if I don't clean up, my house is a mess, but it's mine.
So, while my mother’s house may be where I grew up and I will always visit, it's no longer where I feel most like myself.
Who is your team? I'm not a competitive person and I'm not massively into sports, but the one exception to this is rugby. Being from Belfast, I've always supported the Irish team and since moving to Glasgow, I now also support Scotland.
But, what happens when the two play each other? I still think of myself as Irish and Ireland is still my team, but at some stage, I will have been in Scotland for longer than I lived in Ireland. Will my loyalties change as time elapses?
After 10 years, I still don't consider myself a Scot, but who knows if I will change my mind. The longer we are away from our hometowns, the more our identities and perceptions of ourselves will change and evolve.
How you change
Leaving home and moving away changes you, and not just in the ways you might think.
Of course, you will become more independent, you will encounter new things and you will likely discover a side of yourself you never before knew existed. But, there are also real changes you will experience.
If you've moved a meaningful distance, it is likely that you will change how you speak. In Scotland, I have had to slow down my speech so people could understand me, and I've been doing it for so long now that it is no longer a conscious choice.
People in Scotland still think I sound Irish, but when I go home, my friends and family mock me relentlessly as "the wee Scottish lassie."
What I eat has also changed. When I lived at home, my hangover solution was always McDonald's; there was nothing like a Big Mac to sort you out. After 10 years in Scotland, however, all I want is a bottle of Irn Bru and a roll with square sausage.
These are little things, but it is the small things that make us who we are. At times I worry that I am losing my Irish identity and to resolve this, I tend to place an online order for an Irish food parcel and reassure myself that it's where you are from that counts.
The scariest part about accepting that you will never return to your hometown is realizing that if you have children, they will have a different background than you do.
In my case, my children would be Scottish, not Irish. This doesn’t necessarily sound like a huge issue, but if your culture and heritage are important to you, it is scary to realize you may not share them with your children.
I believe Scotland would be a better place for my children to grow up, but this does come at a price: They won't be as close to their grandparents or cousins, they won't share the accents of their parents and they won’t know my home as theirs.
Ultimately, when you decide to leave where you are from, you have to accept that you will have two homes and you will have none.
It can be upsetting when you feel your identity slipping away from you, but I believe that in the end, two cultures are better than one.
It is only by pushing ourselves that we grow as people. Yes there will be sacrifices we must make, but knowing you have two places where you can live happily and comfortably makes it all worthwhile.