Some places stick out in your life. They might even serve as turning points.

The main photo today is of Cottage 8 at Cill Rialiag village, an artist retreat on the southwest coast of Ireland, where I spent April of 2012 writing a first draft of Open Admissions that was as rough as the Kerry coastline.


For me, traveling to Ireland and holing up in Cottage 8 for four weeks served as a turning point, as it has for artists of all kinds. While I didn’t pen poems about or paint the amazing scenery outside my half door, the power of the place got me going. I stopped mulling over ideas about a book and began to put words together.


The rewards of foreign travel/life often are social, but I saw more sheep than humans in my time there, which suited my objectives. Write, write, write.

Here is a link for a wonderful five-minute film about Cill Rialaig that gives a good sense of the amazing environment.

Watching it, I can feel and hear the wind blowing up those winding roads. Sitting by the peat burning stove, I was able to travel back in time to remember nontraditional students in an urban community college. Somehow, being in such a different environment helped me do that. Yes, place matters. But the answer is not as simple as Go To The Best And Coolest Place In The World. It’s not always as simple as looking for the rainbow.


The work that I did in those four weeks of isolation set me on course to do the “real” work—which occupied most of the next five years. Truth is that I did 99% of the writing of Open Admissions back home. My laptop let me shift from room to room or occasionally to the library. Those spaces were important too.

When people select a college they sometimes insist on attending the equivalent of Cill Rialaig. I got a lot out of Cill Rialiag because I was ready to take advantage of it. When I got home, I was ready to take advantage of that too. It just took time and effort.

Place matters when it comes to learning and changing, but not necessarily in the ways you might think. I urge people who want to try college to keep an open mind about place when it comes to selecting a school—especially when it comes to beginning their college studies. Sometimes, great options are right around the corner—and don’t cost a million dollars.


Here’s what a family friend put as her education answers on her Facebook profile.

Studied a Whole Lot of Nothing at University of _____.

Studied Drinking at _____ State University.

Studied Learning Who I Am Today at Vermillion Community College.

 Community colleges continue to provide a great opportunity for many people. At the beginning of this post, I noted that Cill Rialaig was a turning point for me. It’s one that I reached after a number of other key moments—such as walking into a community college, first as a freshman then as a faculty member.

CCP Mint & West Bldgs

Got your own community college turning point story? Share it here.


Ned Bachus is the author of Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning (Wild River Books, 2017) and of the “Turning Points” weekly blog on City of Brotherly Love (Fleur-de-Lis Books), his book of stories, was awarded the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction. Bachus’s article, “Learning From Turning Points in Our Teaching Lives,” was featured in the May issue of NEA Higher Education Advocate, which reaches over 150,000 college faculty in the U.S.