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Zuzana O’Sullivan – ‘I wanted to go back to work’ Finding Purpose in Career Change with Early Learning & Care Qualification

Advanced Certificate in Early Learning & Care

Zuzana O’Sullivan – ‘I wanted to go back to work’ Finding Purpose in Career Change with Early Learning & Care Qualification


Zuzana O’Sullivan – ‘I wanted to go back to work’ Finding Purpose in Career Change with Early Learning & Care Qualification

Zuzana O’Sullivan is an AIM worker at a Montessori preschool in Wicklow, who followed her passion and found her purpose through a career change by gaining her Advanced Certificate in Early Learning & Care (ELC) at Portobello Institute.

Like many of our learners who turn to ELC level 6 for their career change, Zuzana had a rich career background and education when she came to Portobello Institute, but she was seeking a change and a fresh start.

“Before I decided to study at Portobello Institute I had a career break with our second child and relocating family to Ireland. Before that, I worked as an Administrative Assistant in a Law office in Slovakia for two years. Before our first child was born in 2014, I worked as an Operation Support Administrator in Australia.

“I always wanted to work with children. I had some experiences in the early years sector thanks to my previous studies. I spent time with children in an orphanage and child crisis centre, where I helped to take care of children as well as when I worked as an Au Pair. When I moved to Ireland I thought that my previous studies and work experiences with children in Slovakia (Master’s Degree in Social and Work Psychology, Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, Master’s Degree in Social Pedagogy and Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work) would be enough and acceptable to work with children, but I found out that it wasn’t so I looked for my options and the course and online form of studying in Portobello Institute worked for me at that stage,” she said.

Zuzana explains that she was in a stage of her life where she needed to ‘do something, to move on, achieve something and be useful’. The ELC level 6 qualification has given her all of this and more.

“I wanted to go back to work and I was looking for job opportunities as we settled down here in Ireland and our children started to attend school and preschool. I was interested in part-time jobs as I didn´t want to miss time with our children and I wanted to feel ‘useful’ again at the same time. If I wanted to work with children and have time for my family, I had no options, I  looked for the right course for me that allowed me to manage to look after our children and house and study at the same time. If I could get a job in a preschool setting I would be happy,” she said.

Zuzana says she has followed her passion by gaining this qualification and getting the job she wanted as an AIM worker in a Montessori.

“I believe this course gave me a great picture of what to expect in the early years sector as well as the history, legislation and background of the early years sector in Ireland. This course was a great opportunity for me as I wanted to work with children and I have to say I love working with children. I realise that working with children is a huge responsibility due to your responsibility for their health and well-being, along with being the person who helps the children in their development and discovery of new skills and abilities. Thanks to my hard-working attitude, and enthusiastic but patient manner that is suited to looking after children and all the knowledge from this course I can be better at work and enjoy my work more because I can understand children´s needs better,” she said.

Zuzana heard about Portobello Institute from a family friend and she explained how she was guided to this course and how it was the right fit for what she needed, and also how the support from tutors helped her to achieve her best.

“When I compared Portobello Institute with others and after searching all my options (online course vs. evening course, the length of the course, price, date of the start of the course and reviews) I decided to go with Portobello Institute and to start to study ELC level 6. Firstly I wanted to do level 5, but I got advice from Portobello Institute to go for level 6 with my educational background. Simply said Portobello Institute had an option for everything that I was looking for.

“In the beginning it was hard, as English is not my first language, to get into early years vocabulary and understand the educational system and legislation in Ireland. I also didn´t know much about the early years sector here in Ireland as I never worked in early years before. So it was more study for me during the course, but on the other hand I have to say it gave me a lot and I don´t regret all the late hours of studying at night. The tutors were very helpful too and as students, we had a WhatsApp group, where we supported each other, and shared our ideas. So I didn´t feel that I was alone. I always tried to finish my assignments on time and I tried my best to find all the information and cover all the fields that were required. The study was for me time-consuming as I wanted to finish my course quickly so I didn´t have much time for anything else, but I kind of liked it that I was busy in a good way and I could learn a lot and I did something for myself too,” she said.

As someone brand-new to the early years sector in Ireland, Zuzana explains the parts she enjoyed the most about studying at Portobello Institute.

“To meet new people, listen to their stories, and work experiences and learn from them as well as from our tutors. I appreciated when they combined theory with practice and gave us an example from real life. For me, with no experience, it was great to have an idea of how it works. I also liked that modules were online and PowerPoint presentations were saved so I could listen and read them again if I didn´t catch everything during the lecture or I needed to check it for writing my assessment. Another thing was that even though I studied and had online lectures, I didn´t feel like being back at school. Both my tutors Limin Bai and Clare Bowman were amazing, and supportive, listened to and respected all students and they always made sure that we understood the tasks for our assessment or the topics during a presentation.

“I would definitely recommend Portobello Institute to a friend. Portobello Institute offers modules and courses that suit, the length of the course is not that long and it is possible to manage family life while studying. Studying with Portobello Institute can be difficult from time to as anywhere else, but it is still mostly up to you, when and what you decide to study. When I look back it wasn’t that hard compared to what I learned. You study when you have time. It is definitely worth the money and time if you want to learn something new when you want to achieve something in your life or you just need a certain level of education for the current/future job,” she said.

Now that she has completed the course, Zuzana is excited for the new opportunities that lay ahead.

“I can say with full confidence that ELC level 6 was the right decision for me. I have learned a lot in every way (personally or professionally). I have broadened my horizons, I have learned a lot about early years, I have gotten to know my strengths, and learning skills and I grew personally too and I have met many interesting people. Thanks to my work experience I also had to learn to be part of a team. It is important that people who work in the preschool setting work as a team and not as individuals. To be part of a team is important if you want to achieve goals and also it is much more effective to work as a team with children. Every day wasn´t the same and every child was unique, this was one of the best parts of my work experience and I am so thankful that thanks to Portobello Institute I could have this chance.

“To be honest, when I finished, it was a mix of emotions. It was a big relief I didn´t need to rewrite any of my assessments, but at the same time, I was a little bit sad. You know that feeling, when you finish something that you have been working on really hard and suddenly you don´t know what to do with your ‘free’ time when you don´t need to study or write your assessments? But most of all it was a great feeling and I was proud of myself that I managed it with good results and I was looking forward to finding a job in a preschool setting.

“My career has changed from the basics as I never worked in a preschool setting before and since October 2023 I have worked in a Montessori preschool setting and that is amazing for me. It is a big change compere to be in the office. I am still learning to be good at my position as an AIM worker. I am lucky to have great, very friendly and supportive colleagues and also children are amazing and they accepted me from the first day.

“I am working in the field I wanted. I still don´t know everything and there is a long way in front of me. I would like to work on the progress of my personal and professional skills and knowledge. And in the near future, I would like to re-do my First Aid Course and do CPR certification as well. And maybe after a few years (when I will have much more experience) I´d like to obtain my level 7 qualification.

“Thanks to this qualification ELC level 6 I was able to apply for my current position and I am happy I made this decision as I can work and look after my family at the same time without any regrets,” she said.

If Zuzana’s story has inspired you, you can reach out to our early years academic advisor Jennifer Matteazzi today, book a 15-minute consultation call, email [email protected] or call 01 892 0031 to start your educational journey with Portobello Institute.

Portobello Institute’s Early Years department has qualifications ranging from level 5 to level 9. We offer:

Other courses you may be interested in include:

Visit our Early Years department for more.

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