By: Valerie Kazarian, Staff Writer

Coming back to college after being a working professional was quite an education in itself. There are certainly some ways that I grew despite myself and some ways that I find I’m being held back. Relating to a professor, an authority figure, is different in school from working with a boss and being in a room full of traditional students can be, as we used to say, a “real trip.” But overall, as I am always interested in furthering my education, returning is certainly something I am glad I did.

This will be my second USM degree and my third bachelor’s degree. I also have a master’s degree and several certificates and associate’s degrees. I love education. In 2010 I began working on a degree in English which I received in 2013. That was my first time back in a traditional classroom in decades. I had started at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) but I wanted to be tested on what I learned and wanted to go into subjects into more depth. I preferred the traditional classroom setting even though I had no idea what I would do with another degree.

The most difficult part was getting used to the professors. Often, they were much younger than I and it is natural, I think, to expect some sort of age deference. There was none. I would have to say that the most difficult lesson for me to learn was to simply obey. I had to do what they said and trust that they knew better than I did. Gone were the days of collaborative effort in getting a project done and being appreciated for my initiative. I thought I had learned how to write in high school and thought comments on papers were suggestions when they were instructions on how to improve my writing.

By now, though, I’m used to the culture and find it easier to go with the flow. It is easier now to know how to take advantage of the classwork and I don’t mind experimenting sometimes with an assignment to try something different. The experiment doesn’t always turn into the highest grade, but it certainly is a learning experience. I’m not advocating that everyone take it upon themselves to define their own assignments, but I’ve found that I can on occasion “play” with the work and actually have some fun with it.

The students, too, have different sides to them. Overall, they are very friendly and usually giggle when I tell them that I’m a student, not a staff member. Often, when we can all just see ourselves as equals all with valuable insights, we can have some great classroom conversations. The students seem more even-tempered today than when I started on my first degree right out of high school. Back then, passions were high and young people were just learning that they had a voice. Now students are used to speaking their minds so while the opinions are just as well formed, arms don’t seem to fly about so much when they are talking.

At the same time, the youth of the students can sometimes be a frustration. I recall a conversation in class that somehow turned to life in the nineteen fifties, which, I will admit, I recall. According to this young woman, men in the fifties used to beat their wives and aren’t we just oh so lucky that that doesn’t happen anymore. I took issue with her claim, but she was rather insistent on her position. When I asked her how she had gotten this impression, she said she had taken a class in women’s studies and had read it in a book.

I was beside myself and rendered speechless. Book learning is great but there are times when the actual experience counts more. To this day I wonder if that young lady was ever able to hear herself and what she sounded like.

So, like I said, it’s been a trip. I still have about eighteen months to go to finish this degree and I’m already trying to figure out how I can turn this degree into a job, just like any other student. It most likely will be a non-traditional job. But I’m sure I’ll keep on learning. It just never ends.


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