Wednesday 18 October 2017

The Weekly Read: 'Age is just a number and you're never too old to learn'

Lina Ryan writes about her experience as she returned to education as a 'mature student'

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)

Lina Ryan

“My heart aches and a drowsy numbness pains my senses as thou of hemlock I had drunk.” The first line from a poem by John Keats called “Ode to a Nightingale” and that is exactly how I felt in the early months of 2010.

I was in a job that I loved, but I was being bullied by two female ‘colleagues’. Bullying that had been going on since June of 2009 and I had no idea how to deal with it.

I began to doubt myself: it affected my work, my family, and my relationships with others, my physical and mental health. I had started to drink a lot more and my life seemed to be falling apart. An advert was my saviour. 

After listening many, many times to my tale of woes, my sister Collette handed me an advert from the Limerick Leader for The UL Access Programme.

A programme designed to help mature people, 'oldies' like me, return to education. It is a year long full time course that re-introduces people to education. It is designed for men and women who had not completed second level education or who had been out of the education system and away from learning for some time.

She was so enthusiastic; I agreed to look at it. Needless to say it went into my bag and was forgotten. However after much prompting and encouragement from her, I completed the application form and popped it in the post.

The result five years down the line is, here I am, (hopefully with exams passed) in September 2015 entering my final year of a BA in Journalism and New Media. Popping that letter into the post has significantly changed my life.  The change was big, bold and often scary, very scary, but rewarding and fulfilling at the same time.

Since my arrival here, it hasn’t been all plain sailing let me tell you, University of Limerick is a big place and to put it mildly, in my first month I definitely completed more than one marathon trying to find my way around this beautiful campus.

There is a great map, but do you think I could be seen looking at a map? No, not me, but you know what, you learn by your mistakes.

My very first lecture was sociology. I was late, couldn’t find the room, arrived hot, sweaty, feeling nervous and foolish. I sat down on a chair that creaked loudly. I felt the whole room was looking at me and I don’t remember a word of that lecture with the embarrassment.

The first of many lovely things happened to me that day, a lovely lady, Jenny Walsh, another mature student like myself: obviously recognising my distress came over and introduced herself and asked if I would like to join her and some others for a coffee. I delighted. Jenny, Josephine, Bernie, Rosaria, John and I went for coffee in the Red Raisin and we have had many there over the past four years.

UL’s most valuable assets are the young students. They are inclusive, helpful, brash, honest, opinionated and idealistic. 

They don’t see the wrinkles or the age they just see another student, except of course when the lecture is nearly over and the mature student asks that question. Then you hear a collective sigh.

The assignments, the referencing and those dreaded group assignments are all challenges to be overcome. 

As a mature student, you have the distractions of home, family and other commitments. You have your plan to get those assignments done, especially the group assignment. 

The young ones have other ideas and sure they can do an all-nighter and get it done before deadline. 

Group assignments are particularly challenging for the mature student.

The dynamic with any given group is fascinating: you have the leader, the worker, the talker and the absentee.  The missed meetings, the work not done, disagreements about anything and everything all combine to the eventual successful completion of the project. 

Outside of college many other things impact on mature students and their studies.

Unlike their youthful counterparts who head home  each day to plan their social calendar or check out the latest Ed Sheeran release, us ‘oldies’ head home to homework, housework and headaches.

Don’t get me wrong, college is a challenge for all who attend.

As a mature student I’m very fortunate to be part of a young, bright, intelligent, diverse, unique challenging group who are vocal and articulate on matters that concern and affect them.

They opened my heart and mind to ideas, thoughts and actions that I might not otherwise contemplate. They challenge my ideas and opinions and I believe the reverse is also true.

Being a mature student in UL is a rewarding and fulfilling experience. It brings with it challenges and opportunities, all of which can be used to enhance the college experience.

The college has in place supports specific to mature students to encourage and ensure that they, like all students, have a holistic educational experience.

Age is just a number and one is never too old to learn. 

With thanks to campus.ie and University of Limerick's An Focal

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