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The night before the exams, 30 years later

Posted in Life & Love

While waiting for my friend to get ready, I browse her bookshelves. What leaps out immediately is a brand new copy of a textbook on XX century Italian literature, a compendium that every high school student simply refers to, since time immemorial, as “il Guglielmini”, from its author’s name.

Clearly, this is not a copy from my friend’s school days but it looks identical to the one I slaved over on my last year of high school.

I sit at her dining room table and open the hefty tome at random: the familiar fonts, three different ones, aimed at differentiating literary criticism from original texts and plot summations, look like long-lost friends who never aged.

I lose myself in the poetry of Giovanni Pascoli, poems I haven’t read in thirty yeas but whose rhythms still sing-song in my head. Another random page – Giorgio Bassani. Coincidentally, the very next day, a friend from Portland e-mails me “Have you ever seen The Garden of Finzi Contini”? Have I ever: about ten times, and read the book twice.

Suddenly, I am nostalgic for forced, rigorous study; for all-nighters fuelled by espresso (and the occasional amphetamine) to cram before college exams. I acknowledge what I have been mulling for some time: despite all the reading and writing I do on my own, I miss being challenged, prodded, contradicted, having my thoughts reined in or expanded. I miss learning in an academic setting.

And, like that, a week later I enroll in a college Summer session. There are textbooks to buy, there will be homework, there will be nights – not fuelled by coffee – but still spent at my desk.

I am curious to see how my approach to learning has changed, what adjustments I need to make now that my once prodigious memory is no longer prodigious, and neither is my stamina. I am excited. Whatever the outcome, I will end up enriched. I hope.

Have you taken academic classes in mid-life or later? How was your experience?

 

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21 Comments

  1. Congratulations!! I hope you enjoy it! What course did you sign up for?

    I’ve found that it’s difficult for me to stay away from any form of education for an extended period of time. I just love filling my shelves with new books and my mind with new things.

    I’ve found the experience of studying something you love to be exhausted and invigorating at the same time. Hopefully you have enough energy and time left at the end of the day to keep us all updated on your progress!

    May 3, 2017
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    • Yes – I left out that bit. I hope I didn’t take on more than I can chew. But I figured I could get through six months, homework et al. Will definitely report back.

      May 4, 2017
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  2. Purtroppo ho fatto una scuola tecnica (ragioneria), e per quanto dal punto di vista del lavoro sia stata una buona scelta, per tutta la vita ho cercato, e cerco, di approfondire una cultura classica che, se manca la base del liceo, non è facile raggiungere

    April 25, 2017
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    • Anch’io ho fatto ragioneria, contro il volere dei miei genitori e dei miei insegnanti che mi spingevano verso il classico. Fra l’altro, capendo molto poco di matematica, e’ stato un inferno. Pero’ mi ha incanalato verso le ingue, che ho proseguito all’universita’ e ho rimediato a un po’ delle lacune classiche. Se avessi fatto il classico, forse non avrei girato il mondo come ho fatto.

      April 25, 2017
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      • Forse … intanto ho imparato a non guardare indietro, niente rimpianti!

        April 25, 2017
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  3. Brava, you’re a woman of substance. I relate in that I love flicking through my old texts for English Lit at school and reading the notes I wrote in the margins (which always seemed to revolve around death but that’s another matter 🙂 While you’re pursuing scholarly endeavor I have giddily exposed myself to Instagram and there’s no going back. Are you on it? Time suck isn’t it? Best not but if you’re studying.

    April 25, 2017
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    • I started the Instagram madness and then I had to stop: blog, FB, Instagram….there was no time for life! Sometimes I still go in and check things out, follow people but it’s a rabbit hole. I will look you up though…actually…found you! You have a new follower now.

      April 25, 2017
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  4. Val du Toit
    Val du Toit

    Good for you! I know you’ll enjoy it and do exceptionally well. I so enjoyed my own similar experience. Having graduated from University after my three year teaching course, I was ridiculously young (only just 19). All through that time I only wanted to finish by doing the minimum work, so I could get out into the big exciting world as soon as possible.

    Years of teaching and three children later, I decided to take a sabbatical and study for a library qualification. I enrolled at Unisa, acclaimed for its extra-mural curricula and was delighted to find that I needed several academic subjects including English I and an indigenous language. I’d always wanted to learn isiXhosa and the Emglish course required messes of reading. What a treat! I could sit and read happily all day and no one could reprimand me for being slothful and lazy – which I am by nature, but hey, this was heaven!

    What a way to cruise unconsciously through the menopause with nary a symptom. Highly recommended.

    April 25, 2017
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    • Val du Toit
      Val du Toit

      Sorry! That should have been “masses” not “messes”.

      April 25, 2017
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    • I love that, looking back, you can look at your further learning as antidote to menopause. May it lessen my hot flashes!

      April 25, 2017
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  5. Good on you! I took a class a few years ago to fill in at least one of the holes in my knowledge (art history) and ended up doing a general studies certificate, with the help of some transfer credit. It was really valuable for me to be a student and to see what worked or didn’t work in terms of curriculum, delivery and evaluation

    And as an instructor, I can assure you that we love mature students. They are there for the right reasons, and they work hard and recognize the value of learning.

    April 25, 2017
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    • I used to teach English, something that I wasn’t terribly fond of. But I did love older students better – they were there for all the right reasons, as you say.

      April 25, 2017
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  6. I went back to my old Uni at age 39, to do a part-time diploma in business management.

    First amusing thing that happened was that the staff at enrollment couldn’t believe how old my student number was – the first two digits were 79 to denote the first year I had enrolled there.

    Second thing I noticed was that the font size in text books had shrunk. I threw out the contact lenses and went back to wearing spectacles – much easier to read with!

    Third discovery was that I knew a lot more than I thought I would. Once the rusty old brain got cranking again, I flew through the concepts that younger, less-experienced students struggled with.

    Fourth discovery came at exam time, when I realised that I needed to structure my study time more efficiently. That’s when I started doing 30 minute study sessions interspersed with 15 minute breaks in which I caught up on household chores. This is an invaluable tool, and one which I still use today when writing under pressure.

    I wish you all the best – you will find much enjoyment in it, I am sure!

    April 25, 2017
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    • Thanks for the very valuable insights. I am really curious as to my brain’s response. Will have to report back down the line.

      April 25, 2017
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  7. Winston Moreton
    Winston Moreton

    Nope. Tertiary education and acadamia have been usurped by the ego maniacal ilk of Trump.
    #MoneyTrumpsScholarship

    April 25, 2017
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    • I am going back to forget Winston….just read an interview Trump gave the AP and I wanted to weep: illiterate, ignorant – we are being led by a con man who knows less than I do of how politics work. I see you are in Rome and enjoying the weather…

      April 25, 2017
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  8. Big time congrats on pursuing another class! I got my degree at night taking a couple classes a semester while raising a couple of teenaged kids (only took 10 years of getting that 125 credit hours completed!). Finally graduating was the sweetest feeling and I definitely savored fiction for a long while. Whenever I think I might want another go at a formal class, I remember all the late nighters studying wile working a high stress job and kind of shudder. I periodically take classes around town and it’s all I can handle anymore. Very best of luck though I’m sure you’ll blow all the young people away. ❤︎

    April 25, 2017
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    • I commend you. I can’t even think how hard it might be to take classes while dealing with teenagers!

      April 25, 2017
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  9. Hmm.. Reading this almost makes me want to go back to academic/formal study. Almost.

    While finishing my Pharmacy degree, I had ideas of doing part-time study or night classes while I worked – maybe Latin or literature or anthropology – something purely for interest’s sake. Now I’ve been out of uni for over five years, and the thought of going back to exams and assignments makes me shudder (but I’m still contemplating it somewhere in the back of my mind)

    April 25, 2017
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    • I think you need more time until it starts being appealing again. It’s like having children (which I didn’t): the pain is so horrible you vow never to do again. But then you do.

      April 25, 2017
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