Going to University in my 50’s to study Drama was a big decision. Massive, huge, colossal…. you get my drift. Yet making that decision was curiously abstract, based on a love of performance art, boredom with my job and the desire to do something for fun rather than profit. Launching the idea with my friends and adult children was interesting to say the least. My children in particular tested it to destruction, in the belief that I was having a mid-life crisis. My friends were shocked but not altogether surprised. Happily, they are all hugely supportive now that I am here.
Starting University was a major event. A change of identity from NHS Director to undergraduate student, a change in lifestyle, a new environment, new technology (hello, virtual learning environment….) and more. After the first day, I felt shell shocked. What had I been thinking? How on earth was I going to relate to fellow students who are younger than my children? Who could I realistically form close friendships with? People assumed that I was a member of the faculty, or a postgraduate student. All this amid the whirlwind experience that is Fresher’s week. My coping strategy included doing everything that I was advised to do, such as joining societies, finding my way around the campus, familiarising myself with Blackboard (my University’s virtual learning environment), exploring the library and attending every welcome meeting and event that I thought would be useful.
Two weeks on and I have experienced a range of attitudes and reactions, from being welcomed to being pointedly ignored. And it is ok. For all of us this is a time of huge adjustment and everyone reacts differently. The trick is to not worry about what people are thinking and in particular not to project your own fears onto them. That funny look someone gave you is almost certainly down to too many late nights and their vulnerability in a new and confusing landscape. It really isn’t personal.
One of the biggest challenges has been stopping myself from trying to mother people who are missing their home and parents, and who are adjusting to life in Halls of Residence. I am told that it is best to stand back a little and be there if needed, avoiding any temptation to either act as a substitute parent or attempt to relive my youth in nightclubs and bars. In other words, it is fine to act my age and wait for the surprise at my presence on an undergraduate course to give way to acceptance.
The Mature Student Society has introduced me to new friends, the faculty are hugely supportive, and I have the luxury of going back to my own home every night. My children and my friends are there for me when needed. What’s more, I love my subject and it is what I came here to study. The final bonus is that in University drama productions I have an advantage in terms of auditioning for roles as an older adult. I can act my age.