Going to university after the age of 30 has sent me on a huge learning curve, and not just in relation to academia. There are days when I feel very old.
I had a naïve understanding that university seminars (especially for a Bachelor of Arts) would be deep and varied discussions with like-minded people or, if not like-minded, then at least like-interested. I would meet fascinating people who shared my passions and I would talk with them about all those things no-one else ever wanted to talk with me about. We’d play music and watch movies together.
Oh, boy, was I wrong.
Not only do I often feel a gazillion years old, sitting with a bunch of people in their late teens (and some who are, I swear, about twelve), but I also feel like a member of an alien species.
I have come to realise over the years that my school was an exceptional one in many ways. Kids didn’t pull you down if you did well – quite the opposite, most of the time. We frequently had lively discussions in class (especially with one teacher, who was very easy to sidetrack with questions about aliens). Talking while a teacher was talking was a no-no, and you would never have gotten away with irritating the people around you by disrespectfully talking through an entire lecture. Students had at least a basic understanding of what I’ve realised in this country are tricky subjects – spelling and grammar. We could all, at least, string a grammatically correct sentence together. Not so with many of my fellow undergraduates.
I realise I sound like a typical member of the older generation lamenting the habits of the younger, but (a) I’m not all that old; and (b) I’m sure there really is something odd going on here.
Where’s the enthusiasm? At first I thought people were shy to speak up in seminars and workshops, but after a year and half, they still aren’t talking. Tutors’ questions are, 99% of the time, answered by crickets. After a fortnight, I got sick of the sound of my own voice answering out of pity. The thing that strikes me over and over again is that these students don’t seem particularly interested in their subject. Brits are difficult to get excited at the best of times (unless it’s about soccer – er, pardon me – football or Coronation Street), but this is ridiculous. Why are you wasting thousands of pounds half-heartedly studying something you’re not very interested in, I ask? Are other universities’ students the same way? Is this a cultural difference? A generational difference? A class difference?
I got overly excited this week when I noticed a student was wearing a Star Wars t-shirt. You would think this kind of thing would be common on campus, but I assure you it isn’t – not even among my fellow Media students (this girl was an English student). It’s rare to even see an unusual haircut or colour. Perhaps living in London warped my expectations in this regard. I need to head back to Camden to feel mildly normal.
I love being a student and having a whole library to get lost in, and I’ve made a small group of great friends (people that actually, you know, read), but I confess I am absolutely bewildered by the culture...or lack of it.
Tell me in the comments below what your school/university experiences were or are. I’d love to know if I’m alone in this.