Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fitting In

It has been my observation that one of the biggest fears of nontrads is the fear of "fitting in". This is most evident when one is on a college campus. In a sea of 20somethings, how am I, a 40something, supposed to fit in, make friends, have a "social life", etc.?

I love my new job. My office faces one of the busiest parts of campus - the library. Every morning this summer, I have looked out the window and watched all the college "kids" - summer school students, incoming freshmen going through orientation, grad students doing summer research. I was surprised to see several students my age mixing with the 20somethings in the Commons on the second floor of the Education building (where my office is). They seemed to fit in quite well as they interacted with a group of much younger students.

If I'm new on campus and I have a fear of fitting in, what do I do about it? My experience has been this:
1. Get to know your prof. Introduce yourself after class or during office hours. For some reason, being able to converse comfortably with the prof (or teacher) seems to attract younger students who aren't as socially savvy with the "older generation".
2. Sign up to be a notetaker for a disabled student in one of your classes. Check with your campus Office of Disability Services for details. This will build a connection with another classmate.
3. Think young. A friend once told me, "You're only as young as you feel." To think young is to be energetic and inquisitive. Don't be afraid to ask questions during class or to volunteer the answers. Most teachers/profs will appreciate the interaction.
4. Socialize with your classmates. Don't be afraid to go have a beer with a couple folks in your class. One of the local pizza joints here has "Trivia Night" every Wednesday night. I joined some of my History peers one night a couple months ago and had a blast. Can't wait to do it again.
5. Find out if your school has an Adult Student organization. If so, it will be a place to connect with other people who are experiencing the same things you are.
6. Be yourself. You are who you are for a reason. Don't be afraid to be who you are.

College campuses can be very big places and, therefore, very intimidating. Don't be afraid to ask questions, take advantage of office hours, and ask more questions. Most profs find it refreshing to have an older student in their class - they know that student is serious about his/her education.

How do I fit in? Relax, take a deep breath and be yourself. Stay tuned . . .

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