Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summer School

I am enjoying my summer school class, Cultural Anthropology. It is nice to be in class and not be stressed out about it - I am taking this class for fun. Last night we were talking about material possessions and how they relate to our identity. The teacher asked the class the following question, "You are in a foreign country and don't speak the language. What five things would you take with you that would tell the people of that country about you?" I chose: a picture of my children, my diploma, a book, my Bible and an American flag. It's been a very interesting class so far.

I have blogged before about the advantages of summer school. I think that deserves a re-visit:
Good Things about Summer School
1. No tan line
2. You don't smell like sunscreen
3. You don't need to wear a hat
4. That Philosophy class you were dreading is only 8 weeks long
5. Not as much homework
6. No sand in your bikini bottom
7. You can wear your Birkenstocks and Bermuda shorts and fit right in
8. Smaller classes
9. Your teacher has his "office hours" at Starbucks
10. It's ok to take your shoes off
11. It's still daylight out when you get out of class at 9pm

If you're new to the nontrad community, summer school, especially at the community college, is worth a second look. The atmosphere is more casual and not as intense, although you only have 8 weeks for the class as opposed to 16. Think about it! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, June 27, 2011

Empty Nesting as a Nontrad

I knew that day would come - the day when all my children would "fly the coop" and be out on their own. For me, that day came in August of 2010 when my daughter went away to school in Georgia. I did not have much time to reflect on my empty nest, however, because I was entering the last year of my undergrad work at the University of Tennessee. I think perhaps my own busyness with school acted as a buffer for the realization that I had an empty nest.

I also faced the empty nest alone as I had recently divorced my husband of 24 years. I am in a much better place now. My life is much more peaceful without him (but that's another story for another blog).

I am dating a man who is also facing the empty nest - sort of. His daughter is in school in Georgia and his son is here at UT (and makes the 30 mile drive home once a month during the school year). Bob has a host of hobbies to keep himself busy - cycling, model airplaning, square dancing - as well as a large circle of friends. He's a real renaissance man. We talk a great deal about our children and about empty nesting.

One of the major characteristics of a nontrad is that our busy lives continue on even though we are in school. We have children, aging parents, a mortgage, pets, carpools, cupcakes, Girl Scout cookies, sports teams, dance recitals, etc. to balance with our studies. Whew! I applaud my fellow nontrads as they negotiate through the sea of life!!

So how does one face the empty nest as a nontrad? First of all, are you facing the empty nest with a spouse or alone? If it's with a spouse, this is the time to get to know one another all over again. Take time to include your spouse in your school experience (if possible). For example, take your spouse to some of the cultural activities on campus, go to a sporting event (football, basketball, etc.) together, give him or her a tour of the campus, take him or her out for ice cream at the Student Center.

If you are facing the empty nest alone, make some time for friends who may be in the same age and stage of their life as you. Get involved with folks from your church, or from the community. If you don't have a circle of friends or a support system in place, now is the time to develop that. First rule of coping with the empty nest: DON'T go through it alone! Now is the time figure out who YOU are, as a student and as a person. It's a great opportunity to know thyself as well as to spend time with those special friends in your life.

Nontrads go through the same life stages as anyone else. We just experience those stages with a backpack slug over our shoulder! Kudos to my fellow nontrads who are empty nesting on their way to completing their degree. Stay tuned . . .

Comments on Comments - Encouraging Words

I receive many great comments on this blog. Thank you to all who leave a few words of encouragement, of clarification, etc. It's great to hear about other non-trads' experiences.

Douglas commented that his last experience with college was rough because of ADHD. Now that he is aware of the ADHD, he can better tailor his college experience to work around how the ADHD affects his life. How many other nontrads are facing a similar situation? Kudos to Douglas as forges ahead and achieves his goals!

Jan commented that she will be writing an MA dissertation this summer. That's another good way to battle summer brain drain - writing! Good luck to Jan as she soldiers through writing and defending her thesis.

I am proud of all my fellow nontrads who are working through a multitude of experiences and life situations in order to obtain their degrees. I think of the STARS group at Pellissippi State - Blount County, Studentmum, Michael Dicianna and others who are focusing on their academics as life happens all around them. It takes a great deal of fortitude and focus to be a nontrad. Hang in there, stay focused and keep moving toward your degree. Let us know how it's going!! Stay tuned . . .

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Brain Drain During the Summer

What are you doing this summer? I am doing what I have always done - work. I am also taking a class on Wednesday nights - Cultural Anthropology. My heart longs to be a full-time student again! I love the fast pace, the lectures, the assignments, the research papers, the mad dash to class from one end of campus to the other! I love being a student.

Summer seems to be the traditional time that students experience massive brain drain. Many primary and secondary school teachers will spend the first two weeks of class in August (or September) reviewing in order to get their students on the right track again. I would always do things like review multiplication tables, state capitals and spelling words during the summer to keep my children's brains from turning into mush.

How does one prevent brain drain as a non-trad? Most of us are not taking summer school classes. One word - READ!! Step away from the TV, video games, etc., and READ!! I reently purchased a Kindle for myself for my birthday. (I was told a Nook was better because you can check books out of the library with it, but Kindle is supposed to be getting that application soon.) I don't carry around a book, but I carry my Kindle with me. In some ways, it is more convenient than a book. However, I still love the feel of a book and I don't need to worry about the book's batteries going dead.

Reading exposes one to different vocabulary and ideas and often requires critical thinking skills in order to process the subject (being able to track with the characters or subject, tying ideas and processes together, etc.). Reading also increases one's imaginatiion. What does Homer Hickam's hometown look like? Can you smell the streets of Charles' Dickens' London? What's it like to stand beside Dr. Kay Scarpetta as she performs an autopsy? Can you sense the isolation of Soldier Island in Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None"? Can you feel the heat from the burning books in Ray Bradbury's "Farenheit 451"? Are you there with the first responders in "102 Minutes Inside the World Trade Center"?

Reading fiction takes one away to the world the author has created. I love fiction because it takes me to places I have not been to and might never go to. Reading non-fiction expands one's ideas of people, the world and the universe as a whole. From biography to self-help and how-to, science and the world of discovery. Reading opens doors and exposes one to so many different worlds. I love to read.

Even though you may not be taking classes this summer, that is no excuse to let your brain turn to mush! Pick up a good book for some prolonged reading. I would suggest NPR's reading recommendations or perhaps the NYT Best Seller lists. Those are good places to start.

What has been your favorite reading this year so far (besides a textbook)? I have enjoyed the Jefferson Bass books (fiction) as well as non-fiction ("The Fear" by Peter Godwin about Zimbabwe). I am currently reading Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None." My favorite books of all time are "Though None Should Perish", a medical account of Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery, and "A Sense of the World" by Jason Roberts - two historical non-fiction books. Hmm - a history major who loves to read history. Who woulda thunk it?

Take some time this summer to dive into a good book! It will prevent brain drain! Stay tuned . . .

Monday, June 13, 2011

What's Holding You Back?

I read an article on MSN today about Su Meck, a 45-year old mother of three, who recently went back to school to get her degree. What is so different about Su is that at age 22, she suffered a blow to the head that wiped out her memory. She found herself literally starting over from toddler hood. Now, 23 years later, she has gotten an Associate's degree with plans to continue on and get her Bachelor's. I applaud Su Meck. She did not let her fear of uncertainty hold her back from achieving a goal.

So what's your excuse? "I'm too old!", "I don't remember how to study!", or "I won't fit in." Hogwash!! If you want something bad enough, you will persue it. Su Meck could have said, "This is too hard." But she didn't. I have no doubt there were times when she felt like giving up and giving in. But she didn't.

If your dream is to get your college degree, whether Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's or PhD, what's holding you back? Fear is one of the biggest reasons for not pursuing a degree as a 30, 40, or 50-something potential student. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of one's self - these are all reasons given for not returning to school as an "older" person.

Fear of failure: Everyone fails. How do you handle it? Do you let failure cripple you or do you let failure be your teacher? Thomas Edison failed over 1,000 times before he invented the incandescent light bulb. Did he see those 1,000 times as failures? No. He saw them as experiments that didn't work.

Fear of rejection: Like the genie tells Aladdin in Disney's "Aladdin", "Beee yourself!" You will not get along with everyone and some younger folks may be freaked out that someone their mom or dad's age is sitting in class with them. That is their problem, not yours. I made friends with my classmates by just being me - a 40-something mother of three who loves to learn.

Fear of one's self: You don't know your limitations until you push them. You don't know what you're capable of until you try. You don't know how strong you are until you stand in the midst of a storm. Trust yourself. Don't look at past mistakes, failures, etc. Those are gone and you can't change them. Look to today and tomorrow. Do the best you can and then do even better. Challenge yourself. Trust yourself.

Yes, going to back to school as an older person is a risk - financially, emotionally and physically. Taking a risk is like standing on the high dive at the pool looking down. Are you going to jump or not? My advice? Close your eyes, hold your nose and JUMP!! Scream all the way down if you have to! Once you do it, you'll be able to do it again and not be so afraid. Don't allow fear to rob you of achieving your goals.

So what's holding you back?? JUMP!!! Stay tuned . . . .

Thursday, June 9, 2011


My diploma came today in the mail!! I am officially official!!! Saa-weeeet! Stay tuned!!

For the Fun of It

I started my summer school class last night - Cultural Anthropology. Once in class, I discovered that I had gotten the wrong book for the class. I felt stupid, but then I realized it was no big deal, so just lighten up! When we introduced ourselves, I said my name and then I told the prof and the class, "I graduated in May with my Bachelor's in History. Now I work in the Math Department and classes are free for University employees. This class is something I was interested in so I thought I'd give it a shot." I think they were all amazed that I am in class just for the fun of it.

"For the fun of it." There seems to be a huge difference in taking a class as a degree requirement as opposed to taking a class just for the accumulation of knowledge. I feel much more relaxed about being in class - not that I am going to be a slacker and not try my best to get a good grade. That's not it at all. I just don't feel as much pressure being a "for the fun of it" student. Yes, I am still an older nontraditional student, but I feel like a "freelancer". In this class, I am a student by choice, not by necessity.

Hmm - lesson for this post? Learning is a lifelong experience. Many universities offer non-credit courses in everything from computer programming to wine tasting and kayaking. Libraries offer courses in computers. Community centers offer courses in crafting, dancing, swimming and host of other subjects. Wherever you are in your journey - serious degree-seeking student or lover of knowledge - take advantage of the opportunities to continue growing and learning. Stay tuned . . .