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Schools Out: For now at least

Late last month I had an odd experience of walking through Camden Town in a dark suit, in the middle of the day. I say odd as normally walking around in London on a weekday in a suit means you blend in. In Camden, you are the only one in a suit, once you glance around at the host of eclectic fashion statements on one front and awkwardly attired tourist parties on the other. It is an odd place. It is also where you find the London building for the Open University. Which was where I was on my way to in order to have my Graduation photo taken – several weeks before the actual event – to save time ‘on the day’. It was a relatively painless exercise – apart from negotiating possibly the scariest receptionist I have come across outside the ranks of Oxford Porters – and I was glad to get it done, because I am rather proud to be collecting my degree this week, on Friday at the Barbican.

I had been toying with the idea of doing some more study for a number of years before I actually did anything about it, half heartedly looking at prospectuses and then just not getting around to applying. The main stimulus came from the youth work I was doing at the time; seeing the teenagers go off to university probably contributed to a nostalgic longing for the past and my Oxford Zoology days. Secondly, since I suspected that I would be involved in encouraging some of the young ones through their studies it seems appropriate to me to share some of their pain, if not the intensity.

So the last five years has been a bit of a journey which ends with a BA in Humanities (with Creative Writing and Religious Studies). And I have learned quite a lot about myself along the way too, which might reverberate with others.

  1. Be careful about what you are studying versus what you love. I knew that I wanted to explore the humanities and was initially attracted to heritage related studies, as it is an area I have always been passionate about. In the end that heritage module was the biggest struggle of all of them, and I hated it. It took something I had enthusiasm for and crushed it mercilessly in a torrent of figures, conflicting priorities and harsh reality. Interesting I am sure, but not when I realised that my interest in heritage was through the heart and not the head.
  2. What you might enjoys studying might not be what you expect and be prepared to change course. The flip side of this was creative writing. I was terrible at creative writing at school and approached this aspect of the earlier modules that covered a range of Arts topics in a poking your toe in kind of fashion) with much the same trepidation as I did music appreciation (another heart versus head conflict for me). But I found I enjoyed it immensely. I am not any good at it, but I enjoyed the act of creation as something in itself, of bringing into existence stories and characters that never existed until I created them. A couple of hundred short stories later I do want to get into writing longer form, but that may have to wait until I have a lot more time on my hands to give it the attention that they deserve. This has been the revelation for me in this course (though I am still not keen on poetry).
  3. In the end, be realistic with expectations. You can fake it up to a point but in the end the quality of the result will be impacted by how much time you put into it. As my University work had to be in the spare time of my spare time any thoughts of high grades should have been slaughtered on the cold alter of realism early on, but that did not stop me stressing about failing. This despite constant and unswerving support from those close to me reminding me that I was doing this ‘for fun’ so why should I get so stressed about it? Sigh. If only it were that easy.

But I have gotten through it, with a somewhat flattering 2:2 and while I do not intend to jump back into more studying just now, I am sure that at some point I will come back to it. I guess that the main reason will be that it was just fun learning new stuff –both about the topics I’ve read and about me as a student.

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