Last week I toured the geology department at KU with one of the other students in our group (a younger student) who was tagging along out of curiosity. While waiting for the guide to arrive, one of the faculty entered the waiting room and asked if someone was helping us. When I told him why we were there he said, “Not you, right? You’re too old to be a student.” It was a statement, not a question. He didn’t mean it to be hurtful, but it was.
Usually, people just mistake me for faculty. When I tell them I am a student they look mildly surprised. I’m glad that I started at a community college where there is a lot of diversity. There is usually at least a couple of older students in each of my classes but I don’t feel the need to befriend them. We tend to be more serious and focused than the younger students because we have other priorities. Having a 16-year-old son helps me to feel not quite so disconnected from them. They show me vines and are shocked when I know some of the videos.
I knew I would feel awkward and really do sometimes. I feel like people are looking at me and wondering why I’m there. Like maybe I did something wrong in my life to have to do this now. Or maybe that’s my self-consciousness talking, I can never be sure. It’s funny because I wonder why the other older students are there.
I am enjoying this experience in a way that I never could have when I was younger. I just had other priorities. I wouldn’t have been so thirsty for information as I am now. I can’t get enough. It’s like I want to learn all the things now and it’s hard to be patient. My favorite thing is signing up for the next semester’s classes and figuring out my new schedule. In my twenties, I was curious about many things, but it was not ancient history or chemistry.
One thing I’ve noticed is that people seem to assume that because you are older you have knowledge about things that you don’t. I am learning the material at the same time everyone else but it’s like I should know it already. I have gotten that in past jobs. When I started bartending at 30 people assumed that I had done it my whole life even though I had just started. It’s like the thing you are doing now must have been the thing you have always done. Honestly, I hope that helps me when I graduate while trying to land a permanent position somewhere.
It made me be timid to get involved for fear of taking the position of a younger student that may benefit from the experience more than me. My instinct is to think that they are more deserving of that position because this is their first time around but in reality, it’s my first time around, too. I would benefit from that experience just as much and that is hard for me to swallow. I did start to get more involved and I’m glad I did. It’s earned me scholarships, leadership positions, research experience, and at least two jobs now.
Instead of trying to direct the other students, I try to support them. I was in management before so I have a little bit of experience trying to help people be the best that they can be. So instead of taking away a position that another student may have benefited from, my goal is to help them shine in whatever project we are working on so that they have the control. Hopefully, I can help them so more than they thought they could on their own. I am learning what kind of mentor I want to be and gratefully, I have some really good ones to learn from.