By Adrienne Gorringe
Artwork by Kate Filsell
I am one of those pesky students who pop up from time to time in your tutes. Over 30, mother-of-two (albeit they are 20 and 16) and too much life experience that I willingly share. ‘Mature age’ is the label, but really we are just older, mature is optional.
Most of my study has been done externally. I work, study, and parent full-time. I’m a mum, a youth worker, a manager, a student, a wife, a friend, a daughter, and I’ve probably been labelled a number of other things. So finding time to attend lectures and tutes is really not on the agenda. On the rare occasion when I do manage to squish in a face-to-face class I need to make the most of it. I’m also used to being heard—at work I’m a manager, at home I’m a matriarch, so you can imagine it’s hard to come into a room where you are suddenly in a minority and tagged with a label before your butt even hit the seat. It’s really interesting how much time people spend making sure that minority groups are never labelled, but how much trouble they have recognising one in their midst. If you ever changed high schools, you’ll know just what I mean—you feel like you are ‘outside’ the rest of the group.
I should probably also point out that I am not studying to further my career, nor because I’ve been a stay-at-home-mum for 20 years, nor because I am searching for the meaning of life. For the best part of my adulthood I’ve worked fulltime and I am already at the top of where I want to be in my current job. I’m still studying because I’ve finally worked out what I want to be when I grow up (for the fourth time). I figure I’ll get there in about eight years and then I’ll probably start searching for the next thing that I want to be. I’ll be even older by then, and maybe the maturity will follow—or maybe not. I love having the freedom to reinvent myself every so often. Every year I learn more about who I am, what I like, what I don’t like and what I’m interested in, and every year the world changes just a little bit – bringing new things to explore and learn about. I love learning and I don’t ever want to stop.
In the last year of my degree (2012) I got lucky. I had the ultimate student experience. I took the Professional Development course, a part of the Global Experience program, in Vietnam. Out of 15 students, only four of us were over 25 and I came in second oldest at 39. I don’t know if it was the excitement of the trip, all of us being outside our comfort zone, or just incredible luck at getting to study with an amazing group of people, but within hours I knew that there was no ‘mature age’ tag with this group.
From start to finish it was an experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. We talked, we laughed and some of us even cried. I think somewhere along the way we learned—but through the entire experience, we shared. I think I received as much information and advice as I gave, and I found myself walking away from the experience with the feeling that the world is in good hands for the future. I felt like I was 18 again and never for one moment felt ‘outside’ the group. The experience also made me realise that I might tag myself with the ‘mature age’ label more than others tag me with it, and perhaps I also tag others with the ‘school leaver’ label. This is something I’m going to work on.
Perhaps my training and experience as a youth worker makes me a little different from most ‘mature age’ students. Perhaps it’s because my kids are of a similar age to the majority of the student population. But I don’t think so. I think the only thing that makes me different from others in my ‘category’ is that I have had the experience of travelling overseas with an amazing group of people of all ages and I’ve learnt about them and about myself along the way.