Sometimes learning takes a different path

learning Over at ReadingUpsideDown, Susan Whelan has a post about University Regrets and Insecurities. It’s a heart-felt piece of writing by a wonderful, super-capable lady.

As I read, I recognised myself in so many of her paragraphs. It was cathartic for me to admit my greatest regret too, is not going to University and while I’ve spent a lot of my life telling people I’ll do it eventually, for most of that time I’ve  known it’s not going to happen.

When I finished high school I wanted to study Medicine and specialise in Neurosurgery. I wanted to do research.The Guidance Counsellor said: “You can do anything. Next student please.” I scored a place in Medicine at Sydney Uni and it was all good.  I was even prepared for the 5 hours travelling each day until I  could afford to move closer.

Then I learned a few hard facts of life. My mother announced that she wasn’t supporting any more study, not even until I found a part-time job to pay board, and that Year 11 and Year 12 were more than enough of her time and money wasted. She found me a full-time job at the local supermarket and told me I was ungrateful because I didn’t take it.

Education wasn’t valued in her house. I often laugh and tell the story of how I wasn’t allowed to do homework because my mother said homework was set by teachers who didn’t get their job done during the day. But I don’t feel like it’s funny. I’m just pretending.

I was a naive country kid who didn’t know how to make the dream happen. So I left and moved to Sydney with two suitcases – one full of clothes and the other full of books. I found a job and rented with friends. I made it to Sydney Uni. For one lunch hour and one night each week. Part-time offerings were extremely limited then, unlike today. I only did two subjects, psychology and economics, but it was a start. Until my mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Family came first and I deferred.

I returned to Uni although it wasn’t safe travelling by night from where I then lived. When a girl was knifed in the lane-way after getting off my train (during Uni holidays), I quit. I tried correspondence. It was before the internet and the only distance courses were at Macquarie University and the University of New England. I couldn’t afford to travel and stay for the compulsory residential weeks so I chose Macquarie. The subject choices were even narrower than part time at Sydney. I did mathematics, statistics and electronics.  I struggled to get to the residentials. The travel was time-consuming and expensive for my limited means. Time off work was hard to obtain. I wasn’t enjoying the subjects and they weren’t going to help my career.

Eventually I decided if I was studying just for fun I should do something I was at least interested in. I had a better job by this time so I  enrolled in correspondence at UNE and did Ancient History. It was awful studying ancient history by mail with no access to the necessary resources. If I couldn’t do it well, I didn’t want to do it at all.

My new job was in IT. The internet hadn’t reached home use but Charles Sturt University introduced a wonderful comprehensive mail-based distance education program. So I enrolled in Industrial Mathematics and Computing and loved it. I got married. I had a baby. I almost made it to the end of the course. In my fourth part-time year my young child was continually ill with tonsillitis. I couldn’t leave him to go to the residentials. I was barely passing so I deferred.

Before I could go back, HECS was introduced. I had a career job now but it was a single income for a baby, a stay-at-home dad and a mortgage. I couldn’t afford to study. Again.

I still can’t and I have an unwell second child who currently attends school through distance education.

I wishfully watch what others achieve. I wonder if it would have been different if a guidance counsellor had taken the time to show me some options – like a cadetship or scholarship. I had no access to that information myself.

It’s not the letters after the name I want but like Susan, the opportunity to formally explore in more depth the new areas I’ve come to love. Literature. Language. Historical fiction.  Every time I fill in a form and it says “highest level of education completed”, I tick the high school box and feel wistful. 2/3 so long ago doesn’t count and I’m reminded anew that there is something in life I really wanted and just couldn’t make happen.

I tell myself its my own fault. I can’t blame circumstances. Others got past the obstacles. Some had harder obstacles than me. Maybe I just didn’t try hard enough or want hard enough until too late.

I’ve accepted sometimes learning takes a different path. I’ve done short courses. I’ve moved on to other things. My family. My friends. My writing. Finding places where I can do my little bit to help others. These things give me great joy.

I’m secretly thrilled to have one of my fiction books as a recommended text in a Uni course and that the software I wrote mails out exam results from a number of major universities. It’s almost close enough. But I would be untruthful if I didn’t admit I often still wish.


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One response to “Sometimes learning takes a different path”

  1. Susan Whelan says:

    There are so many things you’ve mentioned here that I could have written, Sandy. I always pause before checking ‘high school’ for the highest level of education attained, taking a moment for a regretful sigh before marking the box.

    I like to think that these regrets makes me stronger, more determined to succeed now and follow my new dream of writing. The regret doesn’t go away though.

    Like you, I’m coming to terms with the fact that it is likely tertiary study will never happen for me. There are different ways to learn and different paths to follow.

    Thank you for sharing. xxx

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