Sometimes learning takes a different path
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.