At 41, I’ve returned to university, an experience which, first time round, totally changed my life. Now I’m one of the oldest students in my year and already in debt, but I’ve discovered a newfound joy for education and the importance of learning
Last time I had a first week at university, I successfully shaved a balloon covered in shaving foam without popping it, for which I won shots at the local nightclub, possibly jelly. It is 20 years later, and I am having my first week at university again. This time, I am 41. I am sticking a very strict and detailed timetable to my fridge, making plans for who is going to walk the dog on which days and desperately trying not to say anything that makes me stand out as a late millennial, such as “I used to write all my essays by hand,” and “Wow, literally everything’s online,” both of which came out of my mouth very early on. There are no jelly shots. I am horrified to find that I am constantly on the verge of letting an “in my day…” slip out. I don’t smoke, but I find that in my head, I am always sucking hard on a metaphorical cigarette, hoary with age and experience.
Last spring, I applied to study an MA in a new-ish discipline called Environmental Humanities. Over the summer, I struggled to explain what this was to anyone who asked, but I settled on “literature, with a Greta Thunberg twist”. There is more to it than that, it turns out. In the academic language that I am having to relearn, it is “interdisciplinary”, covering art, philosophy, social sciences and history, but with a focus on the climate crisis. The idea is to look at what might work alongside cold, hard science, in order to communicate new ways of thinking about the planet. Warwick University offered me a place and I am coming to the end of my first term.