January 16, 2013

Back to School

My Coursera class started this week, so like a dutiful student who is a little nervous that she is about two and a half years too rusty for this, I packed up my laptop and headed to Panera after the gym last night. I felt just a dash of that same excitement that always came with the first days of the semester: intriguing syllabi, fresh new textbooks, and sweet old professors... and the first and only day of class that you could show up with absolutely no preparation. There are always a few days that feel oh so promising, before all that reading and writing and sleep-deprivation hit.
I have no idea what to expect from this course in terms of difficulty level or how long I'll need to study. Each week consists of an optional reading assignment, a series of video lectures, and a quiz, so I don't anticipate it being too overwhelming, but I'm taking tons of notes and trying to over-study this week just in case. It was wonderfully familiar to sit down with a big cup of coffee, my laptop, and my notebook, and I kind of enjoyed feeling like a student again. So far the lectures are interesting and straightforward, and the professor is great in that slightly nerdy, brilliant, and super passionate about his work way. I have to say, I really love the online thing: the fact that I can fit the lectures in whenever it works for me each week -- and I can do it all in my pajamas, no less -- is appealing at this point in my life. It's also not a bad excuse to spend more time at Panera.
As I looked around last night, though, I started to wonder about the high school and college kids studying around me. Do I look young enough to pass as an undergrad still? Did they assume I was just one of them, getting started on a new semester that would include 16 credit hours, coffee dates with friends, struggling to stay awake through lectures, cramming for exams, taking advantage of a free gym, midnight trips to get food, and parties on the weekends? Would they have guessed that now, just two and a half short years after I enjoyed that life, I'm a 25 year old with a full-time job, a husband, a house to clean, a gym membership that I pay for, and a college degree already? 
As I watched the rest of them a little last night, I couldn't help but feel a little nostalgic for my own college years, when my best friends lived next door and my calendar was always too full and all-nighters at the library were common but at least there was always someone else staying up, too. I miss learning new things and interacting with intelligent professors and peers and working hard, but playing hard too. I miss setting my own schedule and swiping in for a meal and belonging to a campus that felt just like home. I felt more than a little out of place, among the college students studying exams and writing papers and lab reports, wondering if they would write me off as that weird old person in class who asked too many questions and didn't keep up to date with music or clothes or technology.
And yet, as I packed up my stuff and drove home to my puppy and my cat and my husband who made me dinner last night, I knew that I wouldn't trade it. I did the college thing, I loved it, and now it's over. I'm doing the young married thing now, and it's not half-bad either. Before too long, I'll be doing the exhausted mom thing, and I'm sure I'll look back at today with fond memories. So for now, I'll take advantage of the fact that I can enjoy a taste of college right here in my own home, with better food and a comfortable bed and my pretty awesome roommates. Best of both worlds?



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