Embracing the chaos: Returning to study after a long time away

MA International Journalism student Jane Ashley reflects on returning to her studies after a long gap…this is a really uplifting piece that should inspire anyone thinking of doing the same !

Returning to higher education after decades away was more than a little daunting. Technology has travelled light years since I was last a student and I worried that for a digital migrant, it would be like a foreign language. Also, would I feel out of place, being decades older than colleagues on my course? And after all these years, I wondered if I would even still be able to write an essay. Was my critical thinking still reasonably intact? I was about to find out.

As it turned out, the hardest part of returning to university was none of these things. For me, it was simply choosing a course. I have always envied those whose singular focus and deep knowing about their career path guides them through life like a light from above. I am not so lucky. So many different Masters programmes have caught my eye over the years from Psychology and Sociology to Education, History, Literature and many things in between. How could I commit to one thing? Well, as it turned out, I didn’t have to. With International Journalism, I can get my head around Media Theory, learn how globalisation has shaped the world, write creative non-fiction and find out about social media. It’s a great fit. I love the variety and the atmosphere on campus. It seems I have found a new home.

Jane uses these quotes to drive her along…

And connecting with people on my course who are twenty years younger has been pretty seamless. In some ways at least, age really is just a number. It’s been easy to find common ground, work together and support one another. Having had a career in education, I’ve had many opportunities to develop the softer skills, like confidence, assertiveness and giving presentations, which I think (I hope) are helpful to others. Over the years, I’ve also worked hard on work/life balance and mental wellbeing. As I juggle my Masters with being a single parent to two spirited girls, Rose, aged 15 and Lily who is 11, that work is paying off.

My fears about not managing the technology have also not materialised, in fact, I am amazed by how much this modern technology stuff aids the learning process. Registration was a little tricky and I admit to not fully understanding the purpose of a number of Apps on MyUni, but I have fully embraced online books, and I love listening to audiobooks and lectures, then recording my notes using Google’s voice to text (no, it isn’t perfect but it’s good enough!). Back in the dark ages, I had to carefully write all my notes from library books, (very accurately for referencing) handwrite an essay and then go into the ‘computer lab’ and ‘type it up’. It took hours upon hours.

Not only have I discovered that I do still have the brain power to write an essay, I have found that technology makes it far easier. In fact, this old brain seems to be putting into practice a new skill I’ve developed in recent years: embracing a certain level of chaos and thriving within it. This I did not have as a young undergraduate, and it has not come with considerable effort. While I was going through some personal struggles before I came back to university, I got into the habit of writing notes for myself from books I read, which I would pin on my board. Cliché though it is, it really helped me to cultivate new skills and navigate my way through many aspects of being a single parent, which is ultimately a type of leadership, and this is one I come back to again and again. As I navigate this new chapter in my life, I’m realising that returning to university is not a massive leap, but rather a natural next step in a messy life, well-lived.

More pictorial inspiration reflecting on “a messy life, well-lived”