Adults in the classroom

The education system in Australia was bound to differ from what I was used to.However, I did not expect the starkest contrast to be the common ages of students.For Tasmanians, autumn after 12th grade does not necessarily mean the start of higher education.Attending a university isn’t a primary concern either — the focus is not on the most distinguished schools, the furthest away from home or those with the best athletics.I have even talked to people here who had to wait a few years to enroll so that they could save up enough of their own money for tuition — quite the contrary to the many American students I know who still charge their parents’ credit cards and are not expected to hold a job during the school year. Because of factors such as these, the average age of students at the University of Tasmania, if I were to guess, is approximately 25.When one of my housemates informed me that he was a first-year student, I was shocked when he later revealed that he’d be turning 23 in a few weeks.  After high school, he worked until he realized that studio art was the field in which he wanted to earn his degree.This approach to life makes so much more sense to me. Unlike in American society, Australian teens are not expected to rush through school, earn a degree and immediately integrate themselves into the “real” world.Not only do kids wait a few years to start college, but adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s are pretty common in all of my classes.Seeing parents, and even grandparents, that still want to acquire skills and knowledge is such a reassuring feeling.The benefits of learning in an environment with so many older minds were unknown to me until recently, too.The spectrum of ages blended with each individual’s background makes the in-class conversation radiate with a vibrancy that is unachievable in a group of young students all with similar experiences and socio-economic status.Last week, I was put into a group with a 22-year-old girl who was living below the poverty line and a 42-year-old father with two children. Listening to their insights was enough to expose me to viewpoints that I doubt I could have found in any of my courses at UVM. I have learned more from the students around me.It’s important to step back and recognize what going to college is really about, and realize you can never be too old to learn something new.