A Different Educational Path

I was a traditional student.  Except for 2 years in private education, I attended the neighborhood public school. I walked to school, up hill both ways, in the snow. Like others, that’s the story I’m telling.

My parents expected me to succeed academically and stay on course. They encouraged my participation in extra-curricular activities  Still, I followed a well-worn path.

After high school, I went directly to college.  I wanted to go to a smaller school. My father insisted that I start at UNC.  Each kind of college experience had its particular advantages.  For the first two years, my parents paid my tuition and board in full. So, I yielded to their preference.

Of course, that was a long time ago when a college education was affordable.  That’s not true for a lot of people these days.  I’ll step down from my soap box and spare you my speech.  I graduated in four years contributing to my expenses with summer jobs.

That was back in the day before the internet, google, hotwire and cell phones.  I even remember writing letters to family and friends in cursive, on paper, putting them in envelopes with postage stamps.  Do you remember those days? Things have changed.

None of the four children I raised are traditional students.  There were gap years, military service, unpaid internships, online classes, global travel.  I can’t complain. Getting an education is much more complicated these days.  At the same time, their upbringing was more dramatic. Two of the four now have college degrees. Two are still plowing forward.

Thank goodness they have found a number of resources for financial assistance. First of all, they have tended to work year round, taking vacations when a break was needed.  When I was their age, I took fewer trips, but only worked in the summers.  Their exorbitant college expenses have been financed through parents, grandparents, scholarships, the GI bill,  grants, loans and a number of part-time jobs.  Like everything else, it has taken a village.

One day this past week, I got a call from my youngest son. He was walking on the beach in Phuket, Thailand.  Yes!  A month ago he was in Barcelona, Spain and Paris, France. As soon as his second semester ended at Ohio State, he started traveling before jumping  back  into summer school. He had worked many extra hours during the school year to afford it. It is his own version of “studying abroad”.

He didn’t book with some tour group.  He didn’t sign up for classes.  He just went without much of an agenda.  He planned to let his learning unfold organically.  Needless to say, our phone conversation was hysterical.  I heard about

  • language barriers,
  • over-crowded boats and taxis,
  • snorkeling with massive jelly fish,
  • ornate Buddhist Temples
  • playing soccer with school-aged children
  • a 4 ft. grouper
  • James Bond Island
  • tuk tuks
  • elephant sanctuaries
  • travel scams etc.

I am proud of his risk-taking initiative.  Don’t worry.  I limited my questions to stay within his “question quota”. Forever, I will be practicing to say, “tell me more”.

Here’s what I’m learning.  There are many different educational paths.  These days, students want more experiential classrooms.  Hopefully, my children will always find their joie de vivre as they gorge on wide-eyed, open hearted,  lifelong learning adventures.

Because of the internet, google, hotwire and cell phones, students have more access to opportunities and relationships.  For some of us, that seems like too much distraction. For others with decent boundaries and self-imposed limits, this technology opens a whole new world.

Again, things have changed. So must my imposition onto them of a more traditional way. I too am still learning.