Back to School (at 27)

I wandered through Staples looking for pencils for the first time in six years, with some combination of a smile and a frown both on my face and in my soul. Standing there, surrounded by Post-It’s and highlighters, felt strangely familiar yet vaguely foreign. I was cautiously excited.

There I was, at 27, hitting up my local Staples for back-to-school supplies about two weeks before most students were going to graduate (if they hadn’t already – and let’s be honest: most people my age already have… two or three times by now). The pens I got all throughout college apparently no longer exist. I stood for a good fifteen minutes trying to decide whether to get the one-subject Five Star notebook or the two-subject, the .5 mm pens or the .7 mm pens, and there was nobody there to help me make these decision. I decided on the one-subject Five Star and the .5 mm pens, and then picked up a few highlighters on my way to check-out. But really, I was just about to check back in.

Handicap sign in the floor. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A lot of people have been asking me how it feels to be a student again. I’m about two weeks into my first course at NYU (Developmental Psychology — I’m learning all about babies and infants and how children under ten years old function and develop, mentally — actually super interesting to me!). On the first day, I got to class not five but twenty minutes early. (I was not surprised – perhaps a little too eager though?) So, I waited outside the classroom with my new notebook and pen, wondering what was going to happen to me when I entered that room. (Don’t forget to turn off your Blackberry, Rachel!)

Luckily, it was a small class. Unlike my upcoming bio, chem and physics lectures (600 people a piece), this class consisted of about 25 kids – mostly Asian NYU undergrad females, if you want to know specifics. The first thing the professor asked was for each of us to go around the room, say our name, what year we are (he…hehe…) and why we are taking this summer course. I was appropriately last. Developmental Psych is an upper-division psych class with Psych 101 as a pre-requisite. The only reason I’m allowed in is because I took Psych 101 already…the first semester of my freshman year at Bowdoin (if you need help with the math, that would be ten years ago). I knew I was in for a challenge because I am expected to remember Psych 101, and (I’m sorry Professor L from Bowdoin!), well, I don’t. Or at least it’s in some files in the back that I’m going to have to ask the monkeys in my brain to retrieve immediately.

I am in a class full of psych majors. Most are juniors or seniors retaking the course for a better grade or rushing through pre-reqs to  graduate early or on time. They know their shit and I, clearly, do not. But I have had a lot of fun since college! Ok, not totally helpful.

When it was my turn to say my name, etc., I broke it down: “Hey everyone! My name is Rachel, I actually graduated from Bowdoin College in 2005 as  Spanish major with a minor in Archaeology… I’ve been a travel writer and editor for six years and now I’m a career-changer doing a post-bac pre-med program at NYU so that I can become a Doctor of Physical Therapy. I took Psych 101… ten years ago… so I might need your help!” I smiled. They laughed. (Hopefully not at me, the pathetic grandma in the class who they were easily going to trample with their informed psych knowledge.) Whew. That wasn’t so bad. Hey, I sound pretty cool.

Bench at Fort of San Cristobal. San Juan, Puerto Rico.

I’m not gonna lie: that first class kicked my ass. There was so much material (a semester course condensed into six weeks = 2.5 lectures per class – FAST-pace), so many terms thrown around (dependent variables, independent variables, classical conditioning, Pavlov, Skinner, bah!!) that I could kind of remember learning about but needed to work doubly hard just to catch up to the discussion. It was a bit of a shock to my system when I walked out of class and realized I had spent the entire hour and a half just trying to keep my head above water, but it was only day one: this was to be expected.

Day two was not much better. I was still on a treadmill that was set to a slightly too-high speed, but I hadn’t fallen off yet. By day three, something finally clicked. I was participating in the discussions and (I think) sounding at least mildly informed about what we were talking about — progress. By day four, I had become one of them. Well, at least in the classroom.

I am still way behind these kids in terms of my psych background, but I’m realizing I do have something they don’t have: life experience. I’ve found two other girls in the class who I’ve become friends with; a 28-yr-old pre-Physician Assistant girl from Houstan, TX and a 25-yr-old pre-Nursing girl who is currently planning her wedding on Cape Cod this summer. The three of us quickly commiserated over the class material and being slightly older than the (very) young undergraduates, who honestly seem really young to me right now…. But everyone is quite friendly and it’s a really nice group. We don’t say “like” as much as the other kids in class, and we take notes using pens and notebooks rather than iPads or laptops, which are constantly tapped at during class. Our iPhones and Blackberries don’t start ringing mid-lecture and we don’t sit cross-legged in our chairs because, well honestly, I’m just not that flexible anymore. Ha.

It’s different to be a student right now, but there is also some part of it that falls right back in place for me. Just like I knew all along, this is not going to be easy and it’s not going to be any walk in the park, but every day after class, the other two oldies (ok, we’re not that old) in the class and I reflect on the material and our classmates while walking through Washington Square Park. This campus in the middle of NYC that has been here my whole life is, for the first time, slowly becoming my campus. I’ve got my first paper due tomorrow, I’ve finally moved into my apartment and bought things like olive oil and pears — I no longer have just milk and coffee. And to top it off, I’m trying to write a book. OMG, I’m trying to write a freakin’ BOOK! More on that another time 😀

It’s not easy now and it’s not going to get easier, but all this is exciting. It’s like I’ve begun a brand new life in my old hometown. When I start panicking about the financial burdens I have, the fact that I don’t just want to do well in these classes, I NEED to do well, and the overwhelming mountain of work ahead of me, I suck it up, buy myself a beer with a few friends (because I can… ha – those little undergrads can’t do that! Booyah) and I savor the challenge of it all.

Strolling with sass through a muggy San Juan day. Puerto Rico.

I’m just trying to make a couple dreams come true. No biggie. If it were easy then what would be the fun in that? Or, more importantly, what the heck would I write about? That’d be one lame book. While my fellow Developmental Psychology classmates may be more prepared for our first test on Monday (yep, that happened fast), I like to think that, when I’ve been tested by life these past six years since college, I’ve done pretty well. And isn’t that what really matters? Hmph.

Now time to write this paper…



Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, School

12 responses to “Back to School (at 27)

  1. Beth Elliott

    That’s going to be one heck of a paper! 🙂

  2. Geordie

    Go get ’em, T.

  3. missy

    life experience trumps the ‘likes’! it’s gonna be hard but you’re gonna do great. and it doesn’t take a psych major (which i was NOT) to figure that out.
    buena suerte! and cheers (haha the little undergrads can’t do that)! 🙂

    • travelswithtavel

      Thanks Missy!! AGREED! ANd I did just that (cheers) last night after I finished my paper 🙂 Take that, suckers… Hehe. OK ok, I’ll be nice.

  4. Sarah D

    I admire your spirit! Good work 🙂

  5. Elena

    Rachel! I’ll soon be a student in New York too! (Columbia, starting in August)… We should be students together, again, and do things like having lunch at 3pm or going to yoga at 2pm, which our fellow 27-28 year old yuppies can’t do! 🙂 And hey, those 25 year old students are growing handsome by the minute… The good ones are still untaken ;p

    • travelswithtavel

      Oh YEAH!!! Elena, I’m so glad you’re going to be a student too! What are you going to be studying?! I’m down in SoHo but we should definitely do some pre- or post-test yoga and enjoy the fact that we can be outside in the middle of the day 🙂 Good point on the youngin’s! Not usually the direction I go but ya never know ;P Let’s talk soon! Thanks for reading and letting me know I’m not the only one out there.

  6. Chris

    Your story kept me reading to the end. I was just randomly searching google for “is 27 to old to go back to school” and i found this. If your writing a book i think id read it. Your a very good writter.
    Im 27 myslef. Iv got a good paying job, own my own condo, but i am in need of a change… apparently just having a job that pays well isnt everything. which is why i ended up here in the first place. iv been fighting with myself for probably over a year now about persuing another avenue in life. your article is inspiring.

    • travelswithtavel

      Hi Chris! I’m so glad you came across my blog and that you, too, are thinking of returning to school! You should do it. It really is never too late — it’s just a matter of how challenging it’s going to be. I say go for it. And stay tuned for when the book comes out 🙂 Fingers crossed…

      Stay inspired.

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