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For the first time in my life, there's another person with the same name in my class. All throughout elementary and high school, there wasn't another Adriana in the entire school. I can't vouch for CEGEP or university, but I'm fairly certain that the Kellys and Isabelles of the world grossly outnumbered us. Let's be fair — we were probably outnumbered by the Robyns and Candys too.
I've discovered that I don't like sharing my name, but I've also discovered a lot of other things this back-to-school year, the first time I've been in these narrow desks since completing my master's degree in English Literature in 1999.
I started school when "back to school" was a useful phrase and not a marketing extravaganza. There were no blockbuster advertising campaigns, my local Jean Coutu didn't have pointillism books and pencils painted on their front windows, my supplies list did not arrive by mail four weeks early, there were only two kinds of pencil cases to choose from and my teachers really didn't care what colour our folders were.
This time, I arrived at my first class with a notebook and a few pencils — sharpened — but left with a burning envy for the new stationery products I saw around me. Gel pens with rubber pads that fit against your knuckle, dry Liquid Paper in a rolling tape dispenser, mini-staplers with mini-refills that look like rows of tiny, metallic spider legs and (gasp) different coloured sticky tabs in their own dispenser. This first day was like cave girl discovering fire.
Pen products aside, I worry that my enthusiasm in general is not up to the task. I want to be as sprightly as the university students in the Mastercard commercial, but as a 30-something special student in Italian Studies, a class consisting of 19- to 21-year-old girls (and a few token guys) who go through ice cream and chips the way I go through (nice, fat-reducing) water, I am suddenly feeling a little apprehensive.
Don't get me wrong. The students in my class are really friendly — probably friendlier than when I originally started university in 1992 — and we chat as if there isn't a 10-year gap between us. Not only can I talk lip gloss like nobody's business, but I am also an excellent listener and meticulous note-taker (good note-takers are never lonely).
My feelings of apprehension are not based in some negative experience that I have in class; rather, I think they're based on my own worries about being in the learning environment again.
Socially, I could make friends anywhere, but I worry about my performance and whether or not I'll have the patience to go through the whole rigamarole of homework and mid-terms again. Correction: as a Literature and Creative Writing student, I never had mid-terms, and sniggered at my poor friends as they filled their brains with statistical equations throughout the month of October. In the past five years, I have learned important things about professional development, long-term investments and which Indian restaurants serve the best buffet — do I really have room for memorizing verbs and grammar rules?
OK, so I'm grumpy about sharing my name, everyone has better-looking pens than I do, I don't want to take any tests and all those tiny hips are making me mental: on the upside, I do find the youthful atmosphere to be very inspiring. It keeps me awake and joyful and attentive and grateful that I am fortunate enough to be learning again, and it's certainly making me want to succeed. Also, the class is full of other native Italian speakers so we have a common base that always opens the path for communication. "Wow, your mother says that too?" It's like Mambo Italiano but on a less theatrical, not so gay and more sociolinguistic level.
And best of all, I don't even worry about what they'll think about me or about having to act mature in order to impress, because that was so my-20s. There is some amusement on my part when students ask me what year I'm in or what my major is, but only because I really relish the look on their face when I tell them I'm 30 and the compliments that inevitably follow. "You so don't look 30! Are you kidding?"
So despite the mini-neurotic attacks on the métro, I think I'm adjusting well. I'm facing my first test next week and I've already started studying. I feel sheepish admitting this to my new friends since they are dealing with a full courseload and have more schoolwork than I do, but I have two article deadlines next week and I can't let those spry whipper-snappers get too ahead of me.
Did I just use the term "whipper-snappers"? That's so my-20s.