Retirement is ‘graduation from work’ — now I can be a student forever

     (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-57140281/stock-photo-shot-of-graduation-caps-during-commencement.html'>Graduation image</a> courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    (Graduation image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

    I’m a forever student, always learning something new, useful or not. And Philly is a veritable playground for adult learning.

    I’m a forever student, always learning something new, useful or not.

    I used to study for a degree or a certificate. I wanted validation. That’s why I am an ordained interfaith minister (Does your new pet need a naming ceremony?) and a Reiki master (Do you have an ache that needs healing?), with a certificate in Women’s Psychospiritual Development, and several courses towards a certificate in creativity from Saybrook University.

    I’m also certified in the early version of EFT, a form of energy psychology. (Are you afraid of thunder storms? It’s great for dealing with PTSD and anxiety attacks.) I’m even a member of Mensa.

    Voilà! Validation!

    Learning for the fun of it

    I’ve taken conventional courses too. A B.A. in English literature from the University of Chicago was just the starting point, followed by an M.A. in transpersonal studies from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology (now Sophia University).

    While all that may sound impressive to some, a bit loopy to others, I have finally come to realize that — as they say — all that and a token will get you a ride on the subway.

    It’s also why I love Philly. It’s a veritable playground for adult learning. (And, as a senior, I don’t even need that token to ride the subway!) In the past two or so years since coming here, I have taken classes in creative writing, drawing, biblical history, Photoshop, acting, improv, French, and even vegan cooking. And I did it in a community of interested people who think learning is cool.

    I see retirement as graduation from work. When I was in college I couldn’t wait to get my degree and embark on my “real” life, which I didn’t then know was to be a life of schedules, tasks, meeting deadlines, and pleasing difficult bosses. Even though I eventually wound up teaching at a university, quite by accident, I still had to show up on time and jump through administrative hoops to succeed according to the rules of academe: teaching, community service, and the dreaded “publish or perish.” Not so different from a job in the “real” world.

    Now, I’ve finally reached a point where I can enjoy learning something just for the fun of it. The internet is a tremendous resource. I can take courses (and I have) from some of the best universities on almost any topic. (I’m not totally over that validation thing. I have several “certificates of completion” from Coursera, an online consortium of major universities, including Harvard and Princeton and Penn, that offers free online courses.)

    Don’t go it alone

    But there is one drawback. I have to study alone. In today’s world, where you can study quantum physics in your pajamas at midnight, it’s still nice to learn the old-fashioned way — in a community of like-minded scholars with a teacher to guide you into uncharted territory.

    I’ve tried to encourage my friends to take an online course with me. We could watch the course on our own, I tell them, then talk about it. No luck. I see that look in their eyes that says, “Well, that’s okay for you, but I just don’t want to work that hard right now.” And I get it. There is some work involved. But their work is my fun. I just don’t particularly want to do it alone.

    That’s why one of the first things I did when I came here was join Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which is based at Temple University Center City at Market and 15th streets. A look at OLLI’s catalog was a feast, a buffet of courses for every interest. You can learn about art, or you can practice your art, you can try yoga or improv, you can read or you can write. I wanted to try them all, and OLLI let me. For a yearly fee, I could attend any class I desired.

    The program began about 40 years ago in 1975 as TARP (Temple Association for Retired Persons). In 2007 they applied for a grant to the Bernard Osher Foundation, which “supports a national lifelong learning network for seasoned adults,” and changed their name. (This, by the way, is not the same as Temple University’s Senior Scholars program designed specifically for Temple alumni and their spouses.)

    OLLI offers about 200 classes in the fall and spring, and 50 in the summer. The program has been growing so rapidly that, according to director Adam Bruner, they are now going to have to cap enrollment at the current 1,250 members. “The bigger we get,” he says, “the more classes become overcrowded.”

    Some classes are so popular they are simulcast into a second room. Still, with a limited number of mostly small rooms available, space is tight.

    I’m not sure specifically what I’ve learned at this stage. It’s nice sometimes to listen and not take notes. But what I did get was a community. As someone who came to Philly knowing only three and a half people, I now run into someone I know at the theater, at a restaurant, at a museum, and I feel very much a part of my new home. And I think I’m finally getting over that validation thing.

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