Adult students returning to school can find fitting in stressful, maybe even a little intimidating. It doesn't have to be. Here are five tips for fitting in at school when you're a non-traditional student.
1. Remember that Old is a Relative Term
Old is a completely relative term. You may feel old at 30, but to that 53-year-old student sitting across the room, you belong to the younger crowd, and to the woman who could be in her eighties, you’re still a kid. Age is in the eye of the beholder, not to mention the heart.
The experience you bring to the classroom because of your age is part of what makes you such a bonus, no matter what level it's at. Just don’t come off as a know-it-all or you’ll turn everyone off. Share your life experiences and wisdom, but be careful to give younger students time to think and participate. They may not be as quick as you to come up with examples and stories.
2. Keep Your Mind Wide Open
Go to class with a wide open mind. Beyond the obvious fashion and hair style shocks you might encounter from the younger generation, their lingo and social manners may surprise you. This surprise may come in the form of disgust, but remember that judgment gets us nowhere.
Try being delighted by, or possibly amused (not ridiculing) by, at the very least, interested in, the generational differences you see. That “kid” in the low-riding pants with a stud through his tongue could become one of the most interesting friends you’ve ever had. Remember the age-old adage: you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Abraham Lincoln is famous for having said, “See that man over there. I don’t like him. I need to get to know him better.”
3. Don't Try to Be Buddies with the Teacher
Just because you’re the same age as the teacher, or quite possibly older, resist the normal temptation to buddy up to him or her. Become a good student first, and focus on relating to the other students. You’ll alienate your fellow students if you’re more interested in talking to the instructor than to them.
Over time, your relationship with your teacher may very well become a friendship, but let your teacher decide when and if that’s appropriate. A friendship with your teacher should be like any other relationship---natural.
4. Be Genuinely Yourself
Make friends not only with the other non-traditional students in your class, but with the younger students as well. You don’t have to try to be like them, just be interested in getting to know them. Just be yourself. There’s nothing more attractive than a genuine person who is sincerely interested in other people. Be more interested in learning about others than about telling your own story, and you’ll make friends easily.
Remember that a smile, one that shows in your eyes, is all you need to break the ice with another human being. Smile, say hello, and be more interested than interesting.
5. Become a Mentor
If your school has a mentoring program, consider becoming a mentor in the field of your expertise, or even in the field of your great passion or hobby. You’ll be helping a younger person by sharing your wisdom, and you’ll feel more a part of the whole educational experience.
If your school doesn't have a mentoring program and you feel passionate about sharing your knowledge, you might ask about starting a program.