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The Pros and Cons of Studying Abroad As a Mature Student

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Alexander Hassenstein via Getty Images
Alexander Hassenstein via Getty Images

And yes, that would be me. No longer in my 20s. No longer in my 30s. And studying abroad (in Italy). Enjoying it but also finding challenges. Of course, there were plenty of those when I went off to university at the age of 18, but they were different than the ones with which I now contend.

PROS
Not caring about your social life.
When you are studying overseas while mature, you will likely be more relieved than anything when left out of all the partying done by the youngsters. Hangovers and coffee bars full of international hipsters are the stuff of youth. It isn't for a lack of needing friendships. But those can be had reasonably and quietly, and not only with students or locals in your age range. You might be surprised to discover that many young classmates are thoughtful and looking for someone with whom to take a peaceful stroll or with whom to have a glass of wine and a sane chat. Which brings me to...
You get to be everybody's understanding older sister or (super young and glamorous) mom.
That might not sound like a pro, but it is. If you are studying, as I am currently, at a university with international students, there is something deeply humbling about having a young woman or man, away from home for the first time, lean on you. Many of my classmates are not just away from home for the first time, but they are literally on the other side of the globe and in a culture utterly alien to their own. Having a Vietnamese classmate call me and admit she was terribly homesick and wanted to go for a walk, or having a Chinese classmate tell me his romantic woes, has meant a great deal to me and I only hope I provided comfort and decent advice. Being older meant I did actually feel I had perspective and a tiny bit of wisdom (I stress the "tiny bit").
You'll be learning and better at it than when you were twenty.
Funny how life works. I did an adequate job as an undergrad many years ago, as well as in graduate courses afterwards, but were I to take the same path of study now, I'd get so much more out of it. If you study abroad when you are older, I think you'll have a far greater appreciation of the opportunity at hand. You will also be better at travel, less fearful, happier to go places alone. I watch my classmates desperately trying to get people to go with them hither and thither - even places as benign as gigantic superstores on the outskirts of town - and I am happy that I am not intimidated at the prospect of a solo excursion. Don't get me wrong: I am delighted when I do have company and find it makes the journey - short, medium or long - more edifying if not always less lonely. But if I want to go somewhere, I'll go whether I have company or not.

CONS
You will likely have to correct professors or tolerate them talking to you like you know nothing.
And some of your professors will be your age. Wince. Cringe. Imagine having to sit and have things that you have known for decades explained to you in condescending tones of voice and/or in slow cadences. It can be frustrating. There will be times when you will want to scream, "I f*****g know that! Who doesn't f*****g know that?" There will be times during classroom discussions when you will have to smile and pretend you are taking the most sophomoric ideas of your classmates seriously. It will test your patience.
School can be tiring when combined with career.
If you are working at your own job at the same time that you are studying, and if you don't view your study abroad as a glorified vacation and want some improvement in the field of study in which you are engaged, you will need time (and energy) management skills. Some of the energy you manage can be used to control your desire to stab someone with a fork when you have to hear about how Eat, Pray, Love inspired them to travel.
Eat, Pray, Love: Will it ever go away?
Not in the immediate future, anyway. Young female classmates will tell you they were inspired to travel after reading Elizabeth Gilbert's tedious paean to self-absorption and you will have to keep a straight face, lest you hurt the feelings of a 19-year-old girl away from Cambodia for the first time (because if you do that there will be a special spot in hell waiting just for you). What's worse is, because you are a middle-aged woman traveling alone, people will reference the book and assume you are post-bitter divorce or on a spiritual quest or something, when in fact, no, neither assumption could be further from the truth. Has there ever been a book that has ruined travel for women more? I think not, though now that my semester is winding down, if I could find a publisher willing to shell out for me to spend a year traveling in three countries that begin with the letter "i" (I choose Italy, Israel and Iceland) on an adolescent, navel-gazing quest, I'd be thrilled.

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