This is the time of year when kids start back to school. Parents are shopping for supplies, new clothes and looking at schedules as they prepare their children for another school term. The scent of fall coupled with the excitement of a new beginning is in the air. When I honed my wish list for retirement activities, this yearly ritual of returning to academia never crossed my mind. Oh, I engaged in the idea of taking a painting class or two. However, the thought of preparing for an entire academic year on a college campus was not even on my radar.
Yet, here I am feeling the kind of excitement I felt as a kid as I prepare for my third year at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) (http://www.osherfoundation.org/index.php?olli_list) at Furman University. Registration began last week. Catalogs appeared online and in mailboxes in the weeks before that, making me ditzy with anticipation. As I leafed through the catalog, marking off what interested me, I wondered all over again at the breadth and depth of the offerings — about one hundred courses for fall term alone. During the past two years I’ve enjoyed classes in various arts, writing, religion, aging well, gardening, history and there is more, so much more.
Every state in the US has at least one OLLI. In other countries, look for University of the Third Age (U3A) (http://www.u3a.org.uk). In the event you don’t find one near you, check out your local colleges for adult learning opportunities and/or talk to the leaders about starting a program geared toward retired and semi-retired people. There is much to be gained by participating in college life.
For example, a group of students from my last writing course are continuing to meet informally in a conference room on campus. We write, meet, read our stories out loud to each other and offer gentle critiques. Much of what is written is memoir requiring a certain amount of trust among the group. As a result we have connected on a level beyond the casual acquaintances of a classroom environment. Our camaraderie is solidified in the care of each others memories.
Other friends in my circle outside of OLLI have joined me (and Martin) on campus. We’ve taken classes together or gone our separate ways coming together after class at the campus cafeteria. Often we’re joined by other OLLI students, widening our circle, engagement with others and topics of conversation. And, the cafeteria food is as diverse as the topics. From huge steel cooking drums serving up Indian, Mexican or Chinese dishes to salad and soup bar to pizza, salmon or baked chicken, the fare is everything and anything you could want. Freshly flavored waters like pineapple-sage are there for the water-holics like myself and the array of desserts are tempting. For $5 we can enjoy an amazing meal, sitting there for as long as we want, among the buzzing hive of late-teens and twenty somethings. It’s energizing.
Access to the university library opens up another vista with books, magazines, newspapers and dvd’s for borrowing or sitting in a comfortable chair and enjoying on campus. Don’t have a computer? Need wi-fi for your laptop or smartphone? You can get it here. Do you have an interest in history? The archives are substantial. Art? The art library is stunning. Want the latest fiction or non-fiction book? It just came in and is waiting for you on shelves displaying the latest additions to the library. Additionally, tickets to cultural events on campus are discounted and sometime even free to OLLI members — lectures, plays and concerts for your enjoyment.
Every college or university has its own price list for all of this. At Furman my cost for this year’s membership is $50. Friday Bonus Events offered by OLLI are free, although art classes or tours requiring transportation will have an added fee. There are also free Tuesday Lunch and Learns where you bring your lunch to eat while listening to a lecture on various issues. Then, there are Special Interest Groups (SIG) — knitting, book clubs, photography, travel, wood carving, bridge, chess, man jongg and even an Out and About Singles SIG and more. Courses paid for individually are $55, but the cost can be reduced by purchasing a package of courses at the beginning of the year. The cost of a six course package to be used over three terms is $240; nine course package $315; and a fifteen course package $375. One final note — although there are four employees, most of this is run by OLLI member volunteers and with 2,000 members last year, there is plenty of opportunity to volunteer.
As mentioned, courses are varied and fun. There are no grades! In order to get the most out of a course, it’s a good idea to do the reading and assignments, if there are any. However, it is not required. Classes at Furman OLLI start on September 12. A back to campus reception and new member orientation is September 8. And, like a kid again, I’m filled with anticipation.
If you are running out of steam after retiring, feeling at loose ends, want to feel energized, want to try something new, want to keep learning or want to make more friends, find a college campus!