In a few weeks time the Postman will knock at the door one day. He will have a parcel for me; it will contain books, DVDs, CDs, a course calendar and details of the first four assignments and the dates they are due to be submitted. It will all look a bit overwhelming I’m sure. Finally, after months of waiting, I’ll be ready to start studying my second Open University course, U116 – The Environment, journeys through a changing world.
I currently have 60 points towards the 360 I need to obtain a BA (Hons) Open Degree. I’m 1/6th of the way there. At the moment I’ve opted not to take a named degree, this means I can study whatever combinations of courses I choose, providing I eventually gain at least 120 points each from level 2 and level 3 courses. However I can, if I choose to, link my courses to a more specific degree, at the moment it seems likely that this will be BA (Hons) International Studies, but my thinking may change as I progress.
By this time next year I will be able to use letters after my name, I will be Ms Vivienne Kennedy Cert HE Soc Sci (open); catchy isn’t it? It will mean that I’ll have completed the equivalent of the first year of study on a full-time degree course.
I don’t have any great career plan that I’m following, although it would be nice to one day earn more than minimum wage. I am just trying to prove something to myself. I left school at 16, my own choice, I’d had enough and wanted to get out into the big wide world and earn some money. My priorities then were clothes and clubbing, what did I need ‘A’ levels for, I needed cash not qualifications. That was a bit short-sighted of me probably. In recent years I’ve wondered what I could have achieved had I followed a different path.
I wouldn’t want to change the life I’ve had. After all you can’t rewind and lose the bad bits without losing the good bits too. I have regrets, sure, who doesn’t? There’ve been good times and bad times. The bad times have hopefully made me a stronger, wiser, person. Accepting the life I’ve had doesn’t mean I can’t aim to improve the life I’ve still to live.
The OU emphasise how important family support is during your studies. Well tough, I have to manage without that. My mother isn’t interested as she is convinced I won’t see it through. I can’t blame her, I do have some history there. When I was younger I started an Accounting Technicians course, on day release from my full-time job. I passed the first year with Distinction. By the time I took the exams at the end of the second year I was 5 months pregnant, and suffering horrendous heartburn, but again I got Distinction. However when it came to the third year I had a young baby, a full-time job, (I was working an average of 60 hours a week, trying to prove that I could do it all), and I was having to do the course on half day release plus evening classes. I dropped out way before the final exams. A few years later I enrolled for Open University for the first time. I completed my first two assignments, getting grades in the 90s for both of them. Then my husband decided that it was more important for him to visit the pub every single Monday than it was to allow me to go to a tutorial one Monday a month, (he’s now my ex by the way). Without the support of my tutor and other students I started to struggle to focus. My dad fell ill, he needed a quadruple heart bypass, his arteries were so clogged up that there was a danger he would have a stroke if they operated in that state. He had to have another operation first, then wait another 6 weeks for the bypass he so urgently needed. It was a stressful time, and by then I had 3 children to care for, plus a part-time job, something had to give, and it was my studying. So I’ve started Higher Education twice and not seen it through, I can see where Mum is coming from. However I also know that when, (note I am saying when, not if), I complete my degree she will try to take some credit, saying she was using reverse psychology to spur me on. So I don’t talk to her about it, she doesn’t know that I’ve passed the first course, she doesn’t know what subject I am taking for the second, and she won’t know when I’ve finally graduated, or not until I give her a photo from my graduation ceremony anyway. I suspect she believes that I’ve already given up.
My younger children aren’t remotely interested, unless my tutorials clash with a meal time, in which case they want to know what I’ve left for them to eat. My eldest child makes fun of me, telling me that I’m boring if I talk about my studies or any grades I’ve received, but she’s 18 and firmly believes that the world revolves around her. I guess most 18 year olds are like that.
Friends however are very supportive. One friend is herself a full-time university student, she regularly asks how I’m getting on and has lent text books from her own course when I’ve needed to find out some more information about something. Another friend always has coffee and supper waiting for me at the end of each tutorial, always very much appreciated. My boss tries to be supportive, although she doesn’t really understand what I am studying or why, but she is more than happy for me to be flexible with my hours when I have a tutorial or day school to attend and that’s the support I need from her. Other friends often ask how I am getting on and are encouraging and happy for me. At least 2 have themselves enrolled on OU courses starting this October.
So far I have enjoyed my studies and found it easy to fit in around my working hours. I am lucky not to start work until 3 o’clock each day, so have plenty of time beforehand, when the children are out for the day, in which to get my work done. I know it’s going to get harder when I move on to the higher level courses, but it will be a gradual thing and I’ll be more used to studying by then. I know that I’m going to need a lot of self-discipline though.
I am proud of myself for getting through the first year, and I can’t wait to get started on the second year. I have learned so much in this past year, and I definitely look at things in a different way. Dare I say I even have a little more confidence in myself and my abilities? This is something I’m doing for me, it’s a selfish thing, and it feels great.