Róisín Ingle ... on going back to college

‘For the first time in my life I am thinking of what I lost and what I could have gained from going to college’

In another life I could see myself here, my head filling up with interesting facts and ideas, my admiration growing for the likes of Doyle and his ability to quote whole passages from the constitution

In another life I could see myself here, my head filling up with interesting facts and ideas, my admiration growing for the likes of Doyle and his ability to quote whole passages from the constitution

 

I’m in Trinity College Dublin for the day to revisit my short-lived third-level student life and to raise awareness of something called College Awareness Week which I wasn’t a bit aware of myself until now.

Being a Trinity student, even just for a day, is a bit of a dream come true. I didn’t get the points for Trinners but I always felt I belonged there. I went to Maynooth instead. And no harm to Maynooth but I never settled well into academic life.

It was doomed from the start. I should have known the moment I was refused permission to hang my giant Morrissey poster on the bedroom wall of my lodgings. Lying on that bed, in a house steeped in the smell of someone else’s mother’s cooking, my first days at college were already feeling too much like school for my liking. I wanted to be out in the real world. So I quit during the end-of-year exams. I never looked back.

Until now. I am standing under a light drizzle in Front Square with Matthew, the mature student I’m shadowing for the day. He is 32, from Bluebell and in his second year at college, having come through the Access Programme. Later over a cinnamon bun – I know the Science Gallery is good for lots of other things, but the cinnamon buns are truly cosmic – he will tell me how he was expelled twice as a teenager and left school after the Junior Cert.

Listen up

But for now we are headed to a lecture on land law. As we walk, Matthew fills me in on the complications of the feudal system. That sort of talk has me thinking of bunking off before we’ve even started. In the lecture hall, Rachel Walsh’s surprisingly fascinating lecture is accompanied by gentle tap-tapping sounds from laptops and tablets, the contemporary sound of industrious notetaking. Matthew is writing with a stylus on his tablet, big scrawly notes with colourful highlighting. I just have a foolscap notebook and pen. I might as well have 1990 tattooed on my forehead.

Us mature students sit down the front. It helps if you are starting to have funny eyes or if your hearing is a bit dodgy. After land law we go for that cinnamon bun. Matthew is the only mature student in his year and all of his college friends are the regular, straight-out-of-school kind. He thought he would just put his head down, but college life has been enhanced, he says, by his involvement in extra-curricular activities. He’s the Student Parent officer and he’s involved in a Smoking Cessation club. He used to smoke 40 a day.

After his early education tribulations – bright academically, he had issues with authority – he went on to become a mechanic and later ran a successful delivery business which went bust a few years ago. His first child was born the day he was due to start college, so he started the next day. What I found intriguing about Matthew is that despite the stress of having to file for bankruptcy and the worry about an upcoming court case which may result in him and his young family being made homeless, he sort of spills over with positivity and enthusiasm. He takes full responsibility for his situation. He is studying law and business as a pragmatic investment in his future. For him, college is like a passport to the next part of his life.

And now it’s time for constitutional law with Oran Doyle in the Arts Block. Doyle is explaining the David Norris case in 1983 and talking about natural law and it’s here, with that gentle tap-tapping already comforting and familiar, where I start to feel a bit sorry for my past self. In another life I could see myself here, my head filling up with interesting facts and ideas, my admiration growing for the likes of Doyle and his ability to quote whole passages from the constitution. For the first time in my life I am thinking of what I lost and what I could have gained from going to college.

We have lunch which cheers me up and then it’s time for the last lecture of the day in Organisational Behaviour. Matthew has already raved about him and if this was a review, business lecturer Martin Fellenz would get five stars from me. He turns out to be a cross between a stand-up comedian, a magician and psychotherapist. By the end, he’d shared an instructive anecdote about his time in the German army, gently freaked out several people who were late for his lecture and conned several of us into owing him money. But I don’t mind. Settling the debt will give me another excuse to go back to college, eat cinnamon buns and hang out with Matthew. roisin@irishtimes.com

College Awareness Week takes place from the 23rd to the 29th of November collegeaware.ie @collegeaware

Public Displays of Emotion by Róisín Ingle is now available to buy from irishtimes.com/irishtimesbooks

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