Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Some day, hopefully in the not-too-distant future, I would like to go back to school.

All of us have had that One Defining Moment that changed our lives. Sometimes, I try to think about when mine was. And I think for me, that single most significant turning point in my life probably came and went without me even noticing it. Sometime during my junior college days, probably at one of the many parties I attended, or one of the days I skipped school, crawled beneath cut fences to spend a day at the movies, or hung out at a school sports event (my excuse to spot cute guys), it must have happened.

Sometime then, I think it began - the journey to where I am now.

My 'A' Level results paid the price of my good-time days and with it, entry to the university. My mother took it fairly well. She was disappointed but said in her very pragmatic way, "You could always go to secretarial school." It did not occur to me to re-take my 'A' levels - I didn't want to go through the whole stress of it again and I guess my confidence levels were probably a bit beaten up too. It also did not occur to me to go overseas - I didn't think we could afford it. So off I went to secretarial school.

I lasted three months.

All I took away from that time was the memory of fabulous curry puffs from Tambuah Mas during tea-breaks and touch-typing skills. I never made it as a secretary. I got a job as a writer in an entertainment magazine. And from there, my paths in journalism, PR, marcom just flowed on.

I worked in publishing houses, did publicity work, picked up marketing skills, edited a teen magazine, did media relations, burrowed deep into the civil service and along the way, got married, had kids - all five of them - bought my little house in Riang, travelled, wrote some more... and life just flowed on. There were offers and opportunities along the way - start up a parenting magazine (which is still in the stands today), head yet another popular parenting magazine as editor, to all of which I said no.

I was happy where I was. I still am.

But now, the children are growing older and finding their own spaces. I'm a long way from retiring but I'm still restless. My life is in a good place but I feel the need to think beyond these days.

And so something keeps drawing me back to one thought - I could go back to school. I could enrol in a university and get my degree. Long overdue. The pragmatic side first thought of programmes here which I could do on a part-time basis. That thought perished almost as soon as it surfaced. I will be the first to admit I would be too lazy to see this through. Just the thought of commuting to school after work from one end of the island to another gives me the shudders.

So I took one option after another, played with each possibility and tossed it aside until I came up with this one which I think is worth keeping:

I shall go back to school. But not here. Not now. I shall take a liberal arts degree in Japan. I've started looking at places and fees and surprisingly, it's do-able - after I sell my house! In say 10 years or slightly less, when the last of the kids is in her teens, when I am ready to let go of my beloved little house, I shall spend some time in Japan taking a liberal arts degree.

At that point in my life, I will not really care if the degree is practical, if it will add value to my career. I will pick subjects and pathways which I enjoy, not because of the value and shine they will add to my resume. It does not have to make sense to anyone. I will pick subject clusters in sociology, international relations, political science, language and culture... selected only based on high excitement levels. It also does not matter by then, whether I swot it out for distinctions or settle for Cs - although I suspect my natural competitiveness would push me towards good grades. I will very likely be the obasan on campus and that's fine. I checked - no age restrictions! It might even be cool to be an obasan on campus.

Best of all, I will spend time learning about and living in Japan - a place that never ceases to fascinate me.

I thought of Waseda University at first. They run an English language liberal arts school but they are so prestigious I'm not sure if they would take someone like me. Also the thought of living in Tokyo for three years is daunting. Plus I'm wary about being surrounded by super-bright, over-achieving ultra-competitive people.

Then I found Akita International University in the far rural north of Tohoku. It is a small college whose campus is in the country, outside of Akita City. Population 1.07million. Largest consumers of saury top sake guzzler in Japan. Akita produces Japan's rice, prettiest women and smartest kids. Home to the namahage demon who comes out every New Year's day to scare the pants off young kids - nothing like the threat of skinning you alive to make you behave. Plus the secluded Nyuto Onsen is practically in its backyard. I like what I'm hearing already.This is a very strong possibility but I'll keep my options open - I have time on my side! 

The nay-sayers will cluck all they like and say I'm self-indulgent (yes that is true), a bad parent for leaving her family (true but they would love to have an excuse to visit and we now have Skype!), impractical in all my choices - of country and course (deliciously true!).They will say the money can be used for retirement - true but I think I will have enough left over to be comfortable.

All these years I never once regretted not having a degree because of the value of the paper. That never mattered that much. I think I've proven - to myself at least - that the lack of paper qualifications never hindered me in my career (or at least it didn't matter to me since my career or what's left of it has been on the back-burner for such a long time). I never hankered for it. 

The stress of doing something like this just to gain a piece of paper is not for me. When I choose to learn and wish to devote my time and energies to a project away from my family, it better be worth it. That was why I chose the Grad Dip in Childbirth Education: I had such passion for the subject matter.

I truly believe learning ought to stem from sheer joy and a deep personal interest. This comes from making a conscious decision, a choice to learn something that one is deeply passionate about. And I think this is where it will start for me. I will work towards it and look forward to it. To that someday when I can go back to school.


Rita said...

Seriously Pat, I can't see you as a secretary ;-)

Good post ! I have missed your updates!

Santhi said...

LIfe is meaningless without self-indulgence ;)) Will look forward to the updates from the future undergraduate- Santhi

Cory said...

you blogged!

go for it! when the last child grows up, do what you want to do :) they'll understand!