It's back to school time. College students are flooding onto campuses across the country. My inbox is once again filled with eager messages from freshly-returned sophomores and juniors who want to squeeze in a study abroad meeting with me before classes begin. International student orientation is underway. Things are bustling everywhere. I can hear the marching band practice through my office window. RAs are gearing up for move-in weekend.
Outside the student center a digital sign is programmed with a special welcome for the incoming freshman class. It reads...
"Welcome Class of 2019!"
Excuse me?!? How on earth is this the class of 2019? That's impossible. You really mean I'm 19 years older than my students. Not buying it... I'm closer in age to the parents than the students? There must be a mistake. I was the one moving a futon up an apartment staircase just a few years back. (Question: Do students still buy futons?)
One of the things about working on a college campus is that you get caught in a strange time warp. Even though you are growing older and moving on with life's milestones, your students remain the same age. You realize your perception of yourself can be very different from the reality. Working on a college campus highlights how far removed we have become from the current generation. You might be familiar with this concept from reading the Beloit College Mindset List in past years.
Let me share a few examples of what I mean:
* My advice on cell phones abroad, writing checks, or Facebook (which apparently students don't use for socializing anymore) is laughably out of date
* I make references to TV shows or musicians and get blank stares
* A student in my office has never seen a typewriter and gets excited to hear one
* A student comments on a black leather finger-less glove and denim vest by calling it "So 90's" and I have to refrain from correcting his inaccurate recollection of fashion history
* I find myself thinking, "What is wrong with kids these days?" or "When I was that age..." then die a little inside when I realize I sound old and bitter.
Recognizing that I might have traded in some of my youthful enthusiasm for a heightened awareness of risk management, I appreciate the role of our peer advising team. We employ 2-3 study abroad alumni as "peer advisors". They handle the exploratory advising and outreach presentations. Our peer advisors do a great job and help their peers see the experience as attainable. It's easy to forget how scary and overwhelming it can be at the beginning. Students like speaking with someone their own age.
While I do feel prematurely "old" at times, I have to admit there is something energizing about working with college students. During this time in their life they are experiencing unprecedented freedom. They are forging what will likely be lifelong friendships. They grow and change so much in these 4 years. I get to be a part of the institution that helps provide the foundation for all of the growth. I am inspired by their creativity (and silliness) and it has a magical way of helping me to feel young too.