It’s never too late to study – balancing work and study

How many pupils have been and are in the situation of having finished school with no idea of what to do next? Shall I work, shall I study, shall I travel – What shall I do?! Well, I was in this very predicament and it took me 30 years to finally decide that I would like to study.

Growing up in a Kuhdorf (basically a tiny village in the middle of Bavaria where cows are the dominating population) I had no intellectual encouragement and hence no ambition of pursuing further education when I finished secondary school. I went the traditional “German route” of doing an apprenticeship and then having a series of unsatisfying office jobs for several years. Fortunately, the decision to do my A-Levels in 2004 turned out to be the catalyst that changed my life – firstly, moving to London in 2007 and secondly, committing to a 4 year part-time BA course in Languages at Birkbeck University.

The reason I didn’t start studying after my A-Levels was simply because I didn’t have a clue what to study and once I lived in London I realised that it’s financially impossible to study full-time here. However, when someone told me about Birkbeck and the possibility of working full-time whilst studying part-time in the evenings I was ”all ears”.

Eventually I found the course for me (BA Modern Languages – German & Spanish) which allows me to combine my passion for learning Spanish as a language but also to study German and Spanish history and in October 2010 I finally enrolled on to this 4 year course. Once enrolled, I thought, “Oh my god, what have I done?” After all, giving up most of your social life for a period of 8-9 months for the next 4 years is quite a commitment, but being in my 3rd year now I can only say that this has been one of the best decisions of my life and time has simply flown by!

Is it possible to balance work and study? Definitely, but to be honest, it’s tough, very tough! You have to be 100% committed and you need an employer who will support your decision, otherwise you will fail within the first few months. Thanks to Hasson Associates I have been able to combine work and study and without their support and understanding I would have probably failed. My first year meant having 3 lectures a week, adjusting to academic reading and intellectual thinking (in English), tons of stuff to read, struggling with writing first assignments on top of learning heaps of Spanish vocabulary and grammar. I didn’t allow myself a day off and I used all non-uni days to revise, read and write, BUT, that’s just me, über efficient, über ambitious, über organised and an über panicker!!

Looking back now I think I should have taken it a bit easier and allowed myself a few more breaks because the stress levels had definitely taken their toll by the end of my first year – I was 6-7 kg lighter and I had double the amount of wrinkles!

However, all the stress was worth it and my 2nd year turned out to be much more relaxed because a) I only had 2 classes a week and b) by then I had learnt not to hit the panic button too soon. I organised the mountains of reading differently, when and how to prepare assignments and yes, I even was able to make time for my friends on top of allowing myself the odd drink with my fellow students after class in the famous George – London’s best student bar. I even managed to get a group of people together to successfully re-establish the Spanish and Portuguese Society which gives students the opportunity to improve their language skills in an informal way, whilst meeting and developing friendships with fellow students.

Every year turns out to be completely different to its preceding one; I’m in my 3rd year now and whilst having enjoyed good levels of freedom in my 2nd year, the amount of work this year will definitely turn into my next big challenge. I’m at uni Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings and by Friday my brain is normally drained. Again, I find myself not allowing sufficient breaks because I simply feel I have too much to do and when else to do your coursework with 3 evenings a week at uni??! After uni and after work I tend to feel too tired to get stuck into writing an essay or a Spanish assignment, so the only days available are Saturday and Sunday. Although this may sound hideous to you, sacrificing a whole weekend for studying, it is not as bad as it sounds. If something is a passion to you, you do it with ease and that’s what studying is for me, a passion. I admit I feel very stressed and discouraged at times and that’s why it is so vital that you are 100% committed and have friends and colleagues that support you through this difficult time.

I can highly recommend embracing this challenge and I promise you, you won’t be disappointed. Studying ‘later in life’ and at Birkbeck means studying in a mature environment, challenging yourself to achieve something that you might never have believed you could do and above all meeting many great and inspiring students and tutors.

It’s never too late and funnily, just when I finished writing this blog my friend sent me this article that was published in the Guardian today!