Returning to school after a period in the workplace and having to mix with students much younger than yourself can be an off-putting experience, especially if your new classmates are young enough to be your children. However, unless you want to remain in isolation during your course, you will need to make an effort to mix with them and, in order to do so, you will need to work out a way of relating to them. Whereas it may not be a completely natural impulse, it is perfectly possible to do so, by following some of these tips:
*Remind yourself that you were young once
You may find initially find it very isolating to be in a class where you are clearly the oldest student, or one of the oldest. You may also think that you have very little in common with your younger classmates. However, try and put yourself into their shoes. You were their age once and you too probably wanted to have fun without thinking everything through. They may not take life as seriously as you think they should, but it is only through experience that they will reach your point of maturity.
*Listen to what your classmates are saying
It is worth making an effort to listen to what your younger classmates are saying. You may not feel that you can join in with them at first, but eventually, you will pick up on their likes and dislikes and will realise that they have their own fears. You may be concerned that your time out of school means that you are less likely to do well on the course; they may well be homesick or be worried that the course is not for them. By listening to them and allowing them to air their views, you will learn how to relate to them more easily.
*Make an effort to socialise with younger students
It may be tempting to go to your class, listen to the lecture and then go home. However, most groups of people organise social events every now and again, even if it is only a lunch, or a quick drink afterwards. Make an effort to go along with them. Even if you don’t stay for very long, it will open up the doors of communication, so that not only do you feel more comfortable around them, but they feel more comfortable around you. They may initially feel just as insecure around you are you are around them, believing that you are confident and experienced.
*Discuss the course
One of the best ways to relate to younger students is to discuss the thing that you all have in common, regardless of age – the course that you are taking. There are bound to be plenty of things that you can discuss; perhaps a lecture that you didn’t understand, the annoying attitude of one of the lecturers, or concern about upcoming assignments or exams. Once you all realise that you do have things in common after all, moving on to other topics and building up relationships will be all the easier.
*Avoid a ‘them and us’ mentality
It is very easy to build up an ‘us and them’ mentality, especially if there are one or two other mature students in your class. You may find yourself talking about your younger classmates behind their back, deriding them for their immaturity and inability to take the course seriously. Try to avoid this happening. Once the barriers have been set up, it will be very hard to return to a point that you can all start to build a useful relationship and you may find yourself developing an unnecessarily negative view of young people in general in the future. If younger students won’t come to you, then make an effort to approach them.
*Offer advice in a non-patronising way
Many older people tend to consider those younger than them to be inexperienced, immature and not worth listening to. You may get the urge to offer them advice on their life choices and their study techniques. Offering advice is fine, provided that advice is welcomed and that it is delivered in a non-patronising way. If you manage to do so, your younger classmates will begin to respect you for your wisdom, rather than being irritated by your desire to change them, and you will all be able to relate to each other much more readily.
As a mature student, you could find it very hard to fit into a class of younger students. However, with the people skills that you have built up over the years, and with time, you should be able to relate to them quite easily.