WRITTEN BY XINYI KOAY
There is a Chinese saying that goes “huo dao lao, xue dao lao” (活到老学到老), which can be roughly translated to mean that one is never too old to learn. This is a saying that many of my elders have repeated to me since I was a child. As I was still young when I first heard the saying, it never truly stuck. However, growing up, I encountered many individuals who’ve embodied the phrase – elderly people learning to use smartphones to communicate with their grandchildren, mature students at university pursuing their dream courses and housewives who pick up new hobbies after retirement. These people have taught me what it really means to have a heart that’s always open to learning and exploring new things.
I’ve always taken the conventional path towards receiving my university education – primary school, secondary school and junior college thereafter, as did many of my peers in the pre-university institutions I attended. But after attending university, I met many inspiring people who’ve taken the longer route to achieve their dreams. There were students who decided to leave their stable jobs in order to pursue the courses they have always wished to study. There were students who put off university education to work and have now come back to attain their university qualifications. There were students who’re slightly older as they took some time off to decide what they really wanted in life.
Every single one of them had wonderful stories to tell. Their determination and passion for lifelong learning really inspires me. It may have taken them longer to get to university to pursue the course they desired but that did not make their journey any less beautiful.
They have taught me that learning is a lifelong process and that it’s alright to go at it again even if you fail the first time. Even if you have missed an opportunity, there will be a chance for you to grab it again. There is no “right” age for one to learn something.
Although it certainly is not an easy process for them since most of their classmates were much younger, they persevered even when they hadn’t opened a textbook in years (some of my classmates are mothers with young children of their own!).
To those reading this article and are confused as to where they want to be in life, I want you to know that it’s alright to take your time and figure it out. One of my closest friends at university chose to take a gap year to find herself and she’s now content with the choice she made for herself. It’s also alright to change your mind. Some of the best students in my course are mature students who’ve already succeeded in totally different career paths but are now enjoying pursuing their second undergraduate degree.
Some of you may be fortunate to know what you want to pursue in life but for those of us who are still wandering, it’s alright to wander and give yourself time. Just as people learn at their own pace, you can give yourself time and space to make important decisions for yourself – whether to pursue higher education, what course to take and where to attend school.
I’d like to share with everyone an episode of a TV show (2 Days & 1 Night – Season 3, Episode 641) that I really enjoy, which featured elderly ladies who had to discontinue their education and are now picking up the Korean language again to read and write. They wrote beautiful poems showcasing the skills they have picked up and their determination to learn, in spite of their old age. In our everyday lives, we encounter many of such “heroes” who continue to pursue education, be it informal or formal and show us that learning truly never stops. To these “heroes”, I want to say a big “thank you” and “well done”. You are doing a great job and have made me appreciate the education that I’m receiving and inspire me to never be afraid to learn!
The author would like to dedicate this article to the people who have taught her that learning really never stops and especially to the mature students she’s met while attending university.