The O.U Diaries #2 – Mixed Feelings

Hey!

I haven’t kept up with this series as much as I’d like because, funnily enough, studying has taken up ALL of my free time. I’ve just finished my first full year of Level One study with the O.U. On Sunday night, I submitted my EMA (end of module assignment) and breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Honestly?

I’ve got mixed feelings about it.

AA100 is a multi-disciplinary course, and it’s a mandatory first step in my degree. I was pretty excited about it initially, because I liked the idea of learning about topics I would otherwise know nothing about. It covered art, history, philosophy, literature, music … the whole shebang. When the course materials arrived last year, I unboxed them (with the help of the kids) and felt overwhelmed and very happy. But the reality has been, at times, really tough.

It’s been a tough year for me personally. Shortly before I started studying, we had two big life changes in our house: I got a job, and my daughter started school. Everything felt a little ‘up in the air’, but I still just about managed to keep on top of studying. Until January when I got pleurisy, which I took an insanely long time to recover from, and then bad cold after bad cold, which I would normally bounce back from but couldn’t, because my immune system was so low. Then I got the worst UTI I’ve ever had in my life. (TMI?! Seriously though, I wouldn’t wish that UTI on my worst enemy). Essentially, illness + multiple rounds of antibiotics = hard times. My grades dropped at this point, along with my mental health.

Why am I sharing all this? Because life is like this sometimes. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that 2019 has been pretty challenging so far, and not just because of all the illness. But once you’ve committed to a degree, studying still has to be done. At the end of the day, whether you’re exhausted, or depressed, or sick, or anxious, or heartbroken, or overwhelmed – essays still have to be written. You still have to sit down and hit the books. If you’ve committed to this, then you’re in it. For better or worse.

Obviously, life isn’t always like this. But the reality is it can be. When you’re an adult returning to uni after a very long time, you’ve usually got many more responsibilities and worries. (Obviously this is a bit of a blanket statement. I know young/new adults have bucketloads of stresses too). There were times when I genuinely thought I wouldn’t cope.

I did, however, cope.

The O.U are pretty understanding when it comes to life events getting in the way of academic life – I got an extension with no problem, and there are student counselling services available. However, at some point, you have to try and catch up. The feeling of work snowballing is really horrible and stressful.

And this is where the multi-disciplinary problems come in. For me, I like music, I really do. But I don’t care about the technical aspects of musical composition. I’m glad other people do, but I don’t. It was SO hard when I was sick to sit down and attempt to care about this stuff. To pour my effort and time into something that a) doesn’t feel relevant to the degree I want to do and b) doesn’t help my life outside of studying, either. I had to force myself to do it. When I got to the sections that were relevant to my eventual degree – particularly the short stories – my passion flared up again, and I got the best mark I had for the whole year. It was a relief to get to that point, because I was starting to feel concerned that I just wasn’t enjoying studying anymore.

Those are my honest thoughts. I’m not moaning, just reflecting. Multi-disciplinary courses are not as easy as I thought they would be, and I’m so ready to move onto English Language studies in October. To have a bit of focus is just what I need. Others might find they really love the variety of AA100 – but I thought I’d write down my thoughts and experiences and share them with you. It’s definitely been a mixed bag of a year. Ultimately, despite life throwing everything at me, I got through it. (If I get at least 40% on my last assignment. Agh.)

Two things I want to point out:

  1. Go to the tutorials. Seriously, attend the tutorials. There are loads of online ones, which is what I did. They’re a bit nerve wracking but they helped SO much with understanding what tutors expect from assignments.
  2. Join a Facebook group for your intake. Honestly, AA100 October 2018 on Facebook saved my bacon more than once. We shared advice, opinions, frustrations, progress – it felt like a much more open and free community than the Open University forums. Go on Facebook, search for your course code + the start time, and you’ll find it.

So there we go, my honest thoughts! I’m very relieved to have a few months off now, but I’ll be going into L101 feeling cautiously optimistic.

To my fellow AA100 Facebook people: good luck, and it was so nice to share this experience with you!

Thinking of studying with the O.U? Read this!

I’m going to start a new series on the blog called the O.U diaries – a kind of reflection on how studying is going. Obviously this is going to be more useful to some people than others, but if you want to follow me along, keep reading! ❤

 
Chances are if you’ve clicked on this, you’re thinking about studying with the Open University. (Unless you’re one of my seven dedicated blog readers, in which case: hey guys). To fill you in: I’m Meg. I’m a stay at home Mum to a five year old girl and a two year old boy. I haven’t slept in approximately two years (see previous sentence). And I’m about 80% through my first proper year of study at the Open University.

I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. I was tentatively Googling it during the early days with my daughter, a period of great joy, and moderate discombobulation. I had a feeling I wanted to do something new, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to studying for six years (well, more like seven, with the Access course).

Then my health took a hit when I was diagnosed with an incurable nerve pain disorder. And we had our son, because it felt like a ‘now or never’ type situation with having another baby. Looking back on it, I think my health problems were really the final push to get the degree I’d been wanting for years, too. I don’t know how I will feel in ten years time. My pain levels might get better, or remain the same, or get significantly worse. Life seems that little bit more precious to me than it did before. And something about pain makes me feel less afraid.

Anyway, I took the plunge and applied, and now I’m taking a study break to chat about it, because that is one of the many perks of studying from home.

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In this picture I am also eating leftover-from-birthday nougat and drinking leftover-from-birthday wine, although I don’t think either of those things are recommended by the O.U as study aides.

Here are some of the things I was worried about before taking the plunge and applying for the Access course:

  1. I don’t have enough time.
    I don’t have much time to study in the day. I have two kids. Although one of them is at school, the other has only just settled into a decent nap routine. They both wake between 5 and 6am, bright and perky and loud, and they keep going, relentlessly, until they crash into bed at 7pm. At which point my studying begins.The Access course takes around 9-10 hours of study a week, and the actual degree, 16 hours. At times, I am so efficient that I end up two weeks ahead of myself. At other times, we have busy weeks, or I have bad pain, or my kids get ill, and I find myself scrambling a bit to catch up. At all points so far, it has been doable.

    Also if you do decide to do this: be prepared for guilty feelings when you decide to binge-watch Glow of an evening instead of cracking out the books. Just a warning.

  2. I’m too tired.
    I have the Worlds Worst Sleeper in the form of our son. (I mean he’s probably in the top ten at least. In the entire world, I mean. Not exaggerating.) If I’m honest, my husband takes his share of the night wakings and a fair chunk of mine, too, but I’m still tired. A lot.

    To my surprise, I still enjoy studying, even when I’m bone-tired. I’m passionate about what I’m learning – and about my end goal – so I push through. There are nights where I am just too exhausted to continue, however, and when I hit that wall I call it a day and go to bed, guilt-free, knowing I can catch up the next day. That’s the good thing about studying flexibly: there are deadlines, but you can manage yourself and make it work for you

  3. I’m not smart enough.
    At one point I felt fairly confident in being a Clever Person, and then I lost that confidence somewhere over the years. But now I’m here, and I’ve realised that intelligence is not fixed: it’s all about growth, and pushing yourself, and being willing to work hard. The people getting the best grades might be naturally self-assured and confident, but a huge part of their success will stem from how hard they work.

    Honestly, I do feel more clever now, but not in a smug way. It’s more that I can feel my mind slowly opening up, and my world view shifting slightly as I go. It’s awesome, and challenging, and yes, at times, it’s overwhelming. But it’s good.

  4. I want to be perfect.
    I could talk more about this – in fact I probably will in another post – but I had this idea in my mind that I would be the best student. The one that makes flashcards and reads around the subject and does further research and aces all the assessments. But let’s be real: I’m not eighteen anymore. I’m thirty, and some days whilst studying, I have to stop myself from thinking about the kids or worrying about money or planning what we’re going to eat for tea tomorrow. Sometimes my notes are unintelligible. I’m not the perfect student – but that’s not the point, is it? Perfection isn’t what I’m aiming for. Good enough is what I’m aiming for.
  5. It’s self-indulgent.
    This was the hardest thing, I think. The feeling of utter selfishness. Of devoting myself to something that is, ultimately, just for my own benefit and enjoyment. This is obviously problematic. For one thing, I’m hoping that my degree will not only get me a career that I really want to be in, but a career that pays better than minimum wage, thus allowing my children a slightly easier time, financially, as teenagers and young adults. So, you know. They won’t be complaining when I’m paying for their phone contracts.

    But also: so what if I want something that’s just for me? Am I not allowed to have anything just for me? Since when has that been a bad thing? What a ridiculous idea, to think that because I am now a mother I have to lay down every moment of my waking life (and sleeping life, too) in case they, you know, need me or something.

    Education is worth something in itself. Not just for the end goal of a piece of paper, but for the challenge and the fun of it.

I completed the Access course with a distinction (94% on my EMA! Sorry. That’s the last time I’ll brag about it). Despite having a lot going on elsewhere. If you really want to do it: you make time for it.

I hope that this helps someone who is wondering whether or not to make the commitment. If you need more information about Access, click here.

Next time I’ll talk a bit more about how it actually works to study with the O.U. I’ll see you then!