This experience has taught me so much. I grew up with six grandparents who all played a very active role in my upbringing. I was also close with my grandparents’ friends and social networks. In a way, my upbringing was somewhat unique in that I had a large concentration of older adults in my life to interact with and learn from. However, many of the people in my grandparents’ social circle came from the same background, and as a result, my experiences with and perceptions of older adults were largely contained to this one specific group. The Life Course Scholars Program has opened my eyes to the diversity of elderly people. I learned a great deal about active listening, and the importance of taking the time to truly hear and understand what someone is saying. Even if it may sound harsh or rude or negative, there is always a meaning, whether subtle or obvious, behind the things people say, and your reaction to that message can truly make an impact in someone’s life.
I learned about institutional and socioeconomic factors that impact elderly people, especially those impacted by food and housing insecurity. I learned that we have more agency in the way that we age than I originally had imagined. People’s experiences throughout the lifespan, as well as their health and the resources they have available to them, are all valuable indicators of how they will age and how long their lifespan will be. Tackling these socioeconomic issues among elderly people will greatly impact not only the quality of their lives, but their longevity as well.
I learned a lot about myself through this program and my interactions with elders. The reading I presented one week in class spoke of how younger people look up to older people because they are proof that the hurdles they are facing in their busy, hectic lives can eventually be overcome. This resonated with me, as I found this to be true of the elders I met during this program. I have learned to take things slowly and enjoy the moment, as the things I am working towards will eventually come. But the true meat of living is in the journey it takes to reach those goals. I am more inspired to take care of my health and be more active in extracurricular and community activities after meeting so many elderly people who were active in their older age. I learned that relationships play a crucial role in how one will age, and this has caused me to appreciate my family and friends much more. I am a quiet, introverted person, and I am often hesitant to share about my life unless I am with someone I am familiar and comfortable with. This experience has helped me become more comfortable sharing aspects of my life and building relationships and connections by allowing myself to be vulnerable with others. My time with the LCS cohort has been wonderful, and I have made several friendships that I am very grateful for and will continue to foster long after I leave this class and program. In addition, as a Human Development and Sociology double major, I am considering working in geriatrics for my future career, possibly as an occupational therapist.
This class has taught me to live my life with purpose. There are so many intersecting factors that will determine the kind of life you will lead and how you will grow and change along the way. My experiences with elders in this class has made me more mindful of the decisions I make, the path I am taking in my life, and the kinds of habits, mindsets, and social networks I want to form in my life. Life moves very fast and we don’t stay in the same stage for very long. This class has reminded me that I need to make the most of every stage of the life course, and experience all that I can from it. I need to make smart decisions that will help carry me through to the next stage feeling happy and healthy. The most important thing, however, which I learned from Alice at Casa de Manana, is to never stop learning. Elderly people have much wisdom, but there never comes a point in life where you have learned too much. Just as we learned from the elders we met through this program, they also learned from us and gained knowledge and wisdom from our insights and experiences. I truly believe that if I and many others can continue that trend of fostering learning throughout the lifespan and channel it into intergenerational communication, it will make for a much brighter future for our society and the world as a whole.