Journalist, mother and MA student Elizabeth McFarlane is anecdotal and nostalgic upon returning to university.

Elizabeth at the University of East Anglia, 1988.
Elizabeth at the University of East Anglia, 1988.


I'm a student again after 30 years and can't believe my luck. I stroll round the campus feeling twenty years younger, half expecting someone to tap me on the shoulder and ask me to leave. But I'm allowed here, incredibly, to do an MA in Creative and Life Writing. The last time I was on a campus I was wearing leg warmers, Kylie Minogue was singing I Should Be So Lucky (Lucky, Lucky, Lucky) and Maggie Thatcher was having a barney with some miners, unluckily for them.

On my first day I line up in the main building to register and there's an 18-year-old boy behind me not dissimilar to the one I have who is registering at another university in another part of the country. How weird is that? There are three of us in this family at university at the same time. We could start our own Soc. If we weren't hundreds of miles apart.

"What documents do we need?" the boy asks me.




"Well," I say, "I have my degree certificate, but I imagine it's different for you."

At the freshers fair, I join three societies including the Samba club and talk to a girl who does burlesque. She shows me her Instagram pictures. 


"So, your breasts, they're, you know, actually... bare?" I ask her. 

"Oh no!" She says. "I'm wearing tit faces. I made them myself." 

Of course.

Sitting in a cafe opposite the main building I watch a girl approach a table outside. She sits, pulls at her sleeves, checks her phone, looks a bit lost and forlorn. I want to go outside and say: it'll be okay, don't worry. But I don't. Instead, I watch as a boy approaches. He says something to her, which I imagine is: "is this seat taken?" or, "is it okay if I sit here?" Her mouth moves in reply, which I imagine is: "sure, go ahead," or, "yeah, fine, no worries." He sits. He chats to her. He waves his arms around as he talks and looks away, then back again, then laughs. She also laughs. Her demeanor changes, her shoulders relax, she puts her phone down on the table. Maybe she'll be friends with him for the next thirty years? Maybe she'll marry him?

This is the biggest difference with university second time around: no social angst. New friends would be nice but they're not essential, and I have a man already: my husband, whom I met at university thirty years ago.


Find more on Elizabeth's MA journey at I don't know how she doesn't do it


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