By Katlin Cilliers | Staff Writer

When I decided to study in America, I learned that being a student here is a full-time gig. I wondered how, at age 31, I would be able to manage my time so that I could study, work, and make ends meet – in Hawai’i, of all places.

I moved to Hawai’i three years ago. Before that, I’d wanted to go to graduate school in Psychology. But, I learned that my Brazilian diploma – I have a degree in Languages and Literature – might as well serve as a napkin to hold a pizza slice, since credits obtained in Brazil are only partially transferrable to state universities in the U.S.

The apparent setback turned out to be the perfect excuse to pursue a new degree. Last fall, I decided to make Psychology happen. I found a prerequisite class – ENG 100 – that started at 6:15 in the morning at KCC, and jumped at the chance.

So there I was. In Hawai’i. Being a college student again, after nine years away from it.

At first, it was a bit odd to realize I was the “auntie” in my ENG 100 class, especially because in my previous college experience, I was the younger one in a group that was predominantly over 30. Thoughts such as “Is it too late to be doing this?” or “It’s going to take forever to graduate at this pace” have crossed my mind many times in the past year.

Sometimes, being slightly older than your classmates is just … awkward. I’m often oblivious to subjects that are a daily part of community college students’ universe: references to Machine Gun Kelly, “World of Warcraft,” and TV shows can easily fly over my head.

Throughout this first year, I have often found it easier to relate to professors than to peers, struggled to keep a straight face at some of the silly meme comments I heard my classmates make, and at times, I just felt like a fish out of water.

Conversations like How old were you when 9/11 happen? What, 1 year old?” and “Yes, I am almost twice as old as you. No, I have no idea who that band is. But hey, show me!” give me reasons to laugh at how life can throw you in for a ride you didn’t expect, but must make the most of.

In practical terms, my challenges translate as having to take online classes, dropping classes half-way through the term for lack of time, and never enrolling for lectures I am dying to attend, simply because they are in the middle of the day ­– when I am working ­­full time – so I can afford to pay for school, so I can create a better life for myself. (Paradox, anyone?)

But then, there’s the beauty of it.

I have no time ­– or the money ­– to waste in taking wrong turns. I am very specific about the classes I take, rather than choosing random ones just to fill in for free blocks of time, or for the credits. I am here because I deeply value my education, and I see it as a means to reach clear goals.

Because my social life is detached from my school experiences, the search for peer validation that can drive one’s GPA to the ground – due to way too much partying and homework left undone – has little relevance to me.

I know exactly what I want­ from my college experience. That seems to be especially valued by professors, who are often understanding of non-traditional students’ perspectives and needs at KCC. I have had wonderful instructors whom I hope to work with in the future. I am thriving despite the challenges that come with being in school later in life.

Having come from an underprivileged background, I feel immensely privileged for having got this far. As much as I loved my undergrad years back home – and the career that ensued ­­– I wanted to pursue Psychology for a long time after finishing my BA in 2008. However, having to help to provide for my family weighed heavier than my dreams at the time.

I am extremely grateful for being able to go back to school in the United States, and even more so, in such a beautiful place as Hawai’i. My academic experiences have been deeply enjoyable, have given me wonderful friends, and helped me embrace college life: the good, the debt, and the beauty.