Of a certain age: Who is Karen Segal?

Photo by Karen Segal

An introduction to maturity

By Karen Segal, Contributor


My cellphone is awash with photos of Lafarge Lake across from the Coquitlam campus of Douglas College. The first week of the fall semester was sunny and warm and so snap, snap, snap went I. Despite living in Vancouver for more than 30 years, I had never been to this part of Coquitlam.

A bit about me. Bear with me if you will; this will only take a few sentences. I’m a mature student, over 50 we could say, though not massively so—and I’ve laboured the last 20 years as an ESL teacher for adults. This field is one of the most chronically-insecure fields around. Many apologies to those studying it currently. It wasn’t back in 1998-99 when I trained for it and for seven years I had a great job with a private international school in Vancouver—benefits, a good wage, even sick days! I had never known such job security, having been a journalist and then a freelancer prior to teaching.

However, in 2011, due to bad management and collapsing economies, the school closed. Since then, for almost seven years, I went from contract to contract with often many unemployed months in between.

I was stuck in a rut, so stuck that I tried to make it comfortable and make it make sense.

“I’m working two hours at the downtown school today!” I’d tell people.

“How is that legal?” my friends would respond.


Then my father died, and I received an inheritance (Thank you, Joe Segal. I miss your presence on the Earth).

In May of this year, I saw an ad for a new program starting at Langara College. I enrolled and backed out when I realized that while the program sounded informative and challenging, I couldn’t actually get a job from it. Employers I’d queried said what I’d actually need was a Therapeutic Recreation Diploma.

I was soon registered for two courses in the Academic Foundations program. There are pre-requisites before I am officially accepted into the Therapeutic Recreation program. I still need to do some volunteer hours, but this will get me started.

Both classes—running three times a week in total—are at 8:30 am. No matter! Armed with my backpack, my new binders, and my new loose-leaf paper I headed forth on September 4 to attend my first class, Anatomy and Physiology. I took a picture of the outside of the D Building, the inside of the D Building, and the classroom. I shot a short video of myself heading into the classroom.

In all of the excitement, I had slept about three hours the night before.

I am a part-time student.

“You love classroom learning,” a friend said to me as I paced one evening before my big day.

“I love classroom learning,” I repeated. She was right, but I had gotten my B.A. almost 30 years ago before the Internet, the mass use of cellphones, and well before many of the students I would be in class with had been born.

“They will call me grandma,” I opined.

“Oh, they will not. Well, probably not,” said my friend.

And so, it has begun. Let me tell you the Anatomy and Physiology class has me kind of terrified—so much to memorize and so many new words (to me, not actual new words). My other class requires an essay with APA referencing. APA referencing it seems hasn’t gotten easier in the last three decades, but I soldier on.

So, this is me. I will be writing a weekly column from the perspective of being a mature student. An early column may well be about the lockdown drill we had last week and the awe-inspiring moment when I realized that getting up off of the floor after the drill might take me the whole class. Next time kneel and hold onto a desk like the instructor, Karen!

No one, I will note, has called me grandma yet.