Guest post written by Hannah Louise Oldham.
I began university as an undergraduate almost exactly ten years ago. I had just turned eighteen and had really no idea what to expect when I rolled into Exeter wearing flip flops on that hot autumn day. Beginning that journey again triggers a sort of sense memory of those moments when I stepped into my student halls and onto campus for the first time, all tied up in scents and flavours and feelings. Sunshine mixed with bursts of warm rain; rustling pages, cheap wine and cheese toasties.
Beginning instead as a distance learning, part time postgraduate immediately felt quite different. I know my way around a library now, for instance, though I now have to find my own ways to access one, alongside tentatively exploring the wide world of digitised texts available from the University of Roehampton library. The balance of work and studying has swung the other way – as an undergraduate I would fit my hours working in the campus bookshop around my studies, now I squeeze studying in before I start work in the morning, or when I get home at night. When I think about my undergraduate life I marvel over how much time I seemed to have, and how I didn’t seem to realise it. Looking back, I seemed to spend an ordinate amount of time just sitting and thinking. I wondered how I was going to fit everything in now.
So it’s putting it lightly that I didn’t really know what to expect when term began and I was officially a student again. When I first logged into Moodle and started poking around, I didn’t know how it would compare to sitting around a table together in a seminar like I’d been used to. But then other distance learners started virtually introducing themselves and I began to settle in. The online forums are a great way to introduce yourself, it turns out (especially for introverts like myself who dread the pronouncement of ‘Let’s go around the circle and introduce ourselves and’ – even worse – ‘tell everyone an interesting thing about ourselves’). I loved reading where everyone was in the world, and what has brought them to study children’s literature. From the north of England to South America and all around the world again, it seems like everyone has a unique and fascinating reason for choosing to become a distance learner here. I can already see how this variety is making for fascinating discussion over our course material. Just as fairy tales are recognisable yet distinct all over the world, what we each bring to the forum is shaping up to be the same.
It seems too that we are each bringing our own life experiences to our study, be us teachers, booksellers; those picking up studying after several years, or for the first time, united by this enduring belief in the importance of children’s literature. This too is making our discussions all the more fulfilling; one of my favourite things about this course so far is how alive it is. What we learn, for instance, can be applied by us in a real classroom or home, to help a child get the most out of reading, and what could be more essential to our study than that? After all, as Philip Pullman says, ‘without stories, we wouldn’t be human beings at all.’
I’m so excited to see how far my distance learning takes me.
Hannah is a first year distance learning student who has recently moved out of London, where she worked as a bookseller for Daunt Books, to go the French Alps, where she will be living and working (alongside studying) for the next few months. She grew up in Leicestershire and has lived in London on and off, aside from travelling and a few more ski seasons, since graduating from the University of Exeter in 2012. The Little Prince has long been a favourite book of hers, but it was several years of being a children’s bookseller which made her really fall back in love with children’s literature.