Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Boomers are Getting Schooled

As an educational travel blogger that works for a company that primarily offers internships to 20-some-odd year olds, you might think it’s weird that today I am going to be talking about Boomers or what basically amounts to my parent’s generation, 50 to 60 plus people that are nearing retirement or have already down shifted to a more relaxed lifestyle.  What purpose do Boomers have for an educational resource?  They are retired; they are done learning.  They are past their prime.  You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It is time they sat down, pulled up their walkers and stayed there just to be sure that they don’t break a hip stepping down off the sidewalk.

Now that I have offended every person over the age of 50 without enough of a sense of humour to know I’m kidding, let me set the record straight.  You are never too “old” to learn.  In fact, for the rest of this post I will not even use the “o” word because it does not describe this demographic accurately at all.  My father is 56 and still plays basketball three times a week, is currently doing his own basement renovation, jogs down along the shoreline with the dog every day, shovels his own driveway with an actual shovel and still finds time to beat me at chess when we get together for dinner.  He is the definition of a Boomer and he is thriving.  He might have a few grey hairs dispersed through what is left of his hair and a few more laugh lines but he is never opposed to learning something new.  As a teacher at the local high school for the past 30 years, he embraces learning and actually taught himself a new architectural computer program so that he could add it to the curriculum for students.  He learns new “tricks” all the time and I don’t foresee anything slowing him down any time soon. 

Retire ≠ End of Life
Not many people actually reach retirement age, quit their jobs and then plunk down on the couch until they die.  It is A) not practical and B) gets boring/dull/mind numbingly brainless extremely quickly.  You are going to go crazy if you transition from working 40 or more hours a week at work to having absolutely nothing to do other than cut your lawn with a pair of nail clippers.  It might seem relaxing for the first few days but eventually you are going to be pounding on your children’s doors begging them to let you babysit just so that you feel like you are contributing to society again.  Many folks don’t ever even completely retire just for that reason.  In fact, according to Stats Canada, 13% of retirees were going back to work in 1994.  And the trend is not declining.  By 2010, almost 22% of retired individuals were returning to work either full-time or part-time.  Some return to work for financial reasons but many return to work simply because they still have the ability to hold down a job and are unable to adapt to life in the passing lane so to speak.

Retirement does not have to be boring.  I have good news; you don’t have to go back to the workforce in order to feel fulfilled. 

Go back to school instead.

Ok, for those of you that stuck with me through the erroneous stereotypical rant back up at the beginning; hang in there just a bit longer for me to redeem myself on this comment as well because you are probably thinking I am just blowing hot air.  School is for young whippersnappers that wear their pants around their ankles and go out partying every Friday night.  I am not even going to bother to address that misconception at the moment since in some cases it is partially true and those students give me a bad image.  But consider that I am not talking about school in the formal sense.

School does not have to be a four walled institution with desks, blackboards, homework assignments and long cafeteria lines. 

School can mean a building full of teachers and students and jammed printers but it can also be your downtown community centre or book club or if you are really adventuresome, a monastery in Thailand where you spend the day finding balance and wisdom in community with other like-minded Zen individuals.

School is anywhere where you find learning.

If you are heading towards retirement, it is probably been something you have been looking forward to ever since you got out of high school.  There were so many things, namely work, that held you back from experiencing the world around you.  There are so many things that you have wanted to do.  Sure it would have been great to stay up to 3:00 am to watch the World Rugby Championship but you probably had work in the morning and could only catch the highlight reel.  It would have been fantastic to be able to drop everything to take advantage of last minute discounted plane tickets for an impromptu trip to Australia to visit with the kangaroos but you had that report to finalize.  And travelling anywhere when you have three teenagers still living at home is a nightmare unto itself. 

But you will soon be free and you will soon be bored.  So what are your options?

A)     Go back to work – This is possible but probably the least favourable option because you don’t work towards retirement your whole life just to jump back in.  That’s like being freed from quicksand and just turning around and stepping back in.

B)      Be bored – Again, this is not advisable but it will be relaxing.  You can sit back and relax into a vegetable as you cease developing your experiences and knowledge base.

C)      Travel – Travelling is always a popular idea for the retired folks out there because it represents the freedom that they have lacked while tied down to a job with minimal vacation time.  It represents spontaneity and can be revitalizing, relaxing and full of adventure as you travel around with only your passport and a map you picked up at the airport to keep you on track.

D)     Learn something – This is also a popular plan for those who want to continue to stimulate their minds and boast about new skills.  You could take a pottery class or learn photography.  Perhaps you could also learn how to salsa like a pro or maybe you’ve always wanted to learn a new language.  You have the time so why not commit to something challenging, eye opening and perhaps a bit obscure just so your stories are a bit more worthwhile.

You caught me, options A and B were not really serious options.  But C and D definitely were but here is the catch...  There is actually a secret option. 

Option E. Travel and learn.

You’ve always wanted to visit Cuba but you’ve also always wanted to learn to dance.  Well, as you may have heard, Cuba is a hot spot for the mambo, salsa, and a wide assortment of fast stepping, hip swinging dances that are sure to add some bounce to your step and flare to your skirt.  Sign up for a few weeks worth of lessons that you can squeeze in among sightseeing adventures.  Or maybe you have always wanted to travel somewhere in Asia like Thailand but you are nervous because you don’t know the language and being one of those lost tourist sounds like a horrifying experience.  You’ll go after you’ve checked out a few audio books from the local library and taught yourself.  Guess what, there are people in Thailand that speak Thai and English and who are willing to teach you. Forget the audio books.  It is easier to pick up a language when you are immersed and forced to practice and use in everyday conversations anyways.

As for the educational travel opportunities that will make your friend’s eyes pop, consider learning how to train an elephant like a professional mahout over in Thailand or craft fine Kimonos like the skilled silk makers in Japan.  Bring back souvenirs of glass blown figurines that you personally made and prepare authentic sushi just like the master chefs so that everyone will begin drooling in unison.

The Government of Ontario even has resources set up to help people retire abroad completely if that interests them but I love Canada so I encourage you to come back every now and again from your travels.

What it comes down to is there is absolutely no reason why your retirement can’t be as rich and stimulating as your professional career full of challenges, learning and boundless opportunities for self improvement.  Broaden your horizons and become an international jet setting student.

For more education and travel opportunities, check out the websites below.  Also, please leave a comment regarding any “edutourism” opportunities you have experienced or would like to try.  Because chances are if you want to try it, so does someone else.

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