Coming to St. Edmund’s as an undergraduate when I was 75, and spending three years in college, was one of the richest experiences of my life. I must admit, though, that I had applied to study English Literature because of ignorance: when a lecturer at the International Summer School said “Nina, do you realise that three colleges take mature students?” I had no idea that the definition of mature is over 21 – so I found the idea tempting.

Having grown up in Norway I left the country at 17, lived in England, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and France, and was working as a secretary in Amsterdam when I met my future husband. As a Shell trainee he was being posted to Indonesia. After six years there we were moved to Holland and Denmark before being transferred to Norway when our children were 11, 9, and 6. I became a journalist and editor and had written several books when I retired after 30 years, in 2001.

A friend in Stavanger convinced me to try the International Summer School. As a result, after graduating in 2013, I am now living part of the year in Cambridge, enjoying U3A courses, the Darwin lectures, and the rich arts life.

The granny of a little family in Brian Heap

In 2010, arriving at St. Edmund’s, I was impressed by the location and the friendly reception – and amazed at being given the middle room of the top floor in the Brian Heap building with its bright and open view. The spacious shared kitchen made us into a little family as we cooked and ate together.

I was impressed by the ceremony in the chapel where the Master addressed each of us in turn, telling the others where we came from and what we were doing. Having lived in different cultures I was happy to be in a college with so many nations represented.  At first I felt embarrassed at taking up a place that a young student might have had, but gradually I came to realise that including a few older people adds to the mix because we may see connections that the young ones do not, and come in from different angles. Also, eating in hall I would quickly be surrounded by students from countries where the generations live more closely together than we do in northern Europe – to them, including a granny was perfectly ok.

As an extra bonus the head of the IT service, Espen Koht, turned out to be a fellow Norwegian, very friendly – and helpful and patient with a computer-primitive soul. Gradually I learned how to cope when as I was typing high-speed touch, the differences between my Norwegian and English keyboards made me send half-finished essays out into the great yonder.

Struggling to write essays

At Eddie’s we were only four students in the 2010 English Lit class. Clearly, we lost out compared with the collaboration in colleges where the groups were much larger, but on the other hand we came to know each other quite well. For me the culture of challenging us to think independently, find an argument and argue for or against it was so new that I had to work quite hard; however, the supervisions in small groups – or even in some cases, one-to-one – were a great help. Also, of course, this privileged system opens for close contacts and even lasting friendships across the generations.

Happily, the alumni Formals provide the opportunity to meet friends and acquaintances from those three years – and inevitably, we’ll happily bring up memories, impressions, and reflections about our shared lives in and around St. Edmund’s College.