I am not ‘sus’

How I blend in among the youngsters


“Ageism” by Evan Kam.

Breathe. Just breathe. You are going to fit in just fine. Don’t try too hard.

I keep telling myself this every time I walk into a classroom filled with new faces at the beginning of a new semester.

Looking at all the young faces is hard. In my head, I guess how young they are. Being 40 years of age, I am old enough to be their mom, at least some of them.

It takes a lot of courage for me to walk into a new classroom. 

Being an older returning student has its challenges. For me, the hardest part is trying to blend into the younger generations.

For example, when they talk about the latest news on pop culture, they use trendy slang like “slay,” “lit” and such, instead of using the plain, old-school “awesome” to describe something that is impressive. I can guess the meaning of some terms but for others, I often have no idea, as my slang vocabulary is an archive from the ‘90s.

When they talk about things that sound like alien language to me, I try to pretend that I understand the conversation, but in reality, I don’t have a clue. If I can’t make a convincing expression, I pretend I’m not paying attention to the conversation at all, while praying they skip past me and move on.

Another topic I try to avoid would be music. Sorry, but I don’t listen to Bad Bunny, Doja Cat or Megan Thee Stallion. I am from the boy-band era. I can name all five of the Backstreet Boys. I can also talk about TLC, Pink, Matchbox Twenty and Gwen Stefani.  But I don’t know Latto’s newest rap song. 

Every little joke that I don’t get, every trendy term that I don’t understand and every song or singer that I don’t know, all serve as a reminder that I am out of sync. 

But that is only part of the struggle. 

Other than being self-conscious about my age, another challenge is dealing with the pressure – especially from my family. Although they are supportive, I can still sense the worry they have even though they try not to show it. They think I would never be able to get a professional job and make a living to support myself, ever.

My parents have worked hard to get to where they are now. They immigrated to a new country to give their children the chance to have a better education, a good job and a happy life.

Traditionally, after graduating high school, people go to a university or community college. Then after finishing college in their 20s, they begin establishing their careers in their 30s, build a family and live a life with a steady income as lives go on.

But not for me. I have switched between multiple schools, majors and careers. 

I went from being a history major to working as an accounting clerk, then attending a pastry school to becoming a confectionary chocolate commis and working in another country. Eventually, I came back to the U.S. to study business management but ended up earning a degree in early childhood education instead. 

After all of that, I decided to return to college AGAIN, and the academic journey started once more.  

According to the U.S. Department of Education’s study, about 30% of undergraduate students changed their major at least once within three years of initial enrollment, in both associate and bachelor’s programs.

I might have overdone it, but I was never taught how to figure out my strengths and match them up with the right major until I took a career and life planning counseling class. Journalism was a match. 

So I want to prove that this time, I made the right decision. I CANNOT let my parents and myself down this time around because time is not in my favor. I don’t want my parents to have to worry about me anymore. I have my back to the wall. The pressure to excel and not fail created fear and doubt that this is yet again another bad decision and I am bound to fail is a feeling hard to describe.

But the sense of this is IT, I am back on track with how things are supposed to be – transferring to a four-year university for a bachelor’s degree, getting a job with a decent income and being able to support myself is also inevitable. 

Aside from feeling old, stressed and pressured, there are some positives. For example, I have a better mindset and right mentality now compared to when I was much younger. I am more determined and less distracted than ever to reach my academic goal.

Based on a report by Lumina Foundation, “Nearly three-quarters of the returning adults surveyed earned a postsecondary credential and most who hadn’t still planned to do so.” 

I have a clearer sense of what I wanted to accomplish. Returning to college again IS my chance to change something in my life, for the better. I am not going to let anything get in the way, no matter how hard or challenging it gets. 

I no longer have the energy or the memory span like when I was in my 20s. I can no longer stay up late or skip sleep and still have the energy to function as if it is just another day. Staying up for 24 hours would take me a week to recover nowadays. But my determination is no less. 

Because I can’t afford to lose with everything on the line.

So even though many years have passed since I first attended college, I believe I have finally found the path I wanted to move on in life.

According to a report from California Community College, using data based on the 2019-2020 academic year, 52% of California community college students are traditional age – between 18 to 24 years old, and 48% are adult students – 25 years old or older. 

So I am actually not alone in a classroom filled with Gen Zers.

Education changes lives. The eagerness to learn and pursue to be better should not be stopped and discouraged because of age. It is indeed just a number, don’t let it become a barrier that stops you from getting more out of life.