What Do Holidays Mean To A DE Student?

December 18, 2002

Since becoming a full-time AU student in late 1998, I’ve had less time for Christmas than ever before. I’m not sure why that is – I study at home, on my own time, and I can arrange breaks any time I want – but this year is no exception.

I thought I would be the ideal home-study student. I work well without supervision, I can be quite organized, and I have previous experience with home study from some high-school upgrading I took in the early nineties. Unfortunately, I’m my own worst enemy.

I do work well without supervision. In fact, I’m relentless. I get into something – anything – and I can go and go and go, until someone makes me stop or I nearly faint from hunger. I can’t count how many research papers have been completed – research, outlining, writing, editing – in a single 15 hour crash session. Large papers, of 25 pages or more, are usually done in 2 or 3 days. And what’s amazing is that I actually get better marks when I write in marathon sessions.

It’s not a system I would recommend, but it works for me.

The problem with home study, I’m finding, is that there are no set hours, no one to tell you when to start and stop, and no real imperative to stick to a schedule. This leads, for many, to procrastination and inactivity. I fall prey to lethargy too, but what I’ve been surprised to find is that distance education can also lead to a sort of workaholic syndrome, where you never have a sense of having completed anything. Every assignment is just one of many for a given course, and ever course is just one of many on the path to a degree, and the first degree is just the first step toward a higher degree, and there are always more courses that you can take to round out your learning: it never ends!

A university degree is a continuum. It goes on and on, for many years of your life. Time flies, but if you concentrate on how much time you spend studying, finishing may seem inconceivable.

At a regular U, I’d have a summer semester off, but with AU, I have been enrolled in courses non-stop for 3 years. I work mornings, afternoons, evenings, weekends – you name it. The concept of a day off is pretty hazy, although I do have many free hours. I just don’t compile them into a single day. Some days I may only do an hour or less of school or students’ union work, but it still isn’t really a day off, is it?

I’m not saying that all I do is work – I can be pretty lazy – but I do find that once I get into the swing of work, I tend to keep going. Momentum is as indomitable as inertia.

Whoever posited that objects that are in motion tend to stay in motion, and objects that are at rest, tend to stay at rest, had no idea that he’d stumbled onto a defining characteristic of human psychology. Or at least, of mine.

If I get lazy and watch TV for a few afternoons, pretty soon I’m in a rut, and I have to flog myself to get going. On the other hand, if it spend several days working hard, I find I start jonesing for more work the second that I’m finally done. I think the rest of the students’ union has probably had it with my manic “?gimme-work’ periods. Fortunately, they don’t occur all that often. Between study, writing articles, working with the union, cooking, housekeeping, caring for my pets, and trying to spend some time with my husband, I’m pretty much busy all the time.

There’s another interesting conundrum: My husband works and studies at home as well. We’re in the same house all the time, yet I sometimes find I miss him and notice that we’ve hardly spoken in days. I think we talked more when we worked out of the house. Two workaholics with two home offices do not make for much socialization. I think we talk more over instant messengers than in person these days. We are separated only by one 50′ blue network cable, a small 8-port hub, another 25′ of blue cable, 2 layers of sub-standard 1970’s plank-board flooring, and 2 layers of berber, but it may as well be miles. Our gazes are always fixed in opposite directions, into the hearts and minds of our beloved PCs, which for each of us house our employment, education, and entertainment.

I’m not complaining. I love working at home, and I love working in general. Being with AU, AUSU and The Voice has given me opportunities to do many things that I love, and my work is as enjoyable to me as many entertainment options.

The problem with this 24/7 keep-busy schedule is that when holidays come around, I’m not really prepared to take the time off to get everything done. Most students have time off around Christmas, but for me, taking several days off just feels weird. I’m going to have to, though. I have gifts to wrap, things to buy, and a dinner for six to plan. So I’ve decided to schedule some time off for domestic stuff, over the next week, and in the coming year, I hope to find some strategies for working at home, but keeping work separate from the rest of life. I don’t like how I feel guilty if I spend a day without doing any work.

Home offices are becoming the norm, and I bet that I’m not the only one who’s having a hard time distinguishing work from life, and it is something I’m going to start researching. I’m sure many other distance education (DE) students have similar issues, and I look forward to sharing with you some of the strategies I learn for scheduling work and school without regular classes, hours of work, semesters, holidays, or a boss looking over the shoulder.

I hope our readers also take some time off to enjoy Christmas this year. Cherish the holidays if you are with family, because you never know when you will see them again. This will be my first Christmas since my mother died, and my father has come from Quebec to be with us for the first time in 6 years. Who knows where we will all be next year? I, for one, am taking nothing for granted any more.

My wisdom for the year: Anything can happen, everything will change, and the perfect time to make a change will never come along. Those who wait for a better time will wait forever.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Tamra lives in Calgary with her husband and two cats. A fulltime AU student, she splits her free time between her duties as an AUSU councillor, writing her first novel, and editing written work by other students and friends.