One of the hardest things that I have found I have had to deal with as a distance-learning student is the feeling of isolation. When you attend a traditional university you are surrounded by your peers?like-minded people taking the same courses you are. I live in a small community and, while I am able to find people to discuss ideas with it, is hard to find the same sense of community; to find people to lean on when you are struggling and who can help answer some questions, or clarify some schoolwork.
I have a fantastic support system around me, and while, most of the time, I would not change a thing about my form of schooling there are days when the feeling of isolation can become crippling. What does a person do to overcome this feeling, to overpower it and move on with the course? Sometimes it takes time away and sometimes you just have to power through. I have found a sense of community within the AU Facebook group and on the AUSU student forums, though answers tend to take time, and it is just not the same as in-person interactions. I suppose this is the path we all choose when we decided to pursue our education at AU. It is likely a feeling we all get from time to time, possibly even at a traditional bricks & mortar university.
Something which I think contributes to the isolation is that friends and acquaintances sometimes do not understand why you cannot always make the time to go out. When you go away to school everyone knows you are working hard towards your degree/diploma/certificate. When you do not leave town to attend school, when you are able to do so from your home, the work you put in becomes invisible. About a year ago I quit my job to focus on my school full-time, and to help with the bookwork end of my husband’s work. Yesterday I was asked if I was keeping busy being my husband’s secretary, while the question was innocent, and not intended to be judgemental, it can be difficult not to take it that way. Though I do keep busy, it is through tending to the paperwork of the business, burying myself in my schoolwork, and looking ahead to my potential work post-graduation.
There is an inherent lack of understanding about distance education and there is a question I get frequently: You’re not done yet? The question in itself is not meant in a hurtful way, yet it demeans my work, my time, and the sacrifices I have made in order to be completing my degree. These questions can cause self-doubt and with self-doubt comes the dreaded feeling of being alone, being isolated. In order to move beyond the negative feelings usually means surrounding myself with people who understand, talking to my husband, my parents, or simply cutting myself some slack and just being with friends and forgetting about the entire situation.
Ultimately it does not matter if people do not understand, or question the way I am living my life; the only thing that matters is that I have the support of those around me, and that I am following my heart. Sometimes this can be a difficult concept to embody, but I feel it is a very important one. And one that is reiterated to me by those that know; those that understand; and those who are affected by my choices.
Deanna Roney is an AU student who loves adventure in life and literature