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"It's never too late!" interview with students of University of Third Age

Nowadays celebration of youth dictates that only young generation is capable of enhancing their skills and trying new hobbies. University of Third Age in my home town in Poland makes a strong argument against it and proves that there is never too late for taking up new hobbies!

Photo of Anna Pałgan
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In order to contribute in Open IDEO research for youth mentoring challenge I made a visit to University of Third Age (ioriginally: Uniwersytet Trzeciego Wieku; polish) in my home town Zielona Gora. It is an independent organization which brings together poeple 45+ years old and gives them opportunity to take up classes and attend lectures of their interest.

University came to existence in 1993. It began with 20 students; nowadays there are over 800 people on their student list. Students attend lectures/ courses of their choice as free listeners. They are not put under a pressure of assignments or exams. However lecturers keep proffessional attitude and guide students with personal tutoring upon their request. 

I had a chance to talk to two students of University of Third Age, Alexandra and Anna. Both of them not only attend the classes but also actively participate as mentors and lecturers. 

I translated and adapted questions set by Open IDEO but formal interview turned into friendly conversation within first 5 minutes. The outcome of that research are two "abstract personas" that can be treated as target audience of the final design.

Alexandra is a neatly dressed woman in her 80's. Short, brown hair contrast with her light make up and cream two piece suit. From first impression I can tell that she's very knowledgeable and up-to-date woman. 

She's always had good recognition of variety notes and musical instruments. Political system in Poland in 1960's did not allow her to join the music school although her family had always been associated with local community of musicians. Her career did not leave her much free time for hobbies. After she retired she joined University of Third Age and joined University Choir. Alexandra immediately became well known for her great piano improvisation skills! She accopanied variety performing arts societies but soon became mentor herself. "Anyone can sing, anyone should sing" was her biggest contribution to the University. From 5 participats it grew to 60 students who gathered every week in order to sing together their favourite songs. 

For her University became a great possibility to fulfill her passion for music and meet people her age who remain active. 

"Over here one can educate himself in his fields of interest when career does not reflect his passion. To me it seems that less and less people follow their vocation." says Alexandra. 


When I first talked to Anna I knew she was a true artist and romantic. Only 7 days after joining the University she started new society called "Word Becomes Alive" which gathered poetry lovers. From small group of 10 people it grew up to 70 members association. Two years later she became part of the University's Committee. She has always liked meeting new people and the University gives her such opportunity. 

"My children were afraid that I would feel lonely and bored after I retired. They couldn't be more wrong: my life became even more exciting once I got a chance to do what I want to do with no time limits"

So what are the biggest changes that the University brings into their lives? 
  • It motivates them to take care after themselves and look representative at any age. 
  • University, just like for young people, is a great way to make friendships. Unlike in normal universities they get a chance to build unformal relationship with their lecturers/mentors as both of them are in the same age group.
  • They have more topics to discuss with their children and grandchildren. University keeps them up-to-date.
  • " It's easier for our children to get rid of us and live their lives. I can't tell who's more happy about it" said Anna. She does have a point though: adults feel safe that their elderly parents are not suffering from loneliness.
  • "In general when I see people my age, not driving, without mobile phones, just sitting all days at home: I can see a significant difference. At this age if you stop learning you are not only hindered back from the reality around you: your actually GO BACK in your intellectual development! It is so important to go out, meet people, continue your journey through life! That's what this University is about." says Anna. 

Visit to University of Third Age gave me some great insight about what the older generation really needs. I am fascinated how World has changed through past two decades. From my conversation with Alexandra and Anna it seems that people who experienced it themselves find it more natural than I do! 

I asked Anna if there is anything that limits her nowadays that she thinks young people could help her with...

" Oh, definitely! Personally:  taxes, bank documents, insurrence.All these documents seem very tricky and complicated. It changed so much! I just wish that in such situations I can rely on someone else who makes sure I'm doing the right thing. And computers of course. Many people over here do not understand that nowadays lack of IT skills is equal to illiteracy..."

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Special thanks to Secretary of the Committee, Mrs. Jadwiga Korcz-Dziadosz who made such great effort to make this interview possible. 

Official website of University of Third Age (in polish)

File attached is a leaflet about Open IDEO challenge and questions asked in Polish.
 

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Photo of Pola Zawadzka

Anna, it's great to see young people are interested in voice of elder part of our society. ;) Really nice article.

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Photo of Anna Pałgan

Join the challenge! :)