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"It's been a life-affirming experience"

When Richard Harvey reached retirement, he wanted to challenge the expectations of what retired life could look like. So, he decided to do a degree in BA French Studies. This is his story.

Richard wearing a graduation cap, smiling

Defying expectations 

In the 1970s I started a business degree, which I never finished. Maybe I was too young, maybe I was too easily distractedwhatever the case, I left university and got a job instead. I had a successful career in Enterprise Software – doing sales, programming and marketing. As I neared retirement, I found I wasn’t that interested in gardening or just getting really into golf. I know that’s the expectation for a lot of retired people, but I didn’t want to do what was expected! I decided to have another try at getting a degree.  

Seeking out challenge 

I knew if I was going to stick at it, it had to be something that I would enjoy. But I also knew that I’m driven by structure, targets and challenge, so a weekly night class wouldn’t be enough for me. Nor would an Open University coursebecause I wanted to experience the joy and enrichment that can come from classroom exchanges with tutors and fellow students. So, I opted to do BA French Studies at Birkbeck.  

Evolving through learning 

I’m a big believer that the past doesn’t have to be the only thing that defines you, and that we should always keep striving to evolve. Doing my degree at Birkbeck reinforced that. Not only was I challenging myself day in day out by learning from academics who are world leading scholars in their fields, but I was also learning from my classmates. 

Diversity matters  

The Birkbeck student body is extraordinarily diverse, with students of all ages and backgrounds. Sometimes they’re school leavers, sometimes they’re people who want to change or further their careers, and sometimes they’re people like me, who are coming at it a bit later in life but have a thirst for knowledge and challenge. Whatever the case, it’s an incredible learning environment. Everyone has their unique take on the curriculum, informed by their own experiences. If I had done what is usually expected of retired people after stopping work, I never would have had the chance to meet the kinds of people I met at Birkbeck.  

Lifelong learning 

With my course done, new friends made, and a first-class degree to my name, I can genuinely say it’s been a life-affirming experience. I feel like I explored a part of myself I hadn’t been able to when I was younger. I’ve also, through the course, found a new interest in French philosophy! I like to spend my time reading up on various philosophers and who knows, maybe I’ll come back to Birkbeck to do a short course on it!