Meeting across the generation gap

There’s an age difference of 60 years between Björne Erixon and Karin Blezell, but they have a lot in common in the way they think. Most importantly – they are both students at Linköping University.

“I try to avoid giving young people the impression that everything was better in the old days. It wasn’t always better, but it certainly was different,” says Björne.

At the age of 77 he is the oldest student registered at LiU in the autumn term of 2017, and he’s far from a beginner when it comes to studying. Through the years he has read theology at Uppsala University, trained to be a teacher at Stockholm University, and taken freestanding courses at Linköping University. Now he’s taking a course in church history.

“I take each day as it comes, but I want to keep on studying and contemplating, as long as I can. At the same time, I want to be able to realise when it’s time to stop,” he laughs, “otherwise it might become a bit embarrassing.”

I meet Björne together with Karin Blezell, who was 17 years old when she started her university career earlier in the autumn. We discuss how important it is to communicate across generations, and the advantages of having students at the university with a wide range of ages.

“It’s just amazing that there are courses for everybody, and it’s possible to study, no matter how old you are,” says Karin.

“It’s great for me to take freestanding courses, to keep my brain active and meet and discuss with people who take a different view,” Björne adds.

Many youngsters are fed up with school when they finish upper secondary and long to take a gap year, to travel around the world or tick off a few things on their bucket list. Not so Karin, who chose to jump straight into the programme in chemical analysis at Linköping University.

“I’ve lived abroad so much that I don’t need to travel the world – I’ve already done it. When I had the chance to start studying immediately, I jumped at it. And I wanted to move back to Sweden to experience life as a student to the full.”

Karin and her family moved to France when she was 11 years old, and moved to the Netherlands three years after that. After one year there, they moved to Belgium. It was here that she took the 2-year international baccalaureate programme (IB), which corresponds to Swedish upper secondary education.

“Since I was only 17 when I started university, my family were a bit worried that I wouldn’t be able to cope with it. But, they’re just happy that I get to study what really interests me.”

Karin and Björne agree that that the opportunity to meet across the generations brings strength to the academic world.

“It’s important to respect every individual deeply. I’m a bit older, but I have to realise that I also carry baggage from my past, good and bad. Everyone is a child of their time, and we all have important experiences that we can share,” says Björne.

Karin hasn’t experienced any disadvantages from being the youngest among her coursemates.

“I don’t feel that I am youngest, but the group does sometimes treat me like that. But that’s fine by me. Everyone has been really kind and looked after me right from the start.”

Björne, however, does sometimes feel that he’s older.

“The youngsters have a completely different nearness to what’s going on, while I tend to regard things in a more historical way. The biggest differences are probably when it comes to popular culture – I can’t really keep up. The way I study also differs from when I was younger. Back then, I just wanted to tick courses off as I put each one behind me. Now I spend more time reflecting about what I’ve learnt. What’s positive is that I’m no longer under any pressure. I’m not here to beef up my CV, and I can just enjoy myself.”

“Well, I certainly do feel under pressure,” Karin points out. “Obviously, I want to be successful and perform as well as I can, but the pressure I’m under comes solely from myself. I have already decided to continue to a master’s programme and work in environmental science, because that’s what I’m most interested in.”

So does the old man of study have any tips and advice for the youngster?

“I think it’s important to be yourself. Reality is difficult and exciting, and there’s a lot to think about. But it’s important to find yourself and a community to be in. And to realise that knowledge brings humility. The more you know, the more you realise how little you know,” he concludes.