What Was It Like Being Back In School After 12 Years?

Buying shoes online or studying? 😀 Photo Cred: Gabriela Oviedo

Today’s post is going to be a little different than some of the posts you’ve read here.  For those who are visiting this site for the first time…Welcome!  I am going to recap my decision to go back to school, the factors that triggered it, my experiences being back in a classroom and what’s next on my plate.

Why I Went Back

In the spring of 2016, I was in the final stages of securing a new job with an emerging tech company.   At this time, I was back again working in the dairy industry, unchallenged and unmotivated.  I returned there after being laid off from a digital marketing company.  While I was very keen in getting back into the digital world, my gut instinct was telling me to hold off.  The title role was a client success specialist and I just felt like I wanted something more specific.  If you have ever been in a position where you took a job just for the money and you knew you’d still be unhappy – well that was where my head space was at.

For those who know me, I am willing to put the work in and bust my tail off if I believe in whatever the concept/idea/value is.   So in between interviews, I started Googling the idea of upgrading my education, to strengthen my resume as well.  My position was if I was going to make a commitment and go back to school, it had to be something that would fit my schedule, that had an interesting curriculum and that I would genuinely enjoy.

After a series of e-mails exchanged with one of the program coordinators at Seneca College, I decided now was the time to make the leap.  On April 22, 2016, I contacted the employer who offered me the client success specialist position and declined.  I now made the commitment to enroll in a one year, post grad certificate in social media, the first of its kind offered in the GTA.

College vs. University

The thought of being back in a classroom after a 12-year absence was going to be interesting.  Some of the questions I asked myself was, could I handle this?  Could I keep up with the other students?  Would I be the oldest fart in the room?  It was an intense, eight month course load that covered all aspects of social media and digital marketing.  After the first six weeks into the semester, I settled in pretty nicely and felt confident that I would be able to complete this program.

Looking back on my time in York University, I felt a four-year program was too long.  You would have theatre size classes that would fit as large as 500 students, yet you would only know maybe 25-30 of them in your tutorial classes.   What I liked about college was that we were the same 20-25 person class for the entire calendar year.

In university, almost all of the teachings were theoretical, which in my own theory is useless because you need practical knowledge in the real working world.  Thanks to Google, Wikipedia and so on, you can search for that theoretical information at any time and educate yourself.

Having the opportunity to work in group projects and do presentations in college was also very refreshing.  I welcomed that with open arms because university didn’t provide much opportunities in that aspect.  In addition, while assignments were submitted in printed paper at York, for this program they were all submitted online.

I remember back in the day, maybe one or two students in the room had a laptop.  That was considered luxury.  Taking notes on a paper pad was the norm.  Today, everyone in the class is equipped with some sort of technology whether it be a laptop, tablet or even a smartphone.

#SenecaSoMe aka SMD
#SenecaSoMe aka SMD

My Classmates

Getting to know my fellow students throughout the school year was a humbling experience.  Initially I thought I would have a lot of locals in the class.  The scenarios I envisioned would be similar as mines, people looking to add another certification to their resume and get out of school as soon as possible.

To my surprise, almost the entire class were international students, who traveled far and abroad from all over the world.  I had classmates who came from countries such as Russia, Brazil, India, Dubai, Belgium, Mauritius, Venezuela, Mexico, Ukraine and China.

So, on my first day of school after all the student introductions, I found myself sitting in an eclectic class, full of diversity and multiculturalism.   Many of them had accents, but their English was on point, it was phenomenal.  I know when I studied French as a kid, my francophone speaking capabilities sounded extremely broken!  It goes to show you how well English as a second language is taught overseas…kudos to the school systems over there.

I enjoyed the comradery of meeting new friends and understanding their reasons for coming to Canada to study.   It took me over five months to clue in as to why I had so many international students in my program.  Why were they taking back-to-back post grad programs from other local colleges?

The underlying reason that they did it was for a requirement to achieve their Canadian citizenship, which is a lengthy process.  The government welcomes people from all over the world for their knowledge and skill sets.  However, it comes at a steep price.  What was alarming to find out was their tuition fees were almost twice the cost versus a local student.   In addition, international students are only permitted to work 20 hours a week during the school year, which makes the financial struggle real.

I have the utmost respect for my colleagues.  They have made a lot of sacrifices to leave their respective families and travel thousands of miles in pursuit of better opportunities here.  Ultimately, they made the school year memorable for me.  We shared a lot of laughs throughout the two semesters.  To whoever of my classmates are reading this, including the ones who couldn’t finish the program, I got nothing but love for all of you!

Swag levels too high to dress up for Convocation
Swag levels were too high to dress up for Convocation

Undercover Brother

The main reason for this blog post was to write and summarize my experiences from the past 10 months.  I wanted to keep it a secret until now that I was attending school.  It wasn’t that I was embarrassed to go back…it’s just that we live in a society where everyone knows your business – if you broadcast it.  I wanted to have fun with this and see how long I could go without someone finding out why I was preoccupied at times.

What also would really suck was if I had went on Facebook and told everyone I was doing this and I didn’t even pass the program lol!  So, for many of my close friends reading this blog post, you are probably finding out about this news for the first time 😀.

Part of the program requirements were the use of social media accounts to submit assignments.   When my friends asked why I made professional accounts under my government name, I positioned it as “work” related reasons.  To stay committed to this secret, I refrained regularly from liking, commenting or approving any tagged images of my classmates’ posts to stay in the dark.

On Friday nights when I took too long to get dressed and head out for the night, my friends thought I was just procrastinating on “Filipino Time.”  The truth is that I was actually working on assignments and submitting them just before the 10pm deadline.  I continued to lead a regular life and if there were times I was out until 4am, I still made it to class by 8am while graduating with honours.

Aside from management at my day job, only one co-worker knew about my return to school.  The rest were clueless, while a few questioned why my work schedule was altered and different than theirs.  I jokingly shrugged it off and told them I was “connected” 😀.  Even my own brother didn’t know I was back in school until I asked him less than a month ago if he could attend my graduation ceremony lol.

All in all, I was more than satisfied about how this “undercover brother” operation played out.  Just in general, keeping a secret in 2017 is not easy when there are so many clues available on the web that people can piece together.  At the end of the day this is not some big news story, but going back to school was something on my bucket list I had thought about for years.  I didn’t like everything about university life.  I didn’t feel like I got the full investment out of it.  And by senior year, I was burnt out and ready to leave.

With this experience in college, I feel like I could have probably extended my stay another half semester because it was that enjoyable.  Sometimes being stuck in a bubble and having the same routine in life bores the shit out of you.  Doing this program full time while working full time, kept me busy and challenged me.   I needed that at this point in my life and I’m thankful to have achieved it.

Tweet from the Program Chair of Marketing at an off site presentation

My opinion on Social Media

So, what does a guy who used to run a website have to say about social media?  Obviously I’m for it, but my gripe is for those who are using it incorrectly…don’t over kill it.  Learn how to use the platforms properly.  Do not alienate your audience.  Keep them informed and entertained.  Not everyone needs to know that you ate a bagel for breakfast on all of your Facebook/Instagram/Snapchat/Twitter accounts at the same time.  Instead, choose one of them and make sure it vanishes within 24 hours in the stories mode.

The thing with social media is that you are creating your own content, you are documenting your life.  Keep your viewers/followers engaged by posting something that has relevance to who you are as a personality.  It really comes down to the simplicity of quality over quantity.   You probably know a friend or two who posts their whole life on there – and let’s face it…their life is not always that interesting.   Instead schedule your posts properly, wait for the best time to share your content and reach the largest viewership possible.

As for this social media program that I just finished, I highly recommend it.   The curriculum discusses the use of social for personal and professional use through a variety of well balanced subject courses.  You are learning various aspects of digital marketing.  Some stuff you may already know, but overall there is a lot of insightful strategy and tactics being taught that is helpful in the working world.

I will say the Search Engine Strategies course needs a little work, some concepts require a slower taught, in-depth explanation.   An 84 page slideshow taught in 60 minutes is an information overload nightmare.  There is a lot of group work involved and it can test your patience when it comes to working with others.

Individual work ethic will be questioned and creative differences will occur, be prepared for that!  If you are on your smartphone regularly, like to stay on top of rising trends in digital, then #SenecaSoMe (SoMe is short for Social Media) is the program to be a part of.

All of the professors come from successful digital working environments, sharing their knowledge and experiences with the class.  Collectively, they too helped shape the enjoyment of the program.  What you learn from this program is that at the end of the day, yes social media is fun and what not.  But the reality is that there is a science to it.  It can be measured, tracked, analyzed and optimized.  Yes, it is a communication tool to reach others, but it is also a powerful medium that can be monetized.

Technology as we know it, continues to change with new platforms on the horizon.  It is an exciting time to be connected and be a part of the digital landscape.

#SenecaSoMe Capstone Project 2017
#SenecaSoMe Capstone Project 2017

What’s Next?

It’s been over two months since the program concluded and I’m happy to announce that I was recently hired by Seneca College.  In my new role as Digital Media Specialist, I will help strategize and grow their social presence for their business school division.

A lot of their programs in the business sector don’t necessarily get the recognition or the proper spotlight.  There are success stories to be told, notable events from the school calendar from many disciplines that need the shine.  This is where I step in and help build this from the ground up, carte blanche.  I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to piecing everything together.

Thank You’s

I’d just like to briefly mention a few thank you notes to the following people who helped me out during the school year: To my old co-worker Justin Harwood, thanks for the Chapters discount for the Gary Vaynerchuk book that I needed for one of my courses.  You know I hate paying full price for anything!  To Mark Filippelli, thanks for assisting with your video editing skills.  Your expertise is second to none!

To my brother Mark, thanks for gifting me a Lenovo laptop last Christmas.  I was wondering why you ignored my laptop suggestions in the fall lol.  After seeing my birthday post for you on Facebook, my program coordinator actually requested for you to come in and speak to the class on Virtual Reality but I was in full mode protecting my “undercover brother” operation 😀.  And to Geoff Lew at Marquee Media, thanks for the social media manager field placement, it was a great experience!

Lapasa Family
Thanks to my family for coming out to my graduation!

End Point

Overall, my experience going back to school was a great one.  If you are currently in a professional rut and you are looking to make change, make it happen.  If you have the time and resources to pursue something that interests you, go for it.  Invest in yourself.

Turning the job offer down from that emerging tech company was risky, but I knew it was the right decision for me.  Sometimes in life, you have to take one step back to go two steps forward.  I am excited to get back on track, pursuing digital marketing again.   Eventually I want to contribute on a larger platform and I am working towards that.

None of this wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t send out those initial e-mail exchanges with the program coordinator about Seneca’s social media program.  And to think it’s funny how for the entire school year I was submitting assignments to him, as he was also one of my professors.  Fast forward one year later, I am now on work e-mails alongside him, sharing insights with the rest of the department!

SMD Photo Gallery

BONUS: The Top 5 Carpooling Songs 2016/2017

Here are my favourite tracks to drive to school with and be stuck in traffic for an hour, with my classmate and shotgun rider Ferrol Jeromy.  I cultured him on real hip-hop and made him listen to these and study them hundreds of times!!