U3A – A Look Over the Fence
Although I still have two feet in the working world, it seemed like sensible pre-planning to find out what social options lie on the other side of the fence for my next (and not-so-distant) life chapter. And so I joined U3A.
I first heard about the rather quirky-sounding University of the Third Age from my neighbour, a fit and feisty 70-something with whom I do a 5 km walk on Sundays – which gives us a lot of time to talk! She explained that U3A is a worldwide organisation that aims to provide mature people, many retired or semi-retired, a forum for continued learning, interaction, and knowledge exchange; there are around 30 branches in South Africa. She belongs to a smaller branch and, in addition to attending some of their talks, she participates in a photographic interest group and one for birding enthusiasts.
I selected one of the bigger branches – for its proximity to work and on the assumption that bigger would mean better when it comes to monthly talks. Upon arriving to attend my first talk and seeing the busy car park, I did have fleeting second thoughts about making a solo entrance. However, in the foyer, I met a friendly lady also on her own who bought me a “welcome” coffee and chatted to me about her part-time work in education; shortly afterwards, I also bumped into a couple of Chartered clients.
Over the past few months, the topics have included conservation, personal stories, and township economics, all delivered by engaging speakers. There are also various special interest groups that one can join, which cover art, computers, writing, hiking, theatre, history, philosophy and – for the poetic at heart – even Shakespearean sonnets! That’s quite an array of options to keep the brain cells firing and meet new friends.
The annual membership fee ranges from around R80 – R200, and the various branches’ monthly talks are usually held on a Tuesday morning in a community/church hall or auditorium in the respective areas. Membership is branch-specific, but most have a nominal visitor’s charge if you want to attend a talk at a branch other than your own.
While online information about the branches and contact persons is currently sparse, an umbrella website is under construction to list all the South African U3A branches with their essential details. For now, a Google search will bring up limited results for U3A Johannesburg, Johannesburg East, Johannesburg North and Pretoria, as well as Cape Town, George, Plett, East London and Durban if you are keen to join or find out more.