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Learning should be considered a lifelong endeavor: Susannah Gal

Posted 6/6/18

May and June are the times for graduations from high school or from college. This is a major milestone in one’s life that should be celebrated with parties and specially planned trips or …

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Learning should be considered a lifelong endeavor: Susannah Gal


May and June are the times for graduations from high school or from college. This is a major milestone in one’s life that should be celebrated with parties and specially planned trips or gifts.

Graduation, though, should not be seen as the end of one’s education. I have found I’m a very curious person, looking for opportunities to gain understanding and an appreciation for lots of different things in this amazing world.

For instance, during a recent trip, I attended lectures on flower arranging where I learned about cutting blooms of different types and what to put in water to make them last longer.

I saw movies created by the BBC Planet Earth series and learned about the animals they photographed, such as a snow leopard, and also how the photographers had to find the animals and the best vantage points to watch them.

I’ve also been fortunate to learn different types of dancing. During a time in Binghamton, New York, my older daughter and I joined an Irish dance group that learned different types of Irish folk dances to perform for various festivals and organizations in the area. That was wonderful exercise and an opportunity for my daughter and me to have a common bond and activity together.

I also took lessons when we lived in Switzerland, learning to play the baroque recorder. This allowed me to play with my husband in various churches around the world including in Hungary and in Switzerland, as well as at the old St. Peter’s Kierch here in Middletown, for the historic home tour in December 2017. I am still able to keep up that musical training, which allows me to enjoy an activity with my husband.

In Binghamton, I was also able to start learning another language, Italian. One of our friends, a professor of English and Medieval Studies, and her Italian husband wanted their son (then about 8 years old) to learn better Italian.

They set up a Sunday afternoon “class” for him, and I joined, with my younger daughter (who was about 10 at the time). Well, I stuck with it despite the two kids losing interest.

I consider all of these as examples of lifelong learning, which is something I think we should all be doing to keep ourselves exploring more about the world around us, and challenging our brains all the time. It can satisfy one’s curiosity, and it provides you something interesting to talk about with others that might spark fun conversations about books to read, movies to see or other things.

For me, the biggest reason to continue on this path is because it makes life interesting.

So how can you do this? Well, with the availability of colleges in our community, there are lots of options. I was fortunate to go with my husband to Elizabethtown College when they had one of William Shakespeare’s original folios of his plays and sonnets on display in the fall of 2016. At Penn State Harrisburg, we’ve had lectures by Steven Johnson giving insight on how innovation is created, by Jon Landau, producer of the movies “Avatar” and “Titanic,” and by community activist and actress Diane Guerrero in the spring of 2017.

You could learn a new skill or trade with a local group. For example, I’ve seen advertisements for getting into the master gardener’s classes through the Penn State Extension office.

I am involved with a local quilt group that has classes for specific types of quilts that I’ve enjoyed doing with the group.

You could join one of the public speaking clubs, such as Toastmasters International, that has groups in the area. My husband has done that for a number of years and now teaches a class for Penn State Harrisburg in public speaking that is required for all students.

You could learn a new instrument or get practice singing in a choir (in fact, the Presbyterian Congregation of Middletown is looking for new members in the singing and bell choirs). Those activities have you learning new things about music all the time plus you get to interact with different people than you might normally.

I also have kept up my lifelong learning when I’ve offered to give talks for different groups on subjects about which I’m only mildly knowledgeable. This came up a few weeks ago when I offered to give a talk about Susannah and the Elders, an apocryphal story from the Bible. It was such fun to learn more about that story, the ancient language in which it was written, as well as show some of the many paintings and artistic representations of this story from the 14th century to the 1700s.

You can also be learning something for a new career or approach to one’s work. Penn State University offers a variety of online courses and trainings. Some are available through These types of courses include “how to give feedback” or “promoting your employees” or “improving your skills in ...”.

Then there are the academic courses one has access to such as introduction to statistics or how to view the stars. Some of these are also available through something called “MOOCs,” or massive open online courses on websites like Coursera and Udacity. These courses sometimes are free if you don’t want college credit and are taught by faculty from Harvard or Stanford, as well as other universities. They are completely online and have sometimes more than 100,000 students involved — hence the name.

So I encourage all of us to keep up with lifelong learning and use the time we have on Earth to explore more about our world and each other.

Susannah Gal is associate dean of research and outreach and a professor of biology at Penn State Harrisburg, and is a member of the Press & Journal Editorial Board. She has lived around the world and made Middletown her home in 2015. She can be reached at