Retired clinical psychologist Ilona Engel Travis is an interesting woman. But perhaps more importantly, she is an interested woman.
Spend some time talking with her about her current lifestyle and it quickly becomes apparent that the Judson Manor resident surrounds herself with pursuits that pique her interest. That’s doubly true when the conversation turns to the Medical Anthropology course she and her husband Randall, a retired medical researcher and internist, are auditing at nearby Case Western Reserve University.
The couple relocated to Judson Manor from Vermont nearly one year ago, primarily to enjoy Judson’s prime location in University Circle. “We liked the fact that we could walk to everything, including the Cleveland Museum of Art,” says Ilona. But this fall marks their first foray into the unique Judson-CWRU partnership that provides significant lifelong learning opportunities to Manor residents.
The Travises chose the Medical Anthropology course after much discussion.
“Randall and I were looking for a class we would both enjoy, and this one is it. It’s just so interesting!” declares the former mental health professional. “It is very much about topics of health and wellness, and it looks at the whole issue of illness, disease and cultural perspectives on suffering. It’s not just about looking at primitive cultures, either. It’s a great way to examine one’s own culture and become aware of the various types of disparities in access to care.”
Their status as “auditors” gets the couple out of taking tests and writing papers. But the time commitment is still significant: The 3-credit-hour class meets twice a week, for one-and-a-quarter hours per session, and Ilona estimates the reading assignments require another three to four hours weekly. “Randall enjoys the reading especially,” Ilona says, “and the subject matter gives us something to talk about and discuss from our various perspectives.”
As for their CWRU instructor, the couple have found her gracious, welcoming and quick to accommodate their needs. For instance, when Ilona and Randall initially had some trouble hearing the lectures and classroom discussion, the instructor responded by inviting them to take seats at the front of the room.
“She’s been very helpful. That’s made the experience so much better for both my husband and me,” Ilona says.
And here’s another advantage to the Judson-CWRU partnership: “As Judson Manor residents, there is no cost for the course!” Ilona marvels.
Beyond the mere course content, Ilona and Randall also appreciate the opportunity to mingle with a different generation. “This is a chance to get out of our home and mix with younger people,” Ilona says. “It’s interesting” (there’s that word again) “to hear what they are thinking; and I understand that instructors appreciate having seniors’ input on class discussions as well. We’ve always enjoyed that interaction between generations, and we hope to be able to recapture it in this program.”
As for the mental exercise provided by the coursework, Ilona’s rigorous professional training makes her cautious about claiming unproven benefits. But she is hopeful. “Is the intellectual challenge useful? We think so, or we wouldn’t be doing this. It is certainly important to keep your brain active. Being interested in things is good for you. Always.”
But at its core, Ilona says, the decision to engage in lifelong learning is all about quality of life. “If you are an intellectual person, someone who enjoys intellectual challenges, courses like this keep you interested — and hopefully they have some other good effects too. I say, go for it! It’s just so wonderful to be able to learn something new.”
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