From South Africa to Everett: Going Back to School


Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Composition notebook and pencils.

Going back to college as an older adult is not the easiest choice, but 55-year-old Everett Community College Student Alistair Blair thrives from learning.

Blair is nearly done with his Associate’s degree, a Direct Transfer in Accounting, and is set to graduate by the end of the Spring 2021 Quarter. Although he is just graduating from EvCC, he already has an Economics degree from the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

University of Cape Town where Blair earned his first degree. (Wikimedia Commons.)

Blair has always been interested in learning new things. Throughout his life, he has had the mindset of when boredom sets in he must seek new knowledge. Returning to college would help him fulfill that thirst. 

In 2017 he was on a contract for his work at Everett Housing Authority and decided to make the jump back in at EvCC. He intended on getting through quickly and did not want to spend a lot of money. He initially started taking classes to brush up on his African degree so that it would translate with the same accreditation as an American one, but he was pushed by EvCC Accounting Instructor Bill Reed to do all the schooling to get an American degree.

Scheduling work and school didn’t mix very well for him. He does Housing Urban Development, HUD, for Everett Housing Authority and works during the day. Blair said going back to school, “is not designed for people with this profile.” 

During his time doing in-person classes, he would jet to the campus during work, rush to find parking, go to class and head back to work. It was difficult for him to do group work and find time to go to the library when it was open. Office hours to meet with instructors were also a barrier for him because they usually were the same hours he was at work. 

That wasn’t the hardest part of going back to school for him. The administration work from admissions and getting all the information he needed for the classes he was supposed to take proved to be a challenge as well. “As an older person going back to being educated,” Blair stated, “ I don’t think [EvCC] could have made it any more difficult. If I wasn’t as tenacious as I was I probably would have given up really early on. It was horrible.”  

Blair found it quite difficult to get the help he needed at EvCC. (Courtesy photo from Alistair Blair.)

During his time at EvCC, he said there were no programs or support groups for older students to reach out to get the help they needed. Even with adversity he stayed focused and was able to find a balance to power through and get to the finish line.

Although he is in his fifties, Blair still always tries to stay busy and is quite the entrepreneur. Blair has started two of his own companies. When he moved to the states in 2003 with his wife he couldn’t land a job because he was an immigrant and his degree wasn’t useful. He was able to use the knowledge he had and the connections he maintained in Africa to start, Health & Safari. 

Through Health & Safari, Americans booked medical procedures, mostly dental, with world-class specialists in Africa. His team would send them out there for the procedure, add on top-notch hotels, safaris and other hospitality-related accommodations for a comparable price of what the procedure would cost in the states by itself. Blair is currently working in Lynnwood working for HUD, looking over more than 175 apartments for low-income seniors.

Now, as he awaits graduation going through his last zoom class like many other students, he is open to the idea of getting his Master of Business Administration or even looking at a career in project management. Whatever he chooses, he is glad he has invested in this chapter with his own money, and if it doesn’t work out at least he did it. “That’s what life is. You’ve got to take your chances. Sometimes you drop a few bucks on a bad idea and sometimes, you know, the idea pays off.”