"The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."
If those words, attributed to Saint Augustine, are true, Tara Carpenter is very well read.
Although she's now settled in Scotland in Brant County, and studying at Fanshawe College in Simcoe, Tara spent about 15 years consumed by wanderlust. She travelled to Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia, and all over Europe and North America.
"For me, life is about experiences. When I travelled, I learned things I hadn't expected -- about religion, food, culture."
After Tara had her daughter she returned to Scotland to be close to family.
"When my daughter started kindergarten, I could either go get a minimum wage job I had no passion for or go back to school. But I didn't think I could go to school because I had been away so long."
The last time Tara, 41, had been in a classroom was the early '90s when she graduated from a fashion arts program at Humber College.
Tara, a single parent, had been living on Ontario Works when she found a program that resonated with her -- the Adventure Expedition and Interpretive Leadership course at Fanshawe.
"My real passion is getting children outdoors," she said. "It benefits them and the environment."
Funding from Second Career, an Ontario government program that helps laid off workers find employment by providing money for tuition and other expenses in order to return to school, allowed Tara to get back to the classroom.
"I'd never have been able to afford it without the Second Career funding."
While Tara said she loves her post-secondary program now, it was at first very challenging being a mature student amongst mostly teenaged classmates.
"The first week I almost quit. It was so overwhelming. I realized I had to get organized and tackle things in steps."
Tara's success in the program has exceeded her expectations. She received an award that recognizes a first-year student who demonstrates academic achievement, leadership skills and a passion for environmental stewardship.
Tara is an inspiration to others looking to return to school to reach a career goal, said Tracey McIntyre of Fanshawe College's Simcoe campus who nominated Tara as an Education Champion.
"Even as a single mother, mature student and with a low income, she has taken steps in making her life goals and career dreams come true. It only takes the first step of applying to school and then going from there. There are so many resources out there in the community to help."
"You're never too old go back to school," adds Tara.