There comes a time in many people’s lives when they feel that they may have missed out on their true vocation. Maybe we feel that we should have pursued our particular goal or career, and yet once we reach 50, we inevitably believe that the chance has passed us by.
However, there is still time to achieve the things we postponed because our previous daily routines forbade them - as many expatriates on the Costa del Sol have realised.
The University of the Third Age in Spain (U3A) is a non-profit making organisation that focuses on the interests and requirements of English-speaking people.
The U3A offers a broad range of courses, activity groups and lectures for mature people and its aim is the promotion of learning for enjoyment.
The classes are informal and can be used to aid in one’s daily life, provide a hobby, or just for fun and exercise.
The third-age organisation is a self-help group and the leaders are volunteers who share their interests and expertise with others.
Membership is not related to a specific age, but to a period in one’s life - the third age - after the second age of full-time employment and parental responsibility.
Groups offer the chance to study many different subjects, including astronomy, photography, art, poetry, and Spanish language.
No qualifications are required and there are no assessments or qualifications to be gained; just the satisfaction of furthering one’s education during retirement.
In this area U3A branches are found in Marbella, Fuengirola and in the Axarquía region east of Malaga, and their courses generally run from September to May, with a break for Christmas in December.
The Costa del Sol U3A was established in Marbella in 1997 and today has a membership of approximately 700.
However, while the organisation adheres essentially to the principles of U3A, the branches on the Costa del Sol remain entirely autonomous.
In January 1998, an off-shoot was started in Fuengirola, but when their combined membership reached a total of more than 400 members in 2003, steps were taken to separate the two in order to facilitate the administration.
The Marbella and Fuengirola branches have been operating independently ever since.
There are currently 300 members, representing 27 nationalities, in Fuengirola, and the branches in Marbella and Axarquia also have a broad sphere of nationalities.
The U3A in Fuengirola offers 30 courses on topics such as music, drama, history, philosophy and geology, and members have access to a small library of books covering varying subjects.
The organisation is a private concern without public funding, so they rely on self-sufficiency.
Geoff Cooke, president of the U3A in Fuengirola told SUR in English, “We have been fortunate to be able to hold our courses and lectures in the premises of Lux Mundi and the Ark Christian Fellowship in exchange for a modest donation.”
“Our annual membership fee [30 euros] covers this and our administrative costs, while the courses are done by members on a voluntary bases,” Geoff explained.
In addition to the courses, U3A in Fuengirola organises lectures, given by members or external speakers. They also go on cultural visits within Spain and have a regular Malaga museum visit, where members can spend the day at a chosen art gallery.
“Everyone has the opportunity to meet like-minded people during our activities and it proves to be a popular social gathering, as well as an educational one,” Geoff continued.
One of the most popular courses is the modern jive classes that take place in the Manila Café in Los Boliches every Thursday afternoon.
Helen and Richard Brampton, who have recently moved to the coast, said they had heard about the U3A in Fuengirola by word of mouth.
“We have recently retired and settled in Fuengirola and we didn’t know anyone when we arrived, so when we heard about the U3A, we thought we would come along to the jive class, as we both like dancing,” Helen said.
Alan Campbell, treasurer of the Fuengirola branch, who joined the organisation one year ago, explained how the U3A is a good place to meet like-minded people.
“We had only just moved to Spain when we became members of the U3A and it proved to be a great way for my wife and I to meet new friends,” Alan, a former accountant, said.
The club loses around 20 per cent of its members each year, due to varying reasons, so they are always looking for new members, especially those who wish to share their knowledge and skills.
The U3A in Fuengirola aims to integrate the English-speaking community into the Spanish society by introducing several new courses.
“We are adding new courses, especially Spanish courses. I think the new sevillana dance classes will prove extremely popular,” Geoff says with a hint of confidence.