Grandfather, 81, becomes Europe’s oldest study abroad student

Maria Sergeeva
February 20, 2018

After surviving a heart attack, Miguel Castillo understood the real value of every moment of life and  decided to fulfill his dream to study abroad. Now the student packs his bags for and promises to try to party like the youngsters.

Miguel is a retired notary public with a wife, three daughters and six grandchildren. He might have been an ordinary grandpa but for one point. Miguel Castillo is also a history student at the University of Valencia, and next week he will begin his semester abroad in Verona which will make him the oldest Erasmus student (a study abroad “exchange” for Europeans).

Smiling and open-minded he soon became sort of a celebrity at the Valencia University History School. Professors on their way to class stop to greet him. And fellow students congratulate him for having won an Erasmus scholarship to go study in Verona, Italy.

After suffering a heart attack and getting a quadruple bypass he decided to change his life and stop putting his plans on a waiting list. It is never too late to be happy.

“Shortly after recovering, I told myself: ‘I would like to do something other than the classic napping.’ I had always had an interest in history. I am interested in all of it, but especially contemporary history,” he says.

A fellow student who is also retired sees him in the hallway and asks: “How did you get up the nerve to do this? I thought about it too, but you know why I didn’t? Because I was embarrassed to go to the student affairs office to ask.”

But Castillo understood the secret of happiness: not to be afraid of what others have to say.

He applied for the grant, which lets recipients take courses in another European university on the same basis as other students who are typically about 25 years old and won it. Contrary to the fellow retire? student’s fears he feels welcome.

Castillo said he chose Verona after visiting the city 42 year ago to see Maria Callas perform.

Now, Castillo considers himself just another regular student. He goes to class, exchanges notes with his classmates, asks for help, and offers help when required. “I feel welcome, age is not a problem,” he underlines.

He has been getting passing grades in nearly all his courses. “Not all though, because my age and my family duties don’t let me follow the regular pace,” he confesses. And by duties, he means taking care of his grandchildren.

The octogenarian is aware that the Erasmus grant is known to students as much for the parties as for the study program, and he jokes about it:

 “I will attempt, insofar as my own limitations allow me, to follow in the footsteps of those who came before me. But keep in mind that my wife will be there with me, and we will be living in an apartment. Attending the school dorm pajama party would be a little odd at our age.”

Castillo hopes his experience can encourage other retirees to start living their life just as they always dreamed.

 “Don’t lock yourself up at home, open up to the world, because we can contribute so much and can also receive a lot from society,” he said.

By the way, Castillo is not the only octogenarian studying abroad. He is only one year older than another retired Italian woman named Ruth, aged 80, who has already embarked on a study abroad program in Hawaii through EF Tours.