Every morning, Cao Nhat Linh gets ready for class at the Dong Do University in Hanoi, a 35-minute bicycle ride away.
He changes his clothes, wears his sandals, picks up his bag and leaves his house in the capital city’s Bac Tu Liem District.
It takes Linh 35 minutes to cover the 3-kilometer distance to get to the university. On rainy days, he has to use all his energy to pedal faster and get to class on time.
“I struggle most in traffic jams. My children offer to help, but I want to go on my own,” Linh said.
To say that the 85-year-old has a passion for learning would be a massive understatement.
Linh lives in a 30 square meter room in which books are scattered all over the place. Some law books lie on a panel, where he studies every night. The books are full of bookmarks and notes of his reflection on reading or some date records.
“Last year I studied four law courses. I found the Law of Marriage and Family very great, I have read it many times. I am also very fond of international law,” said the sophomore law student.
Due to poor eyesight, Linh mainly listens to the lectures during school hours and synthesizes the knowledge in his notebook. He prioritizes self-studies, so he reads book every night.
His old age does pose academic challenges for Linh as he takes two new courses this year: Writing legal documents and English.
At 85, Linh has never touched a keyboard, nor used a smart phone, so it is not easy for him to type.
Linh is behind in English compared to his young classmates, but it does not bother him much.
“I learned English in teenage years. I did not use it for 65 years, so I forgot everything,” he said, smiling. “My peers have the chance to learn it at a very young age; I cannot keep up with them.”
Linh has nurtured a burning desire to get a bachelors degree since 1934.
When he was young, Linh went to school, learned some English and French. Given the struggles that the country went through for most the 20th century, he got involved in work and got married.
“I always had this learning desire in me. In 1968, I got a high school diploma despite a lot of hardship,” said Linh, showing the diploma he has kept carefully for 50 years. Even as he struggled with poverty, the young man kept up his reading habit. The old house is full of books and poem collections.
The love for poems has also urged Linh to pursue tertiary education. Joining a poem club with many college graduates, he was motivated further.
In 2014, Linh signed up for a journalism course, and received a completion certificate. A year later, he took the entrance examination for the Hanoi University of Law, but failed.
Never giving up, Linh was finally admitted to the Law department of Dong Do University with a 50 percent tuition fee exemption.
In the beginning, Linh kept all his academic attempts a secret from his family, but once they got wind of it, they have supported him.
Since he started school, Linh began getting up at 2 a.m to read, so his wife, Dong, could not sleep.
While people worry about Linh’s health, Dong does not discourage him. “I can only take care of his meals after school, and I have to support him mentally, too,” she said.
Linh’s youngest daughter, Hai Duong, 45, said: “We all know that my father has a strong desire to learn, and we all support him. He sets the example for us.”
Having undergone stomach surgery recently, Linh cannot eat or sleep much. He hopes to remain healthy and receive his university degree in 2021.
Nguyen Thanh Hai, a lecturer at the Dong Do University, said that Linh was very hardworking, and he always got to school early. For two years, he was only absent for two sessions because of his poetry club schedule.
“We want to call him ‘uncle’, but he insists on calling us ‘teachers’,” Hai said. “He excels mainly in subjects that involve writing.”
Vu An, the monitor of Linh’s class, said: “At first, we were very surprised at his presence, then we got used to it.
“Thanks to him, the musical activities of the class are always exciting.”