Galway, IRELAND -- When growing up, most people often fantasize about having a career that not only makes them successful, but well known.
Being an astronaut, a firefighter or an actor are often among the first careers considered. As time goes by, however, most people end up going to college and traveling down one of life's different roads to success.
But what if the reverse were to happen? What if success and fame came before going to college? Actor Martin Sheen is experiencing just that.
Sheen, 66, has been attending the National University of Ireland in Galway, on the island-nation's west coast. Sheen has played many memorable roles -- including Captain Benjamin J. Willard in "Apocalypse Now" and President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet in "The West Wing" -- but playing the role of a college student is something completely new for him.
"As a student, right now I couldn't be happier," Sheen said in an interview on the Galway campus recently. "For the first few weeks, I was on my own. My wife, my family and my assistant weren't here. I had to look after myself. I am really enjoying being a college student and learning new things."
While working as an actor, the idea of going to college and pursuing a degree was always in the back of his mind.
"Going to college is something I had always thought about doing, especially after 'The West Wing ended," he said. "I was at a point in my life where I could continue working or do something completely different.
"When I graduated high school, I went immediately into acting and never gave a college degree a second thought."
In fact, after his high school graduation, much to the dismay of his father, Spaniard Fransisco Estevez, Sheen purposely failed his college entrance exam for the University of Dayton, Ohio, to pursue his acting career.
While attending fall semester classes in Galway, he is taking courses in philosophy, English literature, composition and ocean sciences. He said he primarily takes the courses for personal enrichment, not toward any particular degree.
Being an environmental activist and having been arrested over 65 times for participation in pro-environment demonstrations, Sheen felt taking a course in ocean sciences would allow him to have a deeper understanding of his positions.
"Besides, I might as well at least really know what I am talking about when it comes to the environment," he said.
Sheen said he chose to attend school overseas because he didn't want to be a distraction to anyone. Ireland always appealed to Sheen since his mother was Irish and he fell in love with the country while filming the movie "Da."
When walking around the NUI Galway campus, Sheen blends right in with the collegial surroundings. He can often be seen on his way to class, getting coffee in the campus coffeehouse or even playing catch football with a few students in the campus quad.
And he isn't above stopping and chatting with the occasional eager fan.
Sheen said he is getting great satisfaction out of the experience. "I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I am able to learn and understand something new. The hardest part for me was adjusting to a new lifestyle as a student. Throughout my life, I found that if I needed to solve a problem, I just went ahead and solved it, never giving it a second thought.
"Here, when I am presented with a problem in class, I have to go through a process to solve it, and show how I solved it and that I learned something.
"The biggest thing I have learned as a college student is how to learn. That has been a great source of pride and has given me such a feeling of satisfaction."
Although Sheen doesn't know what the future holds for him, he said, "Right now, I am a ship on a journey in uncharted waters. I find where I am and where I have been to be very exciting." His most recent movie, "Bobby," is currently playing around the nation.
And though he says he is on uncharted water, there is little question standing in front of the lens will always be his blackboard in life. In fact, during this semester, two movies in which he appears have opened -- "The Departed," and more recently, "Bobby" -- both getting great reviews.
"The movie industry is very different from the way it was when I got my start," he said. "Now there are more venues for people to see movies on, like the Internet. I still, and always will, view movies as an art form. They bring a lot of elements together, like music, writing and acting. Movies are universal."
And for people like Sheen, the world is a stage, and in fact a classroom.