From as far as California, Florida and New York they came to George Mason University last week. Some arrived in couples and some alone, but all with a common interest.

The 30 senior citizens came to relive an era of their youth, the years of the Great Depression and the New Deal, at George Mason's second Elderhostel program.

Elderhostel, which has more than 400 participating universities across the nation, is a six-year-old program which offers low-cost academic study for persons aged 60 and over. More than 36,000 senior citizens are expected to participate in this year's program nationwide, according to Donna McHugh, co-coordinator for the George Mason elderhostel program.

This year's elderhostel at George Mason focused on the great social changes and works of art produced during the years of the New Deal.

In on eclass, Frieda Feld, 65, explained her interest in the course.

" . . we've lived through the years that he's (instructor) discussing now," said Feld. "He's a young professor, and some of this is history to him. But to us, it's like something we've lived through."

Feld and her husband David, 70, came to George Mason from Lauderdale Lakes, Fla.

Retirees originally from New York, the Felds said the Great Depression "didn't really affect" them.

"I was with the Treasury Department since 1926," said David Feld. "So I was pretty well off." He served as a customs collector for the Treasury Department for 20 years, then opened a pharmaceutical business with his nephew.

Other elderhostelers said the Depression was "rough." Jobs were hard to find, but they always made it.

"We always managed to eat," said Margaret Harbatkin, 71, of New York City. "There was not a lot of money, but we always had clothes and food."

"We really suffered with clothes," recalled Lillian Hillman, 73, of Cabin John, Md., "but I made those. Maybe we weren't dressed so good, but we did have clothes."

But there were also good times. And that's what they remember the most.

"The beautiful part about those years for me was that I didn't consider them struggling," Frieda Feld said. "I didn't know any better."

"You wre young; I was young," Harbatkin said to Feld with a smile. "And foolish, maybe."

"But anyway," Frieda Feld continued, "this whole program brings to light how my parents and my older sisters and brother struggled, and how hard they worked to try to make it. There was not such thing as public assistance in those days."

This is the second elderhostel program that the Felds have participated in. "I know some friends of mine who have gone to as many as six," Frieda Feld said.

"I know that next summer I'm not going to sit around and try to amuse myself during the day," she said."I enjoy this very much. It was very stimulating."

Other elderhostlers said that as much as the courses themselves they enjoyed meeting people from across the country.

"I never met anybody from Green Bay, Wisconsin before and from another part (of the country)," said Harbatkin.

"And thinking the same way I think," she said laughing, "they voted for (John) Anderson (in the 1980 presidential election) just as I did, which is surprising."

Hillman said another good thing ut the program was the cost -- $140 per person. "That's very, very cheap," she said, shruggin her shoulders. "And meals and our room are included. We didn't even have to pay for our bus trip to Washington to the (National Museum of American Art) and to go to the ballet (Royal Ballet at the Kennedy Center), and I didn't even expect that."

Harbatkin was also pleased that her fellow classmates were so intelligent.

"The instructors tell us at the end of the session that at the beginning they really feared meeting us and didn't know how they'd get along with us," Harbatkin said. "And at the end they (instructors) said . . . in every course, 'I've learned so much from you, it's been a wonderful experience exchanging ideas.'"

Teachers for the program included two GMU instructors, Lorraine Brown and Martin Cohen. Brown lead a discussion on the topic "Uncle Sam in Show Business," a look at plays performed in American communities from 1935 to 1939. Cohen taught the class on "The New Deal Heritage: Malevolent or Benevolent?" a survey of selected New Deal policies and programs.

The other instructor, Virginia Mecklenburg, associate curator of the National Museum of American Art, taught a course called "reshaping the American Dream: the Federal Arts Projects of the 1930s."

Mecklenburg, who lives in Chevy Chase, Md., said she enjoyed working with the elderhostelers and would like to participate in the program again. "These people bring a very special viewpoint to the course on the 1930s . . . they are very intelligent and motivated people, they came (to George Mason) because they wanted to. So they are all interested."