Saturday, May 22, 2010

The next hemisphere

This morning I opened a new e-mail account. This new address, unlike the six I already have, ends in .edu.

That´s right: Come August, I will be back-to-school shopping. Fortunately, this process will not involve replacing last year´s cracked protractor or begging my mom to let me shorten my uniform skirt. Instead, it will involve making the necessary preparations for my big move to...drumroll, please...NEW YORK CITY!

While I don´t want to be too specific right now about what and where I´ll be studying, I can say that I´ll be enrolling in an MA/PhD program in a humanities field. I´m kinda sorta THRILLED -- and more than kinda sorta terrified. More than anything, though, I´m just a bit shocked that it all worked out.

About a year and a half ago, my brain started to itch. It´s not that there´s not plenty here to keep it on its toes -- just finding the @ symbol on a keyboard here is a task worthy of Einstein -- but I found myself missing the academic world. Shortly thereafter, I enrolled in a two-semester gender studies program at a Chilean university. The diploma not only gave me the opportunity to explore issues I´d been interested in for a long time but also served to confirm my inkling that it was time to go back to school. I found I was delighted to sit up in bed reading, roam the world with highlighter stains on my fingers and, perhaps most of all, begin to reclaim the academic Spanish that I felt had been evaporating since I graduated from college. I realized it was all definitely something I could get used to again.

When I began researching academic programs in my area of interest, I was daunted to learn that most of them -- and nearly the only ones that offer financial aid -- are joint master´s and doctoral programs that generally take a minimum of five years to complete. I was confident that my college grades and post-graduate experience would have given me a decent shot at being accepted into an M.A. program, but a doctorate? That´s what experts get, I thought. That´s what people with years and years of work experience get. I, on the other hand, am a recent grad working quaint jobs and having adventures in South America. I knew a Ph.D. would almost certainly be in my future if I chose to pursue the career path that interests me; I just never expected it to be so soon. I didn´t feel worthy yet.

But, after receiving encouragement from some of my former professors, I decided to give it a go. I chose to apply to universities in the States both because that´s where some of the strongest programs in my field are and because I didn´t feel I could commit to another five years (the approximate total amount of time I've been living abroad) so far away from my family and U.S. friends.

The application process was surreal because I felt so removed from it all. While applying to undergrad, I met regularly with my high school's college counselor, attended information sessions, read SAT prep books and went on campus tours. I felt that the information I needed was readily available to me and that I had at least some degree of control over my fate. This time around, though, I was applying alone to schools I'd never visited -- and that were thousands of miles away. Even though I was able to research programs and faculty online and at Chilean libraries, the physical distance involved made me feel like I was sending applications to Oz or the North Pole: Were these places I was dreaming about actually real? Plus, although I received wonderful advice and support from many people, including the professors who wrote my recommendations and gave me feedback on my personal statement, I had the impression of being a lot more on my own than I was when applying to undergrad; there wasn't an entire institutional structure designed to make sure I succeeded.

After I'd sent in all my applications (thank goodness for online apps!), I began mentally preparing myself for what I thought was a very real possibility: not getting in anywhere. I tend to be pretty hard on myself and don't deal especially well with failure, so I figured I should start the emotional beef-up early.

Rather unbelievably, none of this was necessary. When I got my first acceptance e-mail, I whooped and did a celebratory dance around my kitchen. In the end, I went three for four on my applications and was faced with the very difficult (albeit extremely fortunate) task of making a decision. Since I'd only applied to programs I really liked, this caused me no small amount of anguish. It had been easier when all the decisions had been in the admissions committees' hands.

My decision was tough, but I'm happy with it. I'll be part of a wonderful department and be living in one of the most exciting cities on earth. What's more, I'll get to live with my awesome sister, who will be a grad student at another NYC university.

Of course, I'll be very sad to leave Chile. However, I think the fact that I'll be moving on to something new in a dynamic new environment will make it easier. When I left Chile after finishing my year abroad, I was devastated and sank into something of a funk. Looking back, I think this was because I was abandoning a place where everything was new and exciting -- and where I'd changed a lot -- and returning somewhere (college) that I felt didn't hold as many surprises and opportunities for non-academic growth. I may not have been right about this, but it was how I felt at the time.

This time around, however, the situation is very different. I'll be starting an important life project in a city that has just as many new experiences to offer as a foreign country. I'll have something to look forward to and not just something to look back on.

I first visited New York City my freshman year in college. While sitting out on a friend's fire escape at midnight watching the street bubble with activity below, I suspected that I might just be able to get used to this.

You'll have to stay tuned to find out if I was right. Even though I started this blog in order to write about my life in Chile, I think my experiences as a New York City newcomer will certainly be worth sharing as well. So get ready for Leigh's adventures in a whole new hemisphere!

Oh, and if you're a New Yorker and have any tips about making the big move, please drop me a line!


Anonymous said...

Way cool!!

Margaret said...

Congratulations!!! This is GREAT! I'm very happy for you!
And what luck--you won't even have to change the title of your blog! (Yeah, like you're going to have a lot of blog time in grad school!)
it will be wonderful!

Sara said...

I remembering that you alluded to this in the email! Wow! Congrats!!!