After working harder than I’ve ever had to before, my first semester in grad school is winding down. This is the last week of classes, and it seems that because I worked very diligently over Thanksgiving break that I’ve set myself up to cruise into finals. That was not on purpose, and it reminds me of the time I decided to double major by adding on Journalism at UMass. Upon doing so, I was convinced I’d need to take 6 classes from then on instead of the standard 5, and worked extra time that first year. As it turns out, I positioned myself so well ahead of the curve that in my senior year I was able to take 4 classes a semester.
That isn’t the case nowadays, yet I’m helped by the fact that one of my finals won’t even be assigned until the last day of class on Wednesday. It’s a blessing and a curse, because while it has allowed me to focus entirely on my two other finals, I wish I could use the time right now to work on it and I know that once classes are finished, I’m going to be lazier about the last final. Also, once classes are over, I’m going to take on more hours at work and thus won’t have obscene amounts of free time anyway. After frantically rushing around for the last three months, from work to study to class to study, etc, I’m finding it hard to simply sit down and catch my breath. I read about a journalist in the 70s who was working the schedule of two people, and when she went on vacation found it impossible to sit down and relax. After extended periods of time in constant movement and stress, down time becomes the stress factor, as there is a sense of not knowing what to do with yourself.
I feel like I’ve learned a year’s worth of material in just one semester and regardless of whether or not I took the courses I wanted to take, I can say unequivocally that I am smarter in the aftermath. I’ve learned about some extremely interesting things, both good and bad. I’ve become familiar with the government of the United States in ways that I never thought, and though I never considered myself very political, I’ve come to the realization that I need to at the very least understand it. After all, I’m basically studying international politics, not culture. This first semester has given me the chance to meet some amazing people and make great friends, including Americans from all over the country, as well as foreign students who add their own touch to the lessons.
I’ve learned that in order to survive as a grad student, you have to develop some kind of cynical and desperate sense of humor. You have to laugh at how ridiculous your course load is, at how stressed out you feel and how helpless it seems when someone speaks in class and you think you’re the dumbest person because you have no idea what they’re talking about. But you also get your chance to put other people in their place once in a while. The classmates form a little support network and understand in just a few monosyllabic words or facial gestures how exhausted we all are, and when we have an opportunity to go out for a drink, we make the most of it to blow off a little steam.
Still, I can’t complain too much when I think about the students in Buenos Aires, for example. I work 20 hours a week in addition to being a full time student, and I feel like I barely make it week by week. Yet friends back in BA would work full time, which is typically 9 am-6:30 pm, and then have class which could get out at 11 pm, or even start at 11 pm. It’s not unheard of. On top of that, some go to the gym, play a sport, and manage to stay active enough with their friends. It’s probably why people go out so late, and also why most people don’t graduate when they’re 22.
I don’t know if I would have it in me to keep this up for another 6 years, but for now I’m getting the hang of it. It’s a wholly unique experience and is not at all the undergrad life. Again, that’s a good thing and a bad thing. Anyway, now that the first semester is nearly finished, let us never speak of it again.