Cleaning the room, or
buying groceries, or
hitting the gym or
doing your readings for class, or
attending a socializing event for your department, or
completing your application for internship or
starting your mid-term paper, or
talking to your close friend back home or
signing up for a volunteering opportunity or
reading your current book?
These are just an everyday and every single hour dilemmas a graduate student in most of the determined graduate schools across the world has to make. (I am going to mostly speak for graduate schools in the U.S.A since my experience is from New York). Mind you, not one of those things is any less important than the other. Well, at least not for me and for any individual who embarks upon Graduate school to develop as an individual and not just as a student.
When someone asks me ‘What’s up?’, my response is usually “New York City is awesome, Columbia is great, I am learning a lot (All true). I hope you are doing good too.” It is interesting to see how each individual interprets this answer based on their perspective, thinking, exposure, dreams, and expectations from life.
Do I talk about the 5-10 sets of readings I have to do for each different class, for 5 classes a week for 13 weeks? Do I talk about the difference in rates of vegetables which factors my cooking and buying decisions? Do I talk about the amount of time in a day I am self-motivated enough to be by myself and get work done? Do I talk about the times I visit the health center by myself to get my health in order to ensure it doesn’t hamper my work? Do I talk about the nights I have sat at the library till as long as 4 a.m. to work on my paper? Do I talk about the number of amazing people you meet around, but don’t have more time to spend with them? No, not until now.
What exactly does Graduate school do to a 23-year old like me? It doesn’t just grow your mind, but grows you emotionally, spiritually, philosophically, physically and of course intellectually. It teaches you to do what you have to do when you have to do and also helps you to do it better and better by the day.
It is not just 8-10 hours a day. It is your entire day, especially if you are an international student. You land at a city where you are no one. It depends on you whether you want to remain the same one or use the opportunity to grow further and be a somebody. Nobody knows you in the beginning. You literally crave your way through personally, professionally, holistically with every passing day and every decision. Most of it might come naturally too, some you might have to just work a little harder than others.
You are learning to fend for yourself for all meals throughout your day, you will learn to cook if you haven’t already because eating outside all meals is just not an option (unequal economies makes it worse), your self-identity will get redefined among an extremely diverse/heterogeneous group, self-motivation is a tool you will use to get through the day to ensure you are productive every day, you will understand the importance and necessity of cleaning your room and house, you will learn to do your coursework because you want to. The list can go on, literally.
But what are some things that have been the most valuable learning for me? (in no necessary order)
Firstly, I have learned to seek people and company as a matter of choice rather than as a matter of necessity. The days that I spend with my group of friends or the days I spend by myself are really sometimes no different. It’s the day and the necessity that seeks company.
Secondly, I was an extreme P (perceiving) on the MBTI scale, which means running life without any sort of scheduling or planning. But I have learned and understood that scheduling and planning your day is very much an essence for you to not just be productive or move ahead in your journey but to feel better as an individual, especially if you are one who wants to ensure that days are spent well in helping yourself or others.
Thirdly, all relationships are telepathic. It is indeed true that some relationships where the connection is meant to be, distance or time does not matter. I feel extremely connected to my mother, most of my friends, cousins, aunts, uncles in spite of being away or not talking or meeting them regularly. They all still remain a very big part of my growth and I remain in theirs. I have also been fortunate enough to connect with some amazing souls in the new city. Some from your own land and some from other so called countries.
Fourthly, home does not just mean physical space but much more. Am I any less of an Indian because my country of residence is now the United States of America? No! My homes now are just several. Bangalore, Delhi, New York. Right now, yes I do feel at home in New York City. But that doesn’t make Bangalore any less of my home. I feel more Indian than I have ever felt in my life. I see Culture and Indian-ness more objectively and in a macro perspective than I did before. I feel at home because I am in line with my intuition and pursuing what I am meant to do in this world. My goal to learn and become a better individual and contribute towards the development of India still remains and has only grown stronger after coming here.
Lastly, in this way of life, of course, there have been days where I sit and talk about life and random concepts for hours, watch and laugh at some Hindi and English comedy shows, walk around the city and see all the famous “tourist” spots, or hit a pub in the city that never sleeps! But what is different is that I am conscious about these activities and factor it in part of my Graduate student life and learning, I choose to do them at a time I can, rather than those activities controlling my schedule.
Graduate school is a way of life and I love it.