Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Q: Who assigns a thousand pages of reading in the first 2 weeks? Excuse me, 994 pages. Wouldn't want to get overdramatic here.
A: One of my history professors, who shall go unnamed. Grad school is awesome.

On the other hand, I will no longer have the pressing problem of what to do with my free time in a city where I still only know a few people.

And it's kind of nice to get back into a familiar routine, even if that routine involves spending a lot of time in the library hating life.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Grad School...

So, I start grad school on Monday. Academically, I don’t expect it to be too big a jump, since I was taking mostly graduate level courses last year. But it still feels like a huge step to be taking, and the past few days haven’t been very reassuring.
I’m in an odd position, because I’m doing a program that almost nobody else has ever done. Both the Asian Studies program and the Journalism school promote their dual degree programs, but neither seems terribly prepared for students to actually enroll in them. Asian studies doesn’t quite know what to do with me, because I’m a journalism student. On top of that, I’m doubly isolated by being a Southeast Asianist in a program that’s dominated by Chinese and Japanese studies. On a more positive note, though, it’s a very small class [4 students this year, the other 3 studying Japan], so we do all have access to a lot of personal attention, and my advisor in the program seems very supportive.
The journalism school, on the other hand, appears to have written me off completely. I won’t start taking their sequence of intensive reporting classes until next year, so apparently, I do not exist to them. Which means, for example, that I was not invited to attend the orientation session and get to know the faculty and other students. I only found out about it because I happened to stop by the school looking for some information, and noticed signs pointing the way to “New student orientation.” Which, by then, was pretty much over. Fantastic. And then I was told that I’m “not really a journalism student yet.” Which was the first I’d heard of this, and a bit of a surprise, considering that one of the major selling points of the dual degree program is that students are supposed to have full access to both departments [which in the case of the J school includes career services, a lot of really nice equipment, and other perks I’ve been eagerly looking forward to] while studying here. So, once again, I find myself having to fight with the administration of the Journalism school before even getting started. A situation, eerily, and unfortunately, reminiscent of Madison. And a great way to get started.
Do other people have to do this? I feel like my entire academic career has been marked by epic battles between me and the administration.
I’m trying to stay positive, though, and look at the school’s disorganization about dual degree programs as an opportunity to design my own course of studies the way I want it.
Provided, of course, that I don’t mind butting heads with bureaucrats at every step of the way.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Visiting the DC area has become an exercise in disorientation rather than nostalgia. Getting off at my old metro stop, there is almost nothing I can recognize. The supermarket down the block from my parents’ old house now has a Starbucks in it.
I spent most of a day walking through the city, barely able to navigate neighborhoods I lived in as a teenager, getting hungrier and hungrier because all of the places where I could think of to eat aren’t there anymore.
Virtually no one that I grew up with lives there now, and of those who do, a (to me) shockingly high percentage of them live with their parents, even if they have “grown up” jobs. The rest have basically become, to their discomfort, the shock troops of gentrification -- living in marginal neighborhoods where they can still afford the rent, finding their presence as young, mostly white, artists and activists makes those neighborhoods more attractive for development, at which point they (along with the rest of the neighborhood) can no longer afford to live there, and have to move somewhere else and start the cycle over.
There’s something a bit sad about realizing that even if I were so inclined, nothing in my near future makes it look economically feasible to settle down where I grew up. I mean, it certainly doesn’t cost more to rent in DC than in the Bay Area, but it’s not like there are interesting old fixer-uppers to buy in reasonable neighborhoods. They’ve all been torn down to build condos and McMansions.
It seems like most of my friends feel this way. That, or they’re from small towns where moving back is impossible, not because of an influx of money that has priced them out of the market, but because as manufacturing and family farms dry up, there is simply nothing to move back to.
I wonder which feels stranger?