Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Today was orientation day at Unnamed U, both the campus-wide "We welcome all 3,000 of our new grad students and want to make them get to know each other RIGHT NOW!!!!" and the much smaller, much saner department orientation, which was essentially the same thing, only with "3,000" replaced by "9, only 7 of whom are actually in attendance."

I had a very pleasant morning, if such a thing can be said, at the campus-wide orientation; in some ways, i.e. the part where we offered one factoid about ourselves for each M&M we ate, it smacked of freshman orientation at the Lord's Undergraduate Institution, or at least I suspect it did, given that on that day so many years ago I lasted through precisely thirty minutes of get-to-know-you games before I snuck off to the library to read Georgette Heyer novels.

In other ways, though, it was probably a good preparation for grad school in all its many glories: I had to sit through fifteen minutes worth of information that took two hours to present. I learned lots of new stuff: this year, Indian foreign students outnumbered Chinese foreign students for the first time. The incoming class has students from 49 states, all of them except Nebraska. I live next door to where Jack Kerouac used to live. (Literally. He was at ***3 and I'm at ***5.) Oh, and I met some interesting people, from a bearded white guy with an Indian accent, to a hyper-friendly electrical engineering fourth year who comes to new student orientation just for the buzz of meeting new people. And, of course, I suffered through the obligatory Northern California indoctrination: "If we can solve it in California, we can solve it for the world." Right. Maybe Unnamed U needs a new slogan: "Let there be misplaced idealism." Or maybe "A voice of one crying sustainable living in the wilderness." Or maybe just "Truth."

(Ha, ha.)

Most of all, though, the orientation, especially my department orientation, left me overwhelmed and, frankly, terrified. You can only take so many hours of grad students telling you their life as a first year was Study Hell before you start to feel nervous, with that sneaking, sinking sense of oh, wait, I'm going to be stressed out. And, just in case I wasn't worried enough, I'm the youngest and least experienced of my entering class, which consists mostly of foreign students (4/9), students who have already finished a master's degree (at least 3/9; I'm not sure about some of the others), and students who have spent years working; I'm the only one who's not a California resident, and one of the only ones who hasn't spent time at Berkeley before; the only Mormon, clearly, in a place where, when that comes up, people say, "yes, but you're not a practicing Mormon, right?"; and one of only two girls. Oh, and the one is a German girl who looks like a supermodel, and who is very nice to boot. And here I thought I could at least match the looks of the average Ph.D. student. Curse you, Germany! Quit ruining the average for the rest of us!

And, of course, I feel like everyone is vastly more prepared--or, at least, able to project that impression--and as I left the building, after getting a residency lecture from the graduate secretary, who was sure to emphasize that I should save EVERYTHING, every receipt and every piece of mail and every, I don't know, package of ramen, I was already practicing my deep breathing, thinking, what on earth have I gotten myself into? And so I rushed home, stopping only to buy massive amounts of sugary items, changed into a Hello Kitty nightgown, and curled up in bed with my favorite Georgette Heyer novel. (Yes, I'm the youngest of my cohort; what of it?) I think I'll stay here until school starts. It's much easier to be orientated when there's only a book to face.


dimmi said...

At first, instead of reading "sugary" I read "surgery" and that made your reaction to school a little more interesting and confusing.

Also, I kind of miss California now. Hm.

FoxyJ said...

So I was getting nervous about starting a graduate program being 30 years old and already having a master's, but now I know I'll fit right in :)

I also think that everyone in grad school feels like a failure and that they don't fit in. It seems to be the nature of the beast. Not that that helps you any, but it seems to be universal.

Ginsberg said...

Sounds like your experience is about on right. I felt some of this. It gets better, I think. The "being a Mormon among intellectuals" thing continues to be weird, but then again so does the "being a (pseudo)intellectual among Mormons". . .

I'm guessing you don't care, but how do you think your Unnamed U.'s Bears of a Nonspecific Color football team will do this fall?