First Day of Graduate School

Well, the semester officially is off to a start. The readings are piling up faster than I can count, the planner is looking rather stuffed, the checking account is becoming lighter, and the furniture hopefully is arriving soon.


All of that being said, I couldn’t be more satisfied with my decision to attend Hopkins. I’ve spent the past week and a half getting settled, becoming familiar with the area, and eating too much not enough sushi. Everyone is kind and friendly, and I live in an apartment with a fantastic view and plenty of space for Bun to explore. There is plenty of fresh air, sunshine, and breeze. Baltimore felt like home the moment I arrived, and as I slowly establish myself here it becomes even more wonderful.

I will be spending the day digging into case studies and articles, creating a research proposal, and contemplating education, economics, hegemony, language imperialism, microaggressions, politics, privilege, and systemic racism over bowls of fruit and glasses of almond milk. It still feels bizarre not to be in the chaotic happiness of a classroom, but I think that I could get used to this lifestyle of quiet thought. Instead of worrying about who hit whom, office politics, and scraped knees my biggest concern is keeping Bun away from the router cable.

Cheers to the new semester.



On Older Brothers and Outlooks

I have two older brothers. They listen to me gripe about humanity, help me prevail in the face of adversity, and challenge me intellectually. Sure, always being the last one to experience anything gets frustrating; however, it does mean that they pull me up a few rungs on the ladder of Life. I learned how to drive a stick shift not at sixteen and passed Dormitory Microwave Cooking 101 in middle school. We may not talk frequently, but when we do it’s like no time has passed since the previous conversation.

We possess different talents and attitudes from each other. Brother One is the most relaxed, is gifted at both deductive reasoning and humor, and possesses an unshakable demeanor. Brother Two is the artistic genius with the largest capacity for empathy, patience, and counsel mostly delivered through acerbic comments. He is well-intentioned sarcasm in a bespoke suit. I round out our trio with the musical ability, discipline, and critical inquisitivity sundae topped with a bitterly hopeful cherry. All of our conversations are colored by these different views, and I appreciate being in a group of siblings which balances instead of self-destructs.

I had brunch with Brother Two at a local pancake and waffle house. Over bacon and Belgian waffles we eventually approached the topic of human purpose and our opinions of humanity. I believe in the limitless capacity of human beings’ cruelty but keep my eyes focused on the faintest glimmer of hope that we possess equally bountiful benevolence. My motivation is the hope that I can help change the current balance of the scale and make a better tomorrow exist today.

Brother Two’s drive to see each tomorrow is a desire for understanding how we are interconnected and just who we are to each other. He seeks knowledge of human relationships. He channels his energy into analyzing and categorizing his interactions with people. Is this interaction to benefit himself, the other party, or does it fall under the third category of uncertainty which he is trying to comprehend? What is the lesson or emotional need embedded in each interaction? He will be satisfied when he finds the meaning of that third category.

I hope that I will be able to apply that worldview into my own analysis of Life. I sometimes become so entangled in the objective, empirical whys that I neglect the (equally important) emotional, subjective wherefores. Especially since my field is education I need to enable my mind to embrace both perspectives in order to produce optimal results. As I formulate research topics to discuss with my advisor in a few weeks, I am extracting experience and information from all crannies of my brain. However, it is the words of an older brother which have given me the tools to capture the foggy musings and begin to shape them into something meaningful.

Brief Update and Thoughts

I realize that I already am failing on my posting goals, but I am in the process of moving. Regular posting will begin after Bun and I are settled in our new home. We went to the vet today to get her wellness examination and travel documents. Unfortunately for me she threw a tantrum during the appointment. Will I ever not be embarrassed by a pet’s behavior at the animal clinic?

Anyways, I had the opportunity today to speak with a professional in education outreach. She is heading a program designed to expand the reach of STEM-oriented English education, and something in our conversation really struck me. I asked her opinion about the quintessential component of getting educational research out of the lab and into the communities. She immediately replied, “Passion. More than in any other field you need passion for this. You can’t be driven by money. Passion.”

I realize that this gets into tricky territory. I could write a series disproving the myths that vacations really are vacations, that parents don’t call at all hours of the day and night, and that teachers are avaricious leeches who simply should be satisfied that they get paid at all. For the time being, however, I would like to set aside those thoughts. I never had anyone say so frankly and fervently that passion was the key. It’s typically a lukewarm, noncommittal response; it is the answer given when there is none. The insistence and feeling she poured into that word left an impression on me.

I am about to embark on a new journey. I am full of nervousness and anticipation, but I am eager to become a force for improvement. I dream of a world where quality education isn’t a privilege. I look for a future when education isn’t simply a means to an end. I hope for a day when children aren’t ignored because they don’t fit a restricted view of success – when they are more than numbers used to establish parameters for resource allocation. I work for a place where every child will be valued sincerely as an individual and will experience the joys of discovery and creation. I strive for a time when language learning and cultural appreciation (not appropriation!) are borne from respectful curiosity and not entwined with language death or hegemony.

I jokingly describe myself as a borderline misanthrope with eternal optimism, but I think that is what drives me. That is where I find my passion. I hold that, no matter how terrible we are making this world, we do have the capacity to improve it. There will be obstacles to surmount. There will be disappointing setbacks. However, as long as I have this passion to drive me, I think that I will be able to consider my efforts as contributions.

The Cost of Master’s Applications

I expected that the transition from salaried, government employee to graduate student would be frustrating, but I did not expect just how many expenses would find their way into the budget. One such expense is the upcoming cost of doctoral applications. I am anticipating this by researching the 2017-2018 application costs for each school to which I intend to apply this autumn. However, as an extra evaluation tool for calculating the anticipated fees, I decided to review how much I spent on┬ámaster’s applications. Here is a breakdown:

  1. Graduate Record Examination
    1. Test Fee – $205
    2. Additional Score Reports – $27 each x 3 schools = $81 (I didn’t even complete two of the applications as I received an offer from JHU in early December.)
    3. Prep Materials
      1. Princeton Review GRE Premium Edition – $23.29
      2. ETS Official GRE Quantitative Reasoning Practice Questions – $10.56
      3. ETS Official GRE Verbal Reasoning Practice Questions – $14.66
      4. Manhattan Prep 5 lb. Book of GRE Practice Problems – $11.96
    4. Test Day Transportation – $8.00
  2. Application Fees
    1. Johns Hopkins University – $80.00
    2. Iowa State University – $60.00
    3. Ohio State University – $60.00
    4. University of Colorado – Boulder – $60.00
    5. University of Indiana – Bloomington – $55.00

I spent $660.47 to apply to master’s programs. That is more than $600 just to apply. That number would have tripled if my work schedule and location hadn’t prevented me from attending an examination preparation course, and there was the possibility that I wouldn’t receive any offers. Where would I be then? I think honest discussions are important to developing financial health, and one of the topics regularly posted here will be how I am managing the financial aspect of graduate education.

Summer Semester 2017 – Goals

While preparing this post I was reminded of the scene from Seinfeld when George pretended to be a marine biologist in order to impress a love interest. He charged into the ocean to do a good deed (albeit reluctantly) and save a beached whale, aware that his scheme was teetering on the brink and that his folly could be exposed at any moment. Fortunately, he was able to save the whale by extricating one of Kramer’s golf balls from the blowhole. He ultimately confessed his deception, but his lack of remorse or change in life direction was as unsettling as it was humorous.

My goal for this blog and my graduate education is not to be George Costanza. Fellow fans of the show will contend that this is a rather low bar to set, and I would have to agree, but I wish to be genuine and deserving of any achievements. I intend to be transparent about not only the hardships I face but the privileges from which I benefit. I strive to be a responsible, conscientious human being. I hope to be successful without that nudge from Chance.

Despite seeking growth and appreciating meticulous organization and routine, so far I have stumbled over my shoelaces fairly consistently. I have the best of intentions, I really do. I create a grocery list to remember everything I need, but I forget or lose the list and return home with a haphazardly purchased bag of La Croix Grapefruit, almond milk, mustard, and Teddy Grahams. I diligently use my planner, yet I allow my rabbit to sit on my desk and rip out pages. Most embarrassing of all, I spent my final undergraduate semester painstakingly completing a field notebook only to drown it in coffee less than a week before the submission. The consequences of this absentmindedness never are enjoyable. This pattern, while potentially endearing, should be better contained.

Therefore, I have spent the evening creating a schedule for the upcoming semester. It includes some of the following activities:

  1. Twenty minutes of Duolingo German and Russian per day
  2. One hour of exercise per day
  3. Two hours of doctoral application preparation per week
  4. Three blog posts per week
  5. Three no-spend days per week

Of course there are other things on this list. I require time for reading the newspapers, time for completing school obligations, and definitely time for Netflix and bunny snuggles. I value time for reading fiction, cooking, and playing Mario. Neglecting self-care is the express lane to burnout, and I have six or seven intense years ahead of me. I hope that by scheduling relaxation as carefully as prioritizing tasks I can make it through graduate school in one piece.