I had a rough quarter. What made it rough wasn’t the workload (manageable most of the time), my assistantship (continues to be the favorite part of the program), or even my personal life, but instead it was my frame of mind. Everyone comes in to graduate school with expectations, and having been trained from an arts perspective, I know that your expectations can seriously affect your enjoyment. Graduate school hasn’t been meeting my expectations, which has been causing me some serious existential worry.
When I worked on the Preview Days video, I listened to twelve lovely individuals talk up our program. They talked about choosing Seattle University because it was the best place that fit, because it felt natural, because it felt fated. I tried to put those ideas in to the video. The problem was that I didn’t share hardly any of the views of the people I was interviewing. Out of the five schools I applied to, Seattle University was the only place I was accepted. The place I had the deepest connection was not Seattle University, but instead Oregon State University. But where my life was at the time, I wasn’t willing to wait another year to apply to OSU, and I had a better support network of undergraduate friends in Seattle, so I committed to SU because that’s who would take me. To me, it was a good second place school.
However, I still expected to like where I went to school, I expected to make life long friends with my cohort like I did in undergrad, I expected to spend a lot of time with people in my program, both in class and out of class, talking about the ways student affairs works, how the profession worked, what we wanted to do, really wrap our heads around our supposed life calling. Last quarter I gave myself some leeway because it was my first quarter, so I was allowed to be awkward, not make too many friends, and be absorbed in my assistantship. I told myself at the end of last quarter that I would be more intentional about making friendships and being engaged in my classes. Instead, this past quarter I found myself questioning if SU is the place for me, if student affairs is even the right career path. I was trained in arts. I was trained to create. I miss creating art, I miss it a lot. Student affairs is more service based, which can become monotonous for me.
After a lot of stewing about what specifically I didn’t like about the program and myself, I started reaching out to professors and peers about issues I was having. Reactions were diverse. Some said I was still adjusting, some empathized with my qualms, some suggested that maybe I wasn’t in the right program. I’ve thought a fair amount about that last one. Am I where I need to be? The thing is, I am still excited for parts of the program. I am excited to learn about theory this coming quarter. I am excited to go to Sweden in the summer. I am excited to participate in my internships. What I’m not excited about is continuing to participate in the program how I have been so far.
What’s taken me by surprise in graduate school is I’ve had to put more of myself in my own learning. I’m interested in big picture student affairs topics: the relationship between students and the physical layout of campus, the relationship between a school and its surrounding community, how an institution creates an identity, or alters an existing identity. I was expecting to learn about these topics in my classes, just through the literature I would read, and the people I’d meet. This has not been the case. I have realized that in order to discover more about these issues, I have to pursue the issues on my own. I must bring them up in classes, write papers about them, organize my portfolio around them. The SDA curriculum is organized more as a survey, to be viewed through a chosen lens, rather than as a way to narrow a focus, like undergraduate. I’m a first generation student, I didn’t know this was how graduate school worked. Now, I’m one third of the way through my program, and I still haven’t found my own footing.
I also expected to find more of a community in graduate school. I thought I’d have deeper friendships than I do now. I like everyone in my program, I love spending time with them, but I hardly know why anyone is in the program. I don’t know how they decided on student affairs, and then Seattle University. I don’t know their philosophy on education, I don’t know their philosophy on life, I don’t deeply know any of my peers. My relationships with my peers are not deep, they are broad. Personally, I prefer a few deep relationships, not many broad ones. Last quarter I told myself I needed to be more intentional about pursuing relationships with my peers, and not much has changed. This is still a need. If I am to continue in this program, I need better friends in the program to keep me going.
Despite the issues I’ve been having, I don’t regret coming to Seattle University. When I was applying to graduate schools, I always thought I’d probably wind up here. I was open to the option of attending other schools, but my mentor had attended Seattle University, the interns I knew attended SU, many of my outside friends lived in Seattle. It was a logical choice. Things haven’t lived up to my expectations, but that’s okay. If things lived up to my expectations, I’d never be surprised. I am learning things about myself that I didn’t know, about what I need and want out of school and a career. It hasn’t been as pleasant as I would have liked, but I have learned, which was part of the point of coming to graduate school. I’ve thought about where I’m at, and what I want, and there’s no other place I’d rather be than Seattle. I cannot imagine leaving the program. I’m a determined man. I said I was going to get a Masters in Student Development, and I don’t intend on dropping out now. However, I do see the opportunity to change my circumstances, to become more satisfied with the program. This next quarter, I am going to begin taking advantage of those opportunities. I am an agent for my own change.
I write this because I think some other people in the program may feel the same way. And I write this because perspective students need to know the road is not always easy and sometimes you do make a wrong turn. But there are opportunities to correct that, because your life is your own. You’re the one driving, you choose to make this program what you want. I don’t think I understood what that meant until just recently.