Recap: First year of grad school

by Tabitha Kidwell

When I last wrote, 7 months ago, I talked about how difficult it was to transition to living in DC and being a full-time grad student. It may come as no surprise, given my long delay in writing, that it continued to be really hard. When I went home at Christmas, after five months in DC, I was frustrated to still not have a strong community or feel at home in DC, even though I had been meeting people and trying to make connections all fall. I was so depressed that I was convinced I would finish out the year at Maryland, then try to transfer to OSU or get a K-12 teaching job back home. It was so tempting to slip back to comfortable, familiar Columbus, Ohio.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that five months is not all that long, and all the efforts I had made to make friends and connections hadn’t yet come to fruition. Friendship isn’t instant, and the acquaintances I had met for drinks in October and November gradually became the friends I called to commiserate after a bad date, or to help me clean up after a crazy party. The classmates I exchanged pleasantries with grew to become the people I asked to edit my papers, then went to celebrate with after those papers got turned in. The roommates who had started out as strangers came to be the friends I walked to church with on Sunday mornings. This spring, I have come to really value my community – I even sometimes wished I didn’t have so many happy hours, barbecues, and bocce ball tournaments filling my schedule.

School got easier, too. Well, actually, school got harder, but I got better at dealing with it. I got into a good daily routine, and found a little bit more balance between life and schoolwork. Sometimes I even stopped working at 6 or 7 PM! I had enough base knowledge that not everything I read was brand new, all the time. I supervised and mentored four great student teachers in Prince George’s County schools. I organized the Maryland TESOL grad student conference in February, presented at the TESOL international convention in Toronto in March, and attended the American Educational Research Association annual meeting in April. I started to build a network and feel like a professional (if junior) member of the teacher education community. And I started to have ideas about what my future might look like with a PhD. (Spoiler alert: It looks good.)

Most importantly, I came to love living in DC. I learned the city well enough to be able to walk, bike, and drive without always using google maps. I settled into familiar running and biking routes. I found a hairdresser, yoga studio, and a bar with a $6 beer/shot/hot dog happy hour special. At some point over the winter it stopped being the place I had moved to, and it became the place I lived. It became home. When I had been thinking about different grad schools, I went to San Francisco to visit Stanford and Berkeley, but felt out of place in California. People were too laid back and the food was too vegan. DC, however, feels like the perfect city for me – perfectionist, competitive, and driven, but also friendly, welcoming, and open. My family lived in the district in the 80s, and I am one of the rare DC residents to actually have been born here, at Providence Hospital in northeast. Like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn, I have returned to my birthplace. I wonder how much the influence of those early years has to do with my integration now. My mom and step-dad came to visit in early May, and we went on a driving tour of all the places I lived when I was young. I was surprised to see that the apartment I lived at when I was an infant is right off of New Hampshire Ave – within 100 yards of the route I take when I drive to campus! I think it’s interesting that, of all the universities I could have gotten my PhD, I chose the place that was within a mile of the first place I ever lived.

I’m not going to say it wasn’t a hard year. It was, and I’m glad it’s over. But I’m also glad it happened, and I’m happy to be right where I am now. As long as year two of grad school doesn’t come too soon.

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One Comment to “Recap: First year of grad school”

  1. Dear Tabbie–I love you with all of my ♥️ xoxo, Mama V. Sent from my iPhone

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