- i walk down the street and look with minute detail at the blades of grass, the texture of the brick. the blossoms still hanging on, the shape of the clouds in the sky, and for that 3 minutes or so, i am refreshed anew
- whenever i have the good fortune to be alone in the lift, i blast a jazzy song in my headphones and dance exuberantly (keeping a close eye for the doors opening!)
- i smile warmly and speak kindly to everyone i come across (which sometimes requires a bit of effort), and invariably they respond in kind
- i send little emails to my professors when i come across an article pertinent to their teaching, or if i really appreciated something in their lecture
- i give myself time off when i feel i really need it, accepting that energy ebbs and flows, and that things will inevitably get done in the end
- i read books unrelated to class and they remind me that i am not, and in fact am never, alone
- i make silly comments to myself and others and embrace humour wherever I find it, even in lame professor jokes (honestly, especially in lame professor jokes)
- i bask in the satisfaction of every assignment completed, and congratulate myself for it even as i start prepping for the next one
- of all the alums you talked to, who are impossibly bright and dedicated and driven (more so than you!), they all told you how difficult and overwhelming it was
- grad school is supposed to be stretching and challenging. it’s part of why you wanted to do it
- in the future, you’re not going to look back on any medium grades and be devastated. as long as you don’t fail anything, it’s not going to matter later on
- you have two months of this whole thing left (as in, ever). it’s going to fly
- it’s good you are ready to leave. if you didn’t want to leave school, that probably means you should be doing a PhD, which is not at all in the current plan. so basically, you can be pleased you’re on the right track
- the fact that you doubt and question yourself means that you are human, and thoughtful, and trying your best to do the right thing in all areas of your life. you want to do the right thing as a daughter, and a sister, and a friend, and a girlfriend, and a student, and an employee. you have integrity and a sense of doing right by others, and doing right by yourself.
- you have never set yourself the goal of doing anything truly extraordinary. you aim to set no world records, get on no rich lists or power lists. you want to shine as yourself and be true to your nature: nothing more, nothing less.
- sometimes you wonder to yourself what you could achieve were you truly pushed to your limits, because you fear that you coast and don’t push hard enough in assessments and activities and networks. and yet, sweet girl, you have accomplished a lot, and your resume alone is pretty cool. don’t try to persuade yourself out of the joy of an ordinary, balanced life.
- you are you. you are always going to be you, you’re not going to get transformed into anything else. everything in your future is going to demand the same things of you: your bravery, your hard work, your grace, your light and open heart. every day you do this, you are practising for the rest of your life
This is a little snapshot into my life as a grad student in Washington DC, as taken from tuesday 25 october. Not every day is like this – I work 3 shifts a week as a student worker in admissions, go to a lot of talks given by experts at school, and obviously do things outside of school too haha, but this is a little taste of a tuesday in my life!
7:30 am: I wake up, get dressed and head downstairs. First stop, coffee and breakfast. I make porridge and then sit and work out what I have on today with the help of my diary. I set out tasks, sip my coffee and enjoy my porridge. I then have a read of my current book, Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl. I only have the last chapter to go so I manage to finish it.
9:00 am: I walk down to our gorgeous neighbourhood library, which is less than a ten minute walk from our house – what a luxury. I return the books I’ve read, borrow the ones they’ve got on hold for me (What I Know For Sure by Oprah and Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl – I’m on a memoir kick at the moment). I sit down at one of their lovely wooden tables in a sunny spot and do some equity market reading for my class the next day on my laptop.
11:00 am: My laptop is low on battery so I pack up to go. I walk a circuitous route home, enjoying the pretty street art, gorgeous turning leaves and stellar blue sky. Once home, I finely slice some cabbage I have in the fridge and stirfry it along with cracked black pepper, some dried chilli and some salt. I top it with some crunchy breadcrumbs. I also make a slice of peanut butter and honey toast for good measure, with some of my beloved Alvarado Street Bakery bread which is the closest thing I can find to vogels here.
12:00 pm: I sit out on our upstairs balcony to eat it, and enjoy sunning myself and watching the crazy squirrels racing along the telephone lines.
1:20 pm: After doing work in the living room, it’s time to head into school for my two o’clock class. I end up biking to school in convoy with my flatmate which is novel because we go her route which is a little different to my usual. We park up and head into our respective classes.
I have comparative politics, which goes by fairly quickly. I spent a while on the readings this week, so I’m able to contribute by answering some questions. After class, I walk down the road to one of the other uni buildings and bump into an acquaintance from Nanjing. We catch up for a while and then I head into the cafeteria – it’s the weekly free cookie hour. I snag one for now and another for later and then head back to find my bike. I usually have a tutorial from 6-7pm on a Tuesday but we don’t have one this week because of midterms, so it is a nice treat to head home much earlier than usual.
5:00 pm: I bike down 16th street which has an extraordinarily large amount of old, gorgeous churches. While I’m stopped at the lights I can’t help take a photo of this one illuminated in the golden light. I head down the road to Trader Joes. I lock my bike up outside and zip in to get groceries for the dinner I’m cooking my flatmates tonight. I walk out awkwardly as my arms are filled with the groceries I bought, but I stow them successfully in my bike basket and take off again – uphill this time.
5:30 pm: I arrive home and get cooking. I’m making sausage casserole with rice and peas, a family classic. I have a cooking rotation with two of my flatmates, so 3 nights a week we have dinner together. It’s always a treat to have dinner cooked for you, and they always cook something yummy and different.
6:00 pm: while the casserole is in the oven, I sit down with some of my flatmates for an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show we’re currently working our way through and just loving – we’re currently in season 3 (of 7!) We watch Buffy slay vampires and deal with teenage angsty friendships and it’s great fun.
7:10 pm: dinner’s ready. I dish up and we eat together at the table. We have a glass of wine in celebration of papers submitted and midterms completed which quite rightly deserves a celebration.
8:00 pm: I get back to my readings and keep working on those, writing detailed notes. I’m going to have to refer back to them anyway when I write my paper on the capital markets in China, so I may as well make it easier on myself and figure out the key points now.
9:45 pm: the content of the readings is no longer sinking in and I head up to have a shower. I put on my pjs and start reading one of my library books I Take You by Eliza Kennedy. It’s funny and gripping and feminist and I can’t put it down.
11:45 pm: I notice the time with a start and quickly put the book down, set my alarm, turn off the light and fall asleep, ready for another big day of uni.
i was at dinner last night with friends who have all moved overseas and one of them said something that really struck me. she said she wished she could tell everyone back home to go and live in another country for a while, as she just thinks it’s so important for your development (especially as we were all in our early twenties) and after thinking it over i definitely agree.
obviously travel itself is great for your confidence and resilience, but i also think making a life for yourself in a place is uniquely special in a way that a backpacking trip doesn’t necessarily equate to. making your own routines, finding your locals, making new friends, trying a new activity or hobby (me doing zumba and volunteering with kids in nanjing) all are part of making a life in a place. and when you push through the stress and the administrative dramas that characterise the first phase (along with excitement and new discoveries, naturellement) you find yourself happy in a place that you never knew you could be.
i.e. me in Nanjing: look at me! i’m away from my countrymen, not able to do the things i love (get books out from the library, cook, go to barre class, hang out with my family) and yet I’m ok. better yet, i’m happy!
and then when i left china. all the things that i felt so keenly being ripped away from me. street eats, constant language breakthroughs, pudgy babies all around, zumba, my new friends, fun conversations with chinese people all the time…. those were all things i just loved!
and yet. in london i’m back with my uni friends, back cooking (and loving it), finding new places and neighbourhoods, finding enjoyment in earning and being a productive member of society again, being in a multicultural atmosphere, enjoying architectural splendour and fun day trips.
and i realise. there are so many ways to be happy. there are so many ways to build a rich, full life.
life staying always in one place can feel one dimensional. and i’m not saying it is, but we forget about all the rich possibilities and choices we have available to us. moving somewhere new gives a new lens to view the world through, opens everything up and puts it all on the table. and makes us realise what we can do without and surprisingly enough be ok without.
it is bittersweet. right now I know that all the people i love and care about will never all live in the same place with me. that’s a hard thought. i’ll always be a bit behind in their life, communicating through social media and the odd message rather than in person hugs and walks and long lazy dinners. but how lucky am I that i can visualize a life in four cities (chch, dunedin, nanjing and london) and from those countless more, since i know what it is to pack everything and go somewhere new and start afresh and succeed?
on replay: open heart, open mind and you’ll be fine.
ps – i feel i’ve learned so much in my short life of 22 years. can’t imagine the lessons and wisdom the next 60 or so have in store for me!
hi! it’s been a bit, hasn’t it?
Mango, lemongrass and coconut tart
it’s good to be back in this space, friends!
lots of love, Anna, BA, DipLang, 21 years of age (how official this all sounds!)