Over the course of the next few weeks, Universities around the world will open their doors to new students. Some of those students will be moving away from home for the first time; some will be beginning graduate studies with families in tow; some will be newly married, learning to navigate a new city together; but all of them have one thing in common: they are starting over.
I love meeting new students and their families. Their excitement is written on their facial expressions. They are ecstatic to be on a new journey, in a new city. They remind of me of the white patent leather shoes I wore on Easter as a child; the ones that were shiny and new, untouched by the antics of childhood.
But what happens when the newness of starting over wears off?
As I think back eight years ago to our first move on our graduate journey, I remember being a newlywed in love wanting nothing more than to assist fulfilling my husband’s dream of completing his Masters. I jumped in with both feet, excited about the endless possibilities and opportunities that lay before us. It didn’t take long for the newness to wear off. Several months later, I thought, “What the heck have I gotten myself into?” I was navigating a new city, commuting to a new job, and missing my husband who was spending obscene amounts of time at the library. It took a couple of years before I finally found my footing again, and I can give credit for that to the women (some grad wives, some not) who invited me to be part of their community.
As you are out and about over the next few weeks, you are going to bump into various women – women who have given up their careers and left friends and family far behind to follow their husbands so they can attend school – women who will be looking for a new community, a place they can call home – women who would really just like a cup of coffee or glass of wine with a new friend to hear that graduate life isn’t so bad, and often times is actually very sweet.
And I ask….will you be that new community, that new friend?
For you former and current graduate wives, this is a great time of year to sit back and remember what it was like for you as a new graduate wife, when you moved and started over. What were your biggest joys? Your biggest fears? Would you do anything differently? How did you handle giving up your career if you had to? What were your biggest struggles? You have knowledge to influence and inspire the next generation of upcoming graduate wives.
What are some ways you could do that?
Be hospitable. Open your home. Include new faces at your dinner parties. Invite new friends for coffee or drinks. Give someone a bottle of wine. Bake chocolate chip cookies and drop them by a new graduate wife’s house. If you know someone moving to your city, make them dinner and bring it over the first night they arrive. Make them feel welcomed and loved on this new adventure.
Be willing to include new people to your group. Take the time to meet new people! Introduce them to your current friends. You never know who you might meet. I have a friend who used to live here in Oxford who was known as the ‘friend collector.’ It was a term of endearment, because she was always with someone new, inviting new people over for dinner, meeting a new friend for drinks, and introducing those new friends to her old ones. She loved people well, gave them a safe place to just be themselves, and never expected a thing in return. I learned a lot from her, and I’m a better person because of her. I am thankful we were able to live in the same area for awhile.
Offer thorough advice, if asked. Is someone moving to your University? Take the time to answer their questions and help them explore! Better yet, set up a time to speak to them by phone or Skype ahead of time. Believe it or not, Skyping is how MC and I became friends before she moved to Oxford. Sometimes just having a familiar face in a new place can be the exact thing they might need to make it one more day.
For you new graduate wives just moving and starting over – when every box has been unpacked, the internet set up, grocery store located, and new city explored, you’ll probably start to look for a group of people to spend time with.
What are some ways you could do that?
Be brave. Attend events, toddler groups, libraries, book clubs, parties, etc. I remember the first event I ever attended as a graduate wife. I walked into a room full of women I didn’t know, and it was daunting AND overwhelming, even for this extrovert! But I am so glad I was brave enough to attend. At that event, I met a woman whose husband was a year of ahead of mine in their Masters program. We ended up becoming great friends, and still are to this day. Be willing to put yourself out there!
Be willing to try new things. Is there anything you’ve ever wanted to do, and hadn’t had time to? Grad school is a great time to take advantage of that, and great way to make new friends. I recently took a photography course, and went to an art class at a local coffee shop. In both places, I was able to try some new things, and meet new people.
Be patient. Building friendships and community take time. I guarantee if you’re willing to put that time and energy into it, the rewards will be worth it.
Find a spouses support group. Or at least a group of graduate wives to be friends with. You may find you need the support to get you through the next year, three years or five years. You may find having that constant group in your life will help you process the graduate wife journey. And, you may find you need a safe place to express fears to other graduate wives about PhD applications, job prospects and uncertainties, and dissertation blues.
Community is very important to me. If there’s anything I’ve learned on this graduate journey, it’s that community is and has been at the heartbeat of everything I’ve done. I’m grateful for every good and hard experience I’ve had because I’ve had the opportunity to walk along and do life with other partners and spouses of those in the academy.
Reach out to someone new today. Give them a safe place to be themselves. Be a friend. Create community.