Inspiration

When Strangers Become Your People

Sometimes, graduate school is hard.

But, it’s even harder when you don’t have your people. A couple of weeks ago, Elissa wrote about diving into the graduate school dating game,  speaking eloquently about how we all long to share history and be known; essentially longing to share our lives with our people.

Recently, my dear friend and former graduate wife, Allison, recounted an experience she had while on the subway in Atlanta, an inspirational story of hope and love and what happens when strangers become your people. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of all of us on this graduate journey, who are learning what it means to place trust in people who aren’t necessarily known to us. I was reminded of my own graduate school experiences, and the people along the way who were there during the unexpected times. My heart filled with gratitude. I hope you enjoy it. – Mandy

Our-People-Come-Together

We all have our people, the tribe of folks providing a safety net of security so that we can take courageous leaps that would otherwise paralyze us in fear. These are the same faces that breathe encouragement into us when we are broken and joyously with us celebrate in our highs.

We can live life more fully because of the support of our people.

This weekend I had the opportunity of attending the Allume writer’s conference in South Carolina. On my way home, I stopped through Atlanta for a night with my sister’s family.

As I waited at the Marta station this morning to take a train to the airport, I noticed an elderly woman standing uncomfortably, hunched over, clutching her bag as if somebody were going to grab it and run. Her acute self-awareness clearly communicated this was her first and last Marta trip to the airport.

In an effort to put her at ease, I engaged in small talk about my three children. Her flight was not for another 6 hours, but she worried about this trip to the airport, a ride her children had assured her was a simple process.

People-coming-together

The direct train to the airport never arrived. I explained that we needed to hop on a different line and switch trains, but not to worry because we were going to do this together. This overwhelmed her. She did not yet trust me, but realized what we both knew…I was her best option. She had no people.

We rolled our bags onto the train to get situated. As the train jerked into gear, the next few minutes felt like slow motion. My new friend had such a death grip on her bags, she had forgotten to hold on. Her 78-year-old self went flying through the cabin. Several of us attempted to break her fall but failed. She went down…hard. She yelled in panic. Bags scattered. We all jumped to her aid.

A homeless, toothless man locked eyes with me before speaking,

“Ma’am, I may be dirty, but I’m honest. I’ll get your bags, and you help her. She don’t want me touching her.”

I saw straight into his kind heart wishing for a different conversation I knew we had no time to have.

A teenage punk previously entranced by the music on his headphones turned out to be a medic-in-training and assessed her for injuries before two construction workers lifted her to a seat.

As the homeless man gathered our bags and purses, he guarded them with great pride. A sweaty runner who had just finished a 5k offered up her water as I rubbed our shaken friend’s back.

Hips were thankfully not broken, but her spirit was. Embarrassment now trumped her trepidation over this adventure. We surrounded her with reassurance and comfort, little of which was received. The construction workers made some cute jokes to ease her tension before everybody went back to their seats.

I sat in the next row offering her enough space to recover alone, but close enough to jump to any need.

As her head leaned onto the train window, her eyes shut. I quietly prayed. When her eyes opened, tears poured down from underneath her wire-rimmed glasses falling onto the gray shawl draped across her shoulders. Her pale skin was still void of any color. Her hands shook. I understood the recovery was temporary. I asked,

“Is there anybody I can call for you?”

She responded in a whisper.

“They said this would be easy. But it’s not. Unexpected things happen that change everything. This is too hard for me.”

In that moment, my eyes filled with tears. I understood exactly how she felt. She’s right. It’s hard. All of it. So many times when it’s supposed to be easy…it isn’t.

Just before exiting the train, a businessman sensitive to her embarrassment gave her a wink.

“I didn’t see a thing, Beautiful.”

A little color reappeared in her cheeks. Each person in our group spoke to her before exiting, and with each comment her breathing deepened and confidence reestablished. But it was the homeless man at the second to last stop that got me. He looked at her and simply said, “Ma’am” and then gave her a nod.

With tremendous grace and gentleness she uttered,

“Thank you Sir for helping me with my bags today.”

And she offered him her hand. He looked at me as if for permission to accept, and I smiled. He shook her hand, a physical touch meaning more to him than she understood. As he turned to leave, he stood taller…exiting the train with a greater sense of dignity than when he arrived.

Seven people entered a train this morning from very different walks of life and in a matter of moments became a team with one purpose, to support a 78-year-old woman we had never met. We became her people, even if just for a train ride.

Sometimes our people look different than we imagine.

Sometimes they are only in our life for a train ride.

But we need them to get us through the unexpected.

Today I am grateful for my people, both the ones that support me in my daily walk and the ones God provides simply for those unexpected moments when it’s just too difficult to stand on my own.

*reprinted with permission by The House of Hendrix – please go visit!

Advertisements
Moving

REPOST: Starting Over

credit

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.

~Mandy

Expectations · Moving

REPOST: You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

It happens every year around this time.

By now, I should be prepared for it, as it’s happened on a regular basis for the last 7 years; but, somehow, like the annual birthday card I forgot to send, it’s popped up again and caught me completely off-guard.

Another friend is saying goodbye to us. This chapter of her journey in our daily lives has come to a close, and she and her family are off next week to begin their next chapter.

I am so happy for them.

I am so sad for us.

One of the hardest things (for me) in this season of life has been the transition of friendships. I have no issues making friends; I love being around people, love hearing their stories, and love seeing the way they live their lives. I am energized just being around them. But, while that time is precious, I often find it leaves me with a longing for something more, something intimate. Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way that deep, long lasting friendships are not made overnight.

When we moved from Atlanta 7 years ago to begin our graduate journey, we left behind a bevy of friends that we considered family. We knew each other’s stories, had been in each other’s weddings, and lived life together for several years. The loss I felt from our move was so immense, I didn’t want to make new friends in the new city we had relocated to. So I didn’t, at least at first. Why on earth would I want to do that when I had such fabulous friends who already knew and loved me in a city 8 hours from where I sat? I regrettably adopted the “why bother?” attitude since I was sure we would only live there for 3, MAYBE 4 years. With another impending transition looming in the future, I decided that I would do this journey on my own; I didn’t need a community of new friends to walk this road with me. Needless to say, it only took a year and a half before I found myself on the couch of a therapist, woefully explaining to her why I thought my life totally sucked. I was lonely and lost, trying desperately to live outside my belief that humanity was created to be in community.

After admitting that I couldn’t do it on my own, I began to reach out to other women (some graduate wives, some not) through various outlets, and I can honestly say that when we moved from there 3 years later, we left some dear friends who remain part of our lives today. Since then, I’ve been given the chance to move to another city (in another country!) to start over again, all with a fresh perspective: it’s always better to walk the road with a friend, then walk the road alone. I don’t know if we’ll live in one place for 3 years or 30 years. But, I do know this: I have to live my life in the present. If I live in the past or in the future, constantly playing the ‘What If’ game and wishing I was somewhere else with someone else, I’ll not only miss out on what I believe is a pivotal part of my life’s growth process, but also some very special friendships in a difficult season of life. I know there is always a reason you cross paths with someone; the journeys are always connected.

“But friendship is precious, not only in the shade, but in the sunshine of life; and thanks to a benevolent arrangement of things, the greater part of life is sunshine.” ~Thomas Jefferson

In your graduate wife journey, what are you doing to foster friendship and community?

Mandy

Community · Friendship

REPOST: Seeking BFF

Written by Keeley, a current graduate wife        

 I recently read an interesting book about making friends which I thought I’d introduce to our readers at The Graduate Wife. The premise of the book, entitled “MWF Seeking BFF”, is that the author has moved to a new town with her husband and is attempting to find people who might blossom into life-long friends. Instead of waiting for this to happen organically (because that hasn’t worked so well over the first few years in their town), she goes all out. Over the span of a year, she goes on 52 “friend-dates” with people she meets through various venues, including an improvisation class, cooking clubs, book clubs, and of course, other friends. The book chronicles her experiences as well as how she processes the new relationships in her life, and she fills out her narrative with a healthy chunk of statistics and research on the art/science of making and keeping friends. While I certainly admire her motivation, willpower, and discipline in accomplishing this mammoth goal, I fully concede that as an introvert, my head would simply explode from all that social interaction.

See, the thing is that I’m not all that great at making friends. Meeting people, sure, I enjoy learning new faces and names and even have somewhat of a knack for remembering them. And once I’m friends with someone, she can definitely count on me to be there for a conversation, for a listening ear, for a walk in the neighborhood, for a cup of tea or an ice-cream cone. Especially an ice cream cone. As I read this book, however, I realized how much of an ordeal it normally is for me to make a new friend. Thinking back through my life, my best middle school buddy and my best friend through high school basically had to “hunt me down” (in their words) to become friends. I think the reason, partly, is because I have always been close to my family, and, having one larger than normal, there were always plenty of us around to hang out with. However, it wasn’t until college that I realized another reason I am hesitant to begin new friendships: vulnerability. It’s much easier for me to be friendly to everyone and to offer my friendship to those who express interest in it–getting to where I have a mutual trust and need for that relationship is what trips me up and must, in some way, scare me. I know this because one of my best friends in college and I, when we became friends, explicitly stated to one another that we weren’t interested in being half-way friends. If we were going to get-to-know one another, we were going to be the type of friends who never worried about intruding or being a drain on the other; we were going to be honest with one another and give one another our best attempts at friendship.

Since then, I’ve learned that this isn’t always possible when making new friends. While a heart-to-heart conversation like that is immediately within reach in the social greenhouse which is college, people in the real world like for things to just happen. When Jason and I first married and moved to his master’s program, I didn’t spend much time at all thinking about friendships. Between our new marriage and my work schedule, it honestly didn’t cross my mind. But when we moved to pursue his PhD program, I was pleased to find that the community here facilitates making friends like hardly any other place I’ve been.

That’s not to say that it has all been a dream–the first year we lived here I had about five friends that I regularly spent time with, and the next year they had all moved away. In the graduate life, I have found this to be one of the most challenging aspects of making friends. But from those five friends, I learned a great many things, not the least of which were how to knit, and the fact that I have a massive writer’s crush on Barbara Kingsolver. Since then, I’ve had many a walking buddy and reading cohort, and each of these friends I have learned to appreciate for what we bring to one another’s lives, however long our overlap may last.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, however, that I have also found a “BFF” in the process–a friend with whom I spent so much time and we shared so much of our lives, that I know wherever we live, we will remain friends and remember how much more fulfilling and rewarding this stage of life has been because of one another. She has already moved away, which we knew would happen eventually with our both being graduate wives, but we stay in touch regularly, and I think of her frequently as I drive or walk past our old meeting places in my town. Like another one of my college friends, I think of her as more of a sister than a friend. It’s through friendships like this that I understand the bittersweetness of making, losing, and keeping companions through our lives. My childhood friends, my college friends, and my adult friends–they have all helped me to become more of who I am and challenged me to grow in ways I never thought possible. I may never go on 52 dates to discover another BFF, but I can certainly understand why someone would go to the trouble.

Have you found it easy or difficult to make new friends during this unique stage of life? How do you balance making new friendships with maintaining your marriage and/or work?

Stages of the Grad Journey

Questions About the Graduate Life, Part 2

question-marks

Recently, a reader wrote to ask us the following questions:

Is the graduate life what you thought it would be?

What would you say to a family who is interested in embarking on the graduate life journey?

We sat down to write a blog post, and it occurred to us that maybe we should take a survey amongst friends of ours scattered all over the world who have completed this graduate journey. We had planned to take snippets of their answers to create our post, but some of the answers were so helpful, we thought we’d leave them as they came in to us.

We polled current and former graduate wives, married academics, graduate husbands, and our own graduates. 

We hope you find their answers insightful.

-Mandy & M.C.

What would you say to a family who is interested in embarking on the graduate life journey?

 1. Count the costs. One lives the day-to-day life just like the folks back home, but we do it with the added stresses of isolation, academic competition, and shoestring budgets (with student loan debt!). Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that there is a job on the other end. If it’s worth it for the meantime, do it; but it may not be a means to a straightforward end.

2. I would say that first and foremost, you and your spouse have to BOTH be a thousand percent sure that pursuing graduate work is worth it and something you fully believe your spouse should be pursuing.  If there is any sort of hesitation, address that before you jump in.  For the sake of your marriage, talk about everything.  What do each of you expect life will look like over the next 5-10 years?  What sacrifices are you willing to make (financially, relationally, geographically, etc.)?  What are your non-negotiables – the things you just can’t (or don’t want to) do life without?  What you will do if it doesn’t work out?  Will you have children?  How will your lifestyle as a graduate family affect them?  What if after this degree, you find your spouse needs another?  And another after that?  Are these scenarios you can live with?  Of course some of these things will be re-visited and adjusted throughout the years, but start the journey with clear conversations about where you are headed and why.  Once you’ve made the decision to go ahead, don’t look back!!  Throw your heart and soul into it and make it happen – TOGETHER!

3. Going on this graduate wife journey has slowly shaped me into a person who is more resilient, more emotionally present in everyday moments, more thankful and more accepting of others.  I have learned how necessary community is and what a rare and beautiful gift deep friendships can be (even with unexpected people).  To those just starting the journey, I would say . . . try to hold your expectations loosely and do your best to live fully in each place you are (instead of setting your heart on what is next or wishing for what has already passed).

4. Whatever problems you have now in your life, your marriage, etc. the grad life will magnify it. Yep. Make it front and center. Something about this journey (all the change, the moving, the insecurity, finances–take your pick!) brings out the hard stuff. And that’s not a bad thing if you’re ready for it and committed to seeing it through to the other side. It’s helpful to also do the following:

-Have a life outside of being a grad wife. Be there for your spouse, but don’t own their ups and downs. Be interesting on your own.

-Make a nest for yourself. Even if you’re only there for a short time.

-Settle quickly and start putting down roots. This time FLIES by. Make the most of it from the beginning.

5. Graduate life is certainly demanding of one’s time, energy, and financial and mental resources.  Throughout the whole process we had to learn to communicate our needs and design ways to balance ‘life’ with the demands of school, ambition, and career.  It was important to us to set boundaries about work and play.

I’ve also heard many couples on the graduate journey talking about this time as a ‘holding tank’- a place of limbo until the graduate student graduates and ‘life can begin’.  This analogy is utterly unhelpful and ripe for discontent for the certain setbacks to be faced in the future.  No graduate journey is smooth, there may be financial setbacks, personal or family circumstances that change, problems with data/researching, a doctorate taking longer than thought, and a healthy chunk of time waiting for job offers to come.  If a couple is going to embark on this journey, it should be seen as, yes a season of life, but part of life. Life shouldn’t go on hold until the end of the degree.

With that said, my husband and I found that our life was immeasurably blessed on the graduate journey.  For a precious time in our life we were surrounded by people on the same journey. Most were on similar budgets, we lived in the same community, all had similar dreams, and we could empathize with each other’s struggles.  As a couple, we were faced with many years of an incredibly flexible schedule, where we could work on our studies, spend more time together, and be incredibly enriched by our like-minded friends and community, and a stimulating city.  We’ve loved our experience, struggles and joys.

6. You wouldn’t expect me to say this, but go for it! ~ graduate movement can be shaped, as it was for us, by many important, life-giving forces, not least the power of community and the exercise of virtues (love, patience, tenacity, empathy, rest etc) as a family in the face of varied success, inevitable disappointment and constant uncertainty. To go with that, I’d also say be aware of how much you can handle/take (financial freedom at the end of the journey is a goal worth considering). There is a saying that PHD stands for ‘Permanent Head Damage’ and without making light of it I’d say that to some extent the intensity (and isolation) of doctoral (and masters) work can have that effect, at least in stretches, on more graduates than one would expect, especially if there are no/minimal supporting structures of care and empowerment. Know your own limits and don’t be afraid to consider enough is enough if the warning signs persist.

7. I would say the same thing that I would say to anyone who is married or in a committed relationship. First of all, be flexible and have flexible expectations about the future. Remember that you married each other because of who you are, not because you were going to be a doctor/lawyer/professor/etc. (well hopefully that’s the case!). And even though you should be flexible, also be honest with one another about the expectations you do have and the struggles that you face. Sometimes, all it takes is being willing to hear one another out and listen while reserving judgement, either for yourself or your spouse. My most important piece of advice is one my sister gave me: At the end of the day, try to remember that when the line is drawn in the sand, you’re on the same side. Being a team and working together has gotten us through this journey with so much less strife and resentment than we could have had!

8. Just that the long-term ramifications of even beginning the academic journey are serious.  The job market is no joke: it has no mercy and it isn’t fair.  Life on a student budget is a serious stress for a family. It’s probably not going to be much fun unless the move into academia is a mutual decision, and unless it’s made after plenty of discussion with other former or current graduate-families.

9. Your time as a graduate will be longer than you expect and the time before you get a stable job will be longer than you expect. Only do it if you have a way to fund a significant portion of it (although my wife and I broke this rule initially). To Graduates: this is a vocation not only you need to feel comfortable with but those around you. Also, you will have setbacks both financially and academically whilst pursuing graduate work. You really need to count the cost…

10. I would tell them to consider realistically what the job market will be like in their field with that degree. To research the area the schools are in before making the move.  That they need to find support. That there is more to it than doing what you love all the time. I would probably point out some articles I’ve read about the reality of staying in academia. But really the number one thing I would tell them is to look at the job market in that field. I think so much of the depression and stress is realizing, after years of agonizing work, that you might not be able to work in the field that has been your dream, or that it turns out your dream job isn’t what you thought it would be.

11. Don’t do this unless you’re SURE you want to.  The job prospects are lousy, and you may well not get one.  Have a backup plan for your degree if you don’t get an academic job.  And be ready to be content if you have to use that backup plan.  It’s there for a reason.

Now we ask you, dear readers: What would you say to a family who is interested in embarking on the graduate life journey?

Stages of the Grad Journey

Questions About the Graduate Life, Part 1

https://i1.wp.com/www.ciob.org.uk/sites/ciob.org.uk/files/images/question%20marks_0.jpg

Recently, a reader wrote to ask us the following questions:

Is the graduate life what you thought it would be?

What would you say to a family who is interested in embarking on the graduate life journey?

We sat down to write a blog post, and it occurred to us that maybe we should take a survey amongst friends of ours scattered all over the world who have completed this graduate journey. We had planned to take snippets of their answers to create our post, but some of the answers were so helpful, we thought we’d leave them as they came in to us.

We polled current and former graduate wives, married academics, graduate husbands, and our own graduates. 

We hope you find their answers insightful.

-Mandy & M.C.

Is the graduate life what you thought it would be?

1. No!  I never imagined that it would require so much of us as a family and as a couple.  The dark times of our graduate journey were darker than I thought they would be but there were also many bright moments that surpassed my expectations.

2. Not at all. It’s more unifying to our marriage, and far less edifying to our budget. And the marriage is stronger only because we moved away on our own, owning nothing but the contents of four suitcases. All we had was each other. And being dirt poor isn’t easy, but conversations are had when cooking rice and beans over a rented movie.

3. Yes.  I feel like we knew enough people who were knee-deep in the graduate journey themselves, that we had a really good idea of what to expect.

And, no.  Because I NEVER would have guessed that 7 years (and 3 degrees) later we would have lived in three countries, had two children (in two different countries – neither of which are our home country), moved 6 times, worked 4 jobs, etc. to make this academic dream a reality.  And after all that, there is the unfortunate reality to eventually face that there are simply not enough jobs for all the amazingly talented people who have all made incredible sacrifices to make academia their career.  I (like most) once naively thought that a good degree from a top school where my husband worked with a well-known supervisor with whom he has a good relationship would ensure a good job afterward.  Sadly, there simply are no guarantees.

4. No. It’s been so much more than I could have ever expected!In the beginning, 2 weeks after we were married we shipped off for his first masters.  Just the two of us. The good, the bad and the ugly. And we had to figure it all out on our own but together. Wouldn’t trade it. Even the really hard bits.

3 years later we shipped off to the UK. Again, just the two of us. Those are precious memories.

And all along the way the amazing friends we met. More than friends. Kindred spirits. Make shift family. Forever friends. Most of the time it was people I might not have been friends with if we’d all been living in America. Why is that?! But it is special because our little world was really expanded through all those different friends. And we’re all still friends today. The kind that you get back together with after not talking for a year and just pick back up. The people you can be totally yourself with and they get you. The people you call/email when something really big is going on.

Those kind of friendships are harder to find after the grad life. So we treasure them.

And oh the places I’ve been. I grew up in a town of 500 people and never really had a desire to leave. I love my hometown. Love it. But I love that the world is so much bigger to me now. I love that I understand different cultures because I’ve experienced them…really lived in them. And maybe at times really hated them, but to come through that all the way to appreciation for why a country or city is the way it is. The grad wife journey has given me that.

5. Yes, in the main sense.  But much less contemplative.  Of course, that may be because we had no stipend the whole time, so I was always working at least 30 hours per week.

6. For the first response, it was more than I thought it would be!  This experience allowed my husband and I to grow as a couple.  Away from family we had to rely on the strength, empathy and sacrifice of each other.  We had the unique experience of pursuing doctorates together, but I don’t think that our experience is so separate from other couples where only one is pursuing graduate school.

7. Graduate life was far more intense (and far more rewarding) than I had initially expected. It really is a pilgrimage in every sense, not least all that relates to personal significance and aspiration. Graduate work, on top of that, was not what I had expected. Research is linear and subject to control, I came into the program thinking, that is, year 1’s findings lead into year 2’s findings and so forth, with equal measures of momentum and success. But research requires addition by subtraction, a step forward by a couple (or more) steps backward. That is no easy thing to experience on a regular basis. Good supervision alleviates this dimension of graduate life, but there is no getting around it: it is a rite of passage that every researcher goes through. The non-linear (and inherently provisional) nature of humanities research and writing took a good bit of adjustment.

8. My graduate husband said that his Masters’ program was about what he expected, but that the PhD program was much harder than he had anticipated. I think it was especially hard the first year, when he wasn’t getting a lot of feedback from his advisors and he began second-guessing his decision to be here at all. He said that he didn’t expect to need me as much as he has. Like, he knew in a “head” way that he would need me to help in practical ways and so forth, but he didn’t know he would need as much emotional support and encouragement as it’s taken to finish the program.

For me, the most surprising thing was how necessary it was for me to develop solitary hobbies. This probably has more to do with our living in a one-bedroom apartment the first 4 years of the PhD, but all through the program: coursework, comps, and dissertation, if I was going to see him at all, it was going to be in our living room and he would be working a lot of the time, so I better have something like reading/knitting/sewing/writing to do. So I’m glad I’ve developed those hobbies but didn’t anticipate how necessary they would be.

9. I can’t say that I had many expectations, so it’s hard to say! But one thing is sure: I didn’t expect this much of an emotional roller-coaster.  I thought I’d found my niche, meaning: a) I pictured myself enjoying every moment of my studies, and so it’s a bit of a let-down to find myself approaching my thesis more and more as another big hoop to jump through; b) I pictured myself excelling, and actually having something to offer to the academic community, so it’s a bit frustrating to feel like I’m just doing all I can to pass, and in the process am taking up space that someone else could probably fit more effectively.

10. No, but rarely are things the way I expect them. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got before going into graduate school was to treat it like a job, 9am-5pm. If one must do something in the evening it had to be made up elsewhere. Sure, there will be times, temporary times, where scheduling may get intense but I’ve always felt this can never become the norm.

In my years here I have struggled with this mentality while also recognising that ‘life is what happens to you while you are making other plans’. I have always felt that while graduate school is meant to be about preparation for a new career and a new life, the process and that time (it was 6 years!) can’t be seen on its own as just preparation–only waiting around until life will actually start. Life happens in those decisions and habits we make today. That doesn’t change just because one gets a degree. That is the reality of the situation. Certain sacrifices have to be made on both ends: for the graduate and for those who are affected by the graduate. But, it is those moments of mutual sacrifice that our love for each other is ACTUALLY put into practice. It is how we tell each other: ‘I love you. I am willing to sacrifice my own comfort and ambition for you.’

I found graduate school a lot more flexible in the UK then what we had back in the States. First, because the schedule is much more flexible. The coursework is a lot lighter (instead of being in the classroom for 20 hours a week it might only be 5-10). There is a lot more time in the week to be flexible. This just isn’t the case with most programs especially in the USA. For three years before we started graduate school my wife and I held full-time jobs and were full-time students in the USA (she was getting her Masters in Clinical Psychology and I was getting another degree in Engineering). This time was MUCH more difficult and a lot of it was because of the coursework we were both required to fulfil and because we were working full time. In the UK, we integrated this much better.

I wouldn’t trade my graduate life. I have met some of the most amazing people who have sacrificed a lot to be here, giving up successful careers to serve people in higher education (both graduates and family). I want to be around those kind of people.

11. I guess I have a limited perspective, since we only did a year.  I thoroughly enjoyed it!  It’s so fun to be back in the college atmosphere with the built in friends and fun.  Though, we will be paying off the loans until our own kids go to college, and they are quite expensive–like a luxury car payment every month.  I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything though.  I would wholeheartedly recommend it, and going overseas makes it even more life-changing.  If anything, it helped me understand what really matters–family, not location, wealth, status, or things.

12. No. I didn’t think that much about it, just went with it. I suppose I expected a sort of continuation of undergrad. (digression: read “Surviving my stupid, stupid decision to go to grad school“). I didn’t know about the “dark period“, the stress, the pressure, the insanity, or that I would be going through it with my graduate.

Now we ask you, dear readers: is the graduate life what you thought it would be?
Community · Friendship

Seeking BFF

Written by Keeley, a current graduate wife        

 I recently read an interesting book about making friends which I thought I’d introduce to our readers at The Graduate Wife. The premise of the book, entitled “MWF Seeking BFF”, is that the author has moved to a new town with her husband and is attempting to find people who might blossom into life-long friends. Instead of waiting for this to happen organically (because that hasn’t worked so well over the first few years in their town), she goes all out. Over the span of a year, she goes on 52 “friend-dates” with people she meets through various venues, including an improvisation class, cooking clubs, book clubs, and of course, other friends. The book chronicles her experiences as well as how she processes the new relationships in her life, and she fills out her narrative with a healthy chunk of statistics and research on the art/science of making and keeping friends. While I certainly admire her motivation, willpower, and discipline in accomplishing this mammoth goal, I fully concede that as an introvert, my head would simply explode from all that social interaction.

See, the thing is that I’m not all that great at making friends. Meeting people, sure, I enjoy learning new faces and names and even have somewhat of a knack for remembering them. And once I’m friends with someone, she can definitely count on me to be there for a conversation, for a listening ear, for a walk in the neighborhood, for a cup of tea or an ice-cream cone. Especially an ice cream cone. As I read this book, however, I realized how much of an ordeal it normally is for me to make a new friend. Thinking back through my life, my best middle school buddy and my best friend through high school basically had to “hunt me down” (in their words) to become friends. I think the reason, partly, is because I have always been close to my family, and, having one larger than normal, there were always plenty of us around to hang out with. However, it wasn’t until college that I realized another reason I am hesitant to begin new friendships: vulnerability. It’s much easier for me to be friendly to everyone and to offer my friendship to those who express interest in it–getting to where I have a mutual trust and need for that relationship is what trips me up and must, in some way, scare me. I know this because one of my best friends in college and I, when we became friends, explicitly stated to one another that we weren’t interested in being half-way friends. If we were going to get-to-know one another, we were going to be the type of friends who never worried about intruding or being a drain on the other; we were going to be honest with one another and give one another our best attempts at friendship.

Since then, I’ve learned that this isn’t always possible when making new friends. While a heart-to-heart conversation like that is immediately within reach in the social greenhouse which is college, people in the real world like for things to just happen. When Jason and I first married and moved to his master’s program, I didn’t spend much time at all thinking about friendships. Between our new marriage and my work schedule, it honestly didn’t cross my mind. But when we moved to pursue his PhD program, I was pleased to find that the community here facilitates making friends like hardly any other place I’ve been.

That’s not to say that it has all been a dream–the first year we lived here I had about five friends that I regularly spent time with, and the next year they had all moved away. In the graduate life, I have found this to be one of the most challenging aspects of making friends. But from those five friends, I learned a great many things, not the least of which were how to knit, and the fact that I have a massive writer’s crush on Barbara Kingsolver. Since then, I’ve had many a walking buddy and reading cohort, and each of these friends I have learned to appreciate for what we bring to one another’s lives, however long our overlap may last.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, however, that I have also found a “BFF” in the process–a friend with whom I spent so much time and we shared so much of our lives, that I know wherever we live, we will remain friends and remember how much more fulfilling and rewarding this stage of life has been because of one another. She has already moved away, which we knew would happen eventually with our both being graduate wives, but we stay in touch regularly, and I think of her frequently as I drive or walk past our old meeting places in my town. Like another one of my college friends, I think of her as more of a sister than a friend. It’s through friendships like this that I understand the bittersweetness of making, losing, and keeping companions through our lives. My childhood friends, my college friends, and my adult friends–they have all helped me to become more of who I am and challenged me to grow in ways I never thought possible. I may never go on 52 dates to discover another BFF, but I can certainly understand why someone would go to the trouble.

Have you found it easy or difficult to make new friends during this unique stage of life? How do you balance making new friendships with maintaining your marriage and/or work?