Inspiration

Humans of New York: A Peek into Graduate Life

Stories are worth sharing.

I’ve been a big fan of Humans of New York, both on Facebook and Tumblr for some time. Brandon has done a tremendous job of sharing amazing stories of people all over the world, and it truly highlights that fact that no matter what culture we’re part of or country we live in, a lot of the same fears, hopes, and dreams are universal.

One of the stories he shared recently was from a couple from Vietnam who had weathered graduate school in the USA. Here’s a snippet of the post:

“Our daughter was five months old when I got a scholarship to Johns Hopkins. My wife came with me to Baltimore so that our family could stay together. I will always be thankful for that sacrifice, because I know it was the toughest three years of her life. She didn’t speak a word of English…”

It’s a beautiful story of giving, sacrificial love, and the deepening of relationships. No matter where we sit in the graduate life at the moment, it’s stories like this that keep me going, and I hope it does the same for you too.

~Mandy

 

 

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Inspiration

The Top 10 Things I Learned as a Graduate Wife

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As my graduate wife journey has come to an end, and I have transitioned onto the next adventure, I have had time to reflect on what I have learned as a graduate wife. I have also had time to be thankful for the opportunity to share this journey with so many other graduate spouses, through this blog and the University communities I was a part of. Here are the top ten things I have learned, paired with some of our best posts that highlight each lesson.

1. Graduate life is only a season. During our time in grad school, I was friends with a woman whose husband had completed grad school 20 years prior. She constantly told me that grad life was a season. Although my head believed her, my heart did not. When we were in the middle of it, and the process was continually kicking us in the face, it was easy to lose hope. After 9 years of grad school life, and 1 year of being back on the ‘other side of real life,’ I can say….she was right. It really is only a season, and to be honest, it will probably end up being a short chapter in my life book!

Savor the Here and Now

2. Investing in relationships takes work. Moving, starting over, and building a new community is hard work. You have to be willing to invest time in people around you. A community doesn’t happen over night. The time you’re investing now will pay off. Stick with it!

The Mark of Friendship- Response

3. Grad school is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be times that grad school will feel like it’s never ending. You get through one goal, only to discover there are 30 more in front of you. When I started to focus on what seemed like never-ending goals in front of us, I immediately became overwhelmed. I learned to take life one day at a time. I only needed enough strength to make it through that one day!

Six Stages of the Graduate Journey

4. Living simply is an art.  For most of us, the stipends and scholarships barely cover living expenses. I had to learn to live a much more simple life. It wasn’t easy to do, but once we settled into just taking care of what was needed, we became used to it. Since we were also part of a community that was living the same type of life we were, it was good to share ways with each other to even further simplify the simple.

Beauty and the Budget Series

5. Having your dreams shattered might the best thing that’s ever happened to you. My husband and I have always been planners. Unfortunately, graduate school is not kind to planners. It’s hard when your entire life is being determined by a hiring committee. We definitely had our fair share of disappointments: failed grant proposals, interviews that didn’t end with job offers, interviews that didn’t happen, etc. Looking back, it’s now easy for me to see that those things had to happen in order for us to be who we are and where we are today.

Grad Wife to Farmer Life

6. You are not alone. I remember vividly sitting in a coffee shop with a dear friend of mine telling her I didn’t think I could press on any further with this grad school thing. I also remember being shocked as she told me she often felt the same way. The very act of being really vulnerable with a friend turned the tables for me. I left the coffee shop with a resolve and strength that I didn’t have when I arrived….I was not alone.

A Name for Pain

7. Don’t put your own dreams on hold. It’s so easy to slide into being the ‘support’, but if you stay in that mode for too long, you will lose yourself.  I have a friend that moved with her husband to London when he started grad school. While they were there, she was offered her dream job in California. They had long talk(s) and decided they could live a part for year, seeing each other in person once every three to four months, to make both their dreams happen. While that scenario wouldn’t work for everyone, if you have your own burgeoning career, figure out a way to make it happen, and do it!

Don’t Put Your Life on Hold

8. Learn to live in the present. My friend, Betsy, always said to me, “Bloom where you’re planted.” It resonated with me then, but especially now as we’ve entered a new city. Do I miss Oxford? You betcha. I miss our friends, the familiarity, the little family we made there. I also miss those things from Orlando and Atlanta (and if I’m honest, a pretty long list of our favorite restaurants). Even though these places are part of my story and woven into the fabric of my heart, I no longer reside in them. I am still learning what it means to embrace where I am placed.

Life is Now

9. You will change. Grad school changes you. You will not be the same person at the end that you were in the beginning. The experiences will mold and shape your character, teaching you so many wonderful lessons about life, love, and sacrifice. Some of it will be hard. Some of it will be amazing. But in the end, as your life words are being penned, allow it to permeate your soul and become part of who you are. There will be purpose and joy in your pain. I promise.

I used to…

10. This will be an experience of a lifetime. As more and more time passes between our time in grad school and this new season of life, I have come to realize what an absolute irreplaceable gift it was. From learning and living life lessons, to being part of an amazing community of people, to watching my husband obtain one of his dreams….it was all a gift. I’m so thankful we were given this amazing opportunity.

Love, Written on My Heart

As a former, current, or soon-to-be graduate wife, if you could add your own point to this list, what would it be?

-Mandy

 

 

 

 

Expectations · Inspiration · Moving

REPOST: What I wish I had known… {part III}

-Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are featuring the third post on the series: “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Please see the first post here, and the second post here.

Moving:

  •      Pick and choose carefully when packing those boxes.

o      Consider the climate carefully and realistically. If you’re moving to the UK like we did, you might as well leave behind those flip-flops, bathing suits, shorts and sundresses. This girl paid to move all those things, only to end up stuffing them in a suitcase headed back to the US for the holidays.

o      Pack lightly. Are you really going to need all those t-shirts? Could you purchase Tupperware more cheaply than moving it? Sure that crystal vase is nice, but really?

o      On the other hand, I wish I had brought our wedding album and that quilt that has been in the family for three generations. Those extra special items will bring comfort when homesickness hits.

  • Don’t put off the paperwork.

o      If you need residence permits or visas, know the requirements and get started early. Unless you want to be like us, running through the streets of downtown Chicago during the two hour time slot you have before your friend’s wedding in order to get a same day passport.

  • Brace yourself for the (extra) cost.

o      There are layers and layers of fees and unexpected costs, from setting up Internet to paying for a TV license (what? a license to watch TV?). Make room for this in your budget.

o      A furnished flat/apartment could come without a kitchen table. You’ll probably need some extra cash for that trip to Ikea or Walmart [insert local substitute here].

o      When you’ve first arrived and you’re exhausted, emotionally and physically, it may be worth grabbing a taxi and throwing your grand plan of walking the last mile and a half to your new apartment out the window instead.

  • Investigate your destination city.

o      Don’t settle on a mover or a bank or a grocery store until you ask for others’ experiences, even if they are strangers on the Internet (You’ve struck gold if your destination city happens to be featured on The Graduate Wife’s survival guide section.).

o      Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as your elementary school teacher once told you. Seriously, others have gone before you. Seek them out and get some help settling.

Dealing with Internal Battles:

We came here for the purpose of my husband’s education, and that education came at a cost for both of us, and for our family and friends back home. I had wholeheartedly agreed to this new adventure prior to our coming, and I plunged into the job-hunt and life-making once we landed in Scotland (okay, so I cried for the first couple days).

What felt romantic and adventurous while still living in the US, however, quickly became hard. Figuring out a new culture, going through the process of student teaching in Scotland and again in England (since my American credential didn’t transfer) and enduring a climate that happens to have really hard, dark, wet winters were some of the challenges. Add to that the fact that we moved from Scotland to England to Germany and back to England within three years, and I was tired. Really tired. And my emotional trap was to blame my husband, as if the challenges surrounding the decision to study abroad were his doing. It hasn’t been easy to work through my misplaced anger when enduring a particularly tough season.

The best advice I can give is to turn off the DVD player and start talking. Work through it, regardless of how hard the conversation is. Otherwise, the bitterness is at risk of festering and creating resentment. My companion on this journey is my husband, the one who was by my side through every move and bad day at work and hard winter – we must work hard to protect and enrich our alliance. Without his companionship, I simply could not do this another day.

Simplifying your life:

My brother once asked me if it was true that European and British residents rode bicycles to work and often wore the same outfit twice in one week. Emphatically, I said “yes, and it’s awesome” (okay, maybe a slightly smug exaggeration, but still).

Six years living here, and we may have a tinge of this beautiful outlook on material possessions: you don’t need much to live comfortably. Of course, this outlook is not confined to Europe. Anyone on a student budget can tell you that saving money wherever you can breeds simplicity. This is refreshing, and it is conveniently conducive to the student lifestyle.

So, grab a bike and wear that ten-year-old pair of jeans without a second thought, and do it every single day.

Holding on to your own dreams:

So if you are the one putting your husband or wife through school, it may be the case that a dream of your own has been put on hold. For me, I’d like to go back to school. My husband’s doctorate and six years later, this dream has not been realized.

I’ve come, however, to understand that waiting to pursue one’s dreams doesn’t have to mean that they diminish, ‘dry up’ or even ‘explode’ as Langston Hughes famously penned. Rather, the waiting has refined my goal, changed its direction and enriched its beauty. The dream deferred can turn into an aging wine rather than a raisin in the sun. And in this space of waiting, I’ve seen other aspirations blossom and flourish: having children and starting a family, establishing traditions of our own, getting to know another culture.

If you could pass along any lessons learned in your own graduate wife journey, what would they be, and why?

Expectations · Inspiration · Moving · Sacrifice

REPOST: What I wish I had known… {part II}

-Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are featuring the second post on the series: “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Please see the first post here.

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Work:  When my husband and I made the decision to go to graduate school, I committed to support us. I have worked the entire time we’ve been in school, and have had some really wonderful (but often difficult) jobs along the way.  It’s not easy putting your other half through school, either emotionally or financially. There’s a lot of self-sacrificing involved.

I’ve had several fellow graduate wives work some pretty incredible jobs to be that financial support – everything from clown, journalist, nanny, and lawyer. Usually when I hear their stories, my respect for them, no matter what they do, triples.  If you are working, and your other half is in school AND working, how do you find the time to support each other? I don’t know about you, but time is a precious commodity in our house.

Here are some things we’ve done over the course of the last few years:

  • Be supportive of each other. When my husband has a deadline coming up, I know he’s going to be incredibly stressed. I’ve learned the best way I can support him is to step out of his way, and give him the space he needs. (This means not nagging him whenever he hasn’t taken the garbage out or vacuumed)! He does the same for me whenever I have a deadline at work.
  • Work as hard as you can…then let it go. There are never going to be enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished. Decide what it’s important, and do that. Let everything else go. (For this perfectionist personality, that was a hard one)!
  • Communicate. When we first started school, almost every night we watched television while eating dinner. We both soon realized that with our jobs (in addition to my job, he was going to school full time and working three part time jobs), we weren’t seeing each other. Why were we wasting time doing that, when we could be spending it with each other? We finally turned the television off. We don’t even own one now.
  •  You will be living in different worlds. Unless you are working at the school your other half attends, then more than likely you’ll be in a much different environment than he is. Case in point: during our masters’ program, my husband had friends who were keeping their air conditioning off (in Florida), because they were worried about paying their bill. I, on the other hand, worked in an office where colleagues were buying yachts. Nothing is wrong with either of those scenarios, but it meant we had to work doubly hard to understand and be patient with each others worlds.
  • Celebrate the little things. When you’re both working, hardly seeing each other, it’s worth taking the time to celebrate a good review at work, a good meeting with a supervisor, or a deadline met. So put your work aside, pop open a bottle of champagne, have some chocolate covered strawberries, and celebrate!

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Avoiding Pitfalls:

I do love the sense of adventure that the graduate journey has brought us, even through the most difficult times. One of the things I haven’t particularly enjoyed is moving. I don’t like having our ‘stuff’ strewn through two States at parent’s homes; I don’t like not knowing where things are (even though, I did at one point have all our storage boxes labelled by number that corresponded with an excel spreadsheet – so literally at any time, I could go call my Mom to say, “Will you go to box 16 and mail me ____?” I obviously had too much time on my hands before we moved); and I really don’t like the fact that nothing in our current flat seems like it’s ‘ours’ right now.

When you move and start over, there are always pitfalls to avoid as you wouldn’t want to end up in a crappy apartment with black mold growing down the walls or a neighbor whose favorite past time is playing Jay-Z’s new song, Glory. At 3 am. To full volume. (No offense to Jay-Z, or to Glory).

How do you plan accordingly for moving to a new city? A lot of this will seem like common sense, but there are some things on this list we didn’t do before we moved, and paid a dear price for later on.

  • Research. Seriously? Yes. Research the heck out of your new city. Take the time to learn its quirks, even before you arrive. Pick up every piece of information you can find, from the internet, to the library, to a book store. Buy a special book or journal, and make that your “New City” book. Keep any key pieces of information you’d like to have on hand in your new book.
  • Learn from other people’s experiences. My husband and I are contemplating another move at the moment. I am in the process of meeting or communicating with several people (some I’ve never met) who have lived in the city (or nearby) we are considering. It seems strange to start an email with, “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’m friends with blah blah blah…” but you know what? Most people are eager to help you on your journey, because they were in your shoes once. The information they pass on to you will be priceless…and perhaps something to put in your new book! MC and I met over the phone, and spent 8 months talking about Oxford before she actually moved here.
  •  Plan carefully, but be willing to take a risk. Plans are never foolproof. Something will always go wrong. There are going to be times you’re going to have to make a decision blindly. When you do, roll with it. Chances are, things will turn out just fine. If not, then you’ll have a wonderful story to tell your grandchildren someday.

Traveling:  Hands down, the biggest regret that my husband and I have since living here is that we haven’t taken the time to travel more in the UK. We have an intimate relationship with Oxford, but haven’t made the time to visit very many other places in the UK. (We have managed to travel through a bit of Europe).  Now with a toddler running around, it makes things even more difficult.

With all the groupon coupons, living social coupons, etc you should be able to afford and make the time to travel to other places in the area, State, or country you live in. Get to know the city you live in – visit the museums, hang out in the coffee shops, visit the restaurants. When I first worked in Oxford, I visited a news agent so frequently, that I became friends with the owner.

Our excuse for not traveling was my husband’s schedule. Looking back, would it have mattered if it had taken him another month or two in the long run to finish his dissertation? The answer is NO! So pack your bags and go!

Expectations

What Do You Do When the Writing Stops?

-written by ML, a current graduate wife

I came home from work to find that my graduate student husband had spent the day playing video games again, instead of writing his dissertation. It would be so easy to yell, so easy to tell him off. Why? I’m at a job I dislike, we’re living in a town we dislike, so he can follow his dream…and he isn’t working on it. It would be so easy to lose my temper, so easy to run away, so easy to give up on this grad student wife life.

But I STOP. I stop before I yell. I stop before I even speak. I stop and think about, “WHY?”

Why isn’t he working on his dissertation? It isn’t because he’s lazy; it isn’t because he’s being mean; it isn’t even because he doesn’t want to. It’s because he’s hit a rough spot.

He loves to teach, he loves doing field work, and as a professor he’ll get to do both. But in order to get there, he has to do research and write a dissertation.

While he was initially researching, we set up a system of deadlines and rewards. Finish X research by Monday, and we go out to eat. Finish Y research by July, and we go to a soccer game. It’s a system I recommend trying if you’re in a tough spot, but it comes with a warning: I too want to go out to eat and go to games and the few times deadlines were missed and we didn’t get to go, I felt like I was being punished too. I remedied this by doing other things, say going to museum he wouldn’t want to go to on a day I had off while he was teaching class. I made sure to do things he wasn’t interested in so as not to pour salt in the wound.

However, when the research was done and it was time to write, I quickly saw that no matter what the reward was, the deadline was missed. You see, my husband is a perfectionist. When it comes to writing, he feels like every line must be perfect before putting it on paper.  This led to basically zero writing getting done.

When you really think about it, it’s not easy to run or give up on this grad wife life. It would mean being without him, and that would be terrible! Since we live 2,000 miles from family there’s nowhere to run to. Thank goodness! Instead of hiding and continuing to be angry we are stuck in a tiny apartment together, forced to find a solution to get over our anger.

A quick search revealed there are actually books to help with dissertation writing, I chose, The Dissertation Journey: A Practical and Comprehensive Guide to Planning, Writing, and Defending Your Dissertation” by Carol M. Roberts. Knowing that he wouldn’t read it because he had a lot going on, was bordering on depression, and just wouldn’t – I took it upon myself to read it to him a bit every night. He went from skepticism to wishing he’d read it at the beginning of grad school. First it pointed out that he isn’t alone in how he feels (much like this blog did for me). Then it explained the graduate process. Then it had some extremely handy lists as to what each chapter should contain.

It would be easy to treat him like a child—take away his video games, force him to sit at the desk and put something on paper or no dinner; ultimately though, that would make the situation so much worse. He’s already going through a rough time; he doesn’t need his #1 fan belittling him.

We still go through the book together (it’s not one you simply read through, it’s one that is read in parts as the dissertation moves along). I help him check things off the lists. I encourage him to just get something on paper and we’ll smooth it out later. I make deals like I’ll wash the dishes for him if he’ll write while I do it. I’ve gone from a pretty pessimistic person to his own personal cheerleader.

All-in-all, my solution is to STOP before you say anything, think about the real cause of why he isn’t working, try to find a solution together, and be encouraging instead of belittling and angry.

As a graduate wife, how have you dealt with a spouse who seems to be putting off writing or researching their work?

Monday's Food for Thought

Monday’s Food for Thought: Having It All?

I know many of you have come across the recently posted article by Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic, entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”.  It seems this piece went viral last week and I have had several interesting conversations revolving around it’s contents.  Slaughter takes a look at several ‘half truths’ that women have been telling younger generations and basically says they are lies that have to be re-thought in order for women to ever somewhat ‘have it all’ in the world today.

It’s time to stop fooling ourselves… the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change…”

Another piece I came across recently as well is this one entitled, “Why Women Leave Academia and Why Universities Should be Worried”, published in the Guardian.  Although not entirely related to the first, there is a lot of food for thought here and much room for conversation.

Young women scientists leave academia in far greater numbers than men for three reasons. During their time as PhD candidates, large numbers of women conclude that (i) the characteristics of academic careers are unappealing, (ii) the impediments they will encounter are disproportionate, and (iii) the sacrifices they will have to make are great.”

What do you think about these two pieces?

What you have encountered personally?

-M.C.

Expectations · Inspiration

Picture?


Today’s beautiful post comes from a woman I’ve had the privilege of getting to know here in Oxford.  She has not just sacrificed career choices or zip codes to help support her husband’s plans in graduate school, she has moved countries, cultures and even languages (English is not her native tongue) on her journey thus far, and this is only the beginning of where their graduate school path will take them. Having never traveled outside of her own country before she met her husband, she has since traveled and moved a great deal.  I hope you enjoy a small part of her story as much as I have and I hope it gives you perspective and encouragement while taking a moment to step back to marvel at the unique and beautiful ways our lives have take different paths than we might have anticipated.  –M.C.

                                                

“ What a nice weather!  How lovely they are.   I am watching the old couple who is sitting in my next bench. The husband is holding his wife’s hand tightly.  They are looking at each other with love and smelling sea breeze together.  It seems by years. I am watching that lovely picture and smiling.  And thinking what is my future husband going to look like.  How tall he is? What color his hair is? Where does he live now? What is he doing right now, right now!?”

This was one of my notes I wrote a long time ago before I ever met my husband.

When I wrote these notes, I had a completely different life than now.  I was sure I had already completed my full self-development…all I learned was enough and I was pretty sure I knew how my life would turn out. But there were other surprises for me!

When I met my husband, it was an ordinary day like others.  All I wanted to do was find the cheapest carpet and I found more than a cheap carpet at that souvenir shop!  I found my most special thing!

Not long later we decided to marry.  I’d never left my country before, I’d never had any opportunity to travel around the world.  Life wasn’t very easy for me, and for my generation.  I felt I always had to study and achieve something, I had to deserve my family’s effort for me and I always had to hold in high honour.

That wasn’t their wish for me to marry a foreigner sometime. To let me to leave my country, leave my culture, leave my family? It should have been a nightmare. It was a long and painful period to deal with them and with my friends. That wasn’t just my family who was against the idea, my friends, my relatives and my professors. I decided to not finish my masters degree. That should call “Cultural Shock!”

But thankfully with patience and love, everything changed.  Yes, I had to given up lots of things.  Now I am in a different culture, different language, different side walk, with different friends, different traditions and that wasn’t a picture I thought when I was watching that old couple. But the picture and frame which I have, I love it! There are somethings that still needs to repair in picture but with faith and love nothing is impossible.

“You are my gift from God!” that is what I wrote in my husband’s wedding ring with my hand writing, and that is what he wrote in mine in my language.

God is always ready to give gifts and ready to help us to find the best frames for our pictures of life. It doesn’t matter on which wall it hangs. The wall doesn’t affect the way picture looks, but the picture in a nice frame effects the wall and the whole atmosphere of the room tremendously.   On your graduate wife journey, does your picture look like you had planned it?