Daunting was the task of carefully scrutinizing each potential graduate program to ensure the right fit for future aspirations and styles of inquiry. And once the process has come to pass, along with the fairytale-esque courtship of the post-acceptance graduate visitations and the subsiding stress of relocation, only the lack of free time and the realization that you are far removed from any semblance of what could be called home remains. This feeling I know all too well, let me show you what I mean.
Nested in the South Bay, San Jose is the mecca of computer technology and semi-conductors. The innovation and diversity of thought are merely reflections of the cultural demographics of the area. Below is the distribution of racial and ethnic groups in the Bay Area derived from the 2010 U.S. Census data.
Colorful isn’t it? San Jose has the largest Vietnamese population in a single city outside Vietnam. This is home; the place where I grew up. This is where my family and many of the people I love and cherish currently reside. It shares a special place in my heart.
To the south, the second most populous city in the United States stands with a population of 3.8 million. It is in this concrete jungle of Los Angeles that I spent most of my adulthood. Life here is fast-paced, and traffic… unsettlingly in utter contrast, but I loved every second of my time there. Neighboring further south is Orange County, which boast the largest Vietnamese population in one county outside Vietnam. See for yourself.
Now where the heck am I going with all this? Well, in the summer of 2009, I got on an airplane departing from LAX headed for IND. About an hour out, I finally made it to what would be my dwelling place and the battlegrounds for my intellectual pursuit for the years to come. I understood and accepted earlier on that Indiana will be quite different from any place I’ve ever lived. The census data surely verifies this fact.
Yet despite all the mental preparations, for the first year, I’ve never felt so alone and paralyzed with homesickness. But in this short period of seemingly endless stupor, I had time to reflect and seek out guidance from those who came before. I have come to learn a few things I’d like to share with you:
— This feeling of being overwhelmed is a part of the graduate school experience. It’s only natural to feel like a tiny sapling in the a grand forest of competing minds. Be patient and work hard, you’ll find yourself competing in no time.
— The discomfort of being away is a temporary feeling only to be replaced by a sense of profound appreciation of what you had, what you now have, and the possibility of what is to come. And it is only when we are taken out of our comfort zone that we strive and grow as an individual.
— The world is a vast and interesting place waiting to be explored, especially for a young scholar. Think about it, what other time is there in life where you can just grab your stuff, uproot, and live somewhere completely different. None, there is no other time. Now is the time.
— Lastly, misery always seeks company. Find yourself a good group of friends share your common experiences. A festive night complaining about graduate existence over a cold beer does wonders for the well-being of the graduate student soul.
These are the simple truths that I live by and use on a daily basis to justify near-poverty wages in the pursuit of knowledge. Going into the final years of my graduate studies, I’ve never felt more content with the direction of my life. I stand ready to humbly contribute my knowledge and experiences to uncover and understand the most profound mysteries of our natural world.