managing expectations.

It’s no secret that I’m a little on the high-strung side when it comes to academics. I always have been.

It was quite a shock during my first semester of university to receive grades that weren’t As or high Bs. However, I thought that over the course of four years, I grew a thicker skin. I didn’t know a single person who graduated from my alma mater with a perfect 4.0 GPA. The extensive core curriculum required of all students regardless of major meant that everyone had to take courses in areas in which they weren’t very strong.

When I graduated with distinction and a fairly solid cumulative GPA, I felt quite pleased with myself. I made some mistakes over the years, but for the most part, I felt like I had done well. I still believe that I challenged and pushed myself. Moreover, I had fun. There is no doubt in my mind that my university is a wonderful place to get the full “college experience.”

That was then, and this is now. I’m not sure what I was expecting by going to graduate school in another country where the grading system is completely different. And now that the final piece of the puzzle is completed — my dissertation mark — I can look back on the entire year and think about my marks and about what I really got out of the program. I’ve asked myself so many times if I could have done better. And certainly the answer is yes, I could have: I could have worked harder; I could have paid more attention; I could have written better essays.

But then I sit back and think: wait a minute! I’m not giving myself enough credit. How many people go to graduate school to study a completely new subject to them? Not many. Social Anthropology was a risk, and maybe the risk didn’t completely pay off, but for once in my life, I took it. In the end, I didn’t do as well as I had hoped, but I shouldn’t feel completely unaccomplished, should I?

A lot of friends and family members were baffled when I told them I was going to school in the UK to study Social Anthropology. The usual reply was, “To study what?” And now that I’ve finished, I can’t say the replies are any more favourable. Recently, I met someone in a sports bar, and when I said I had my MA in Social Anthropology, he replied quite condescendingly, “What are you going to do with that? Teach anthropology?” I’m never quite sure what to say to people who ask me that. I received similar remarks when I told people I was a history major as an undergrad (ancient history at that!). It’s rude, and I don’t appreciate the sentiment behind it. But even more than that, I don’t like the implication that I somehow wasted my education studying something that doesn’t matter to anyone. Having said that, in the back of my mind, maybe I’m scared that I really did do it for nothing. Did I?

It’s about managing expectations — thinking about what I wanted to get out of it, and what I actually did get out of it. I left with research I really cared about, even if it didn’t get me the highest dissertation mark. I left a better person because now I understand my place in the world better than I ever have before. I left a little more humbled, which can never be a bad thing. And I’ve gained the kind of life experience that you can’t explain to someone who hasn’t done the hand-wringing and long nights of a master’s degree.

Is a PhD next? I don’t know. I really don’t. I am not sure if I’m capable of it, if I have the marks to do it. I’m not sure of a lot of things. But I can’t regret my choices so far — there’s too much at stake if I allow myself to. But having said that: we’ll see what the future holds for me.


I recently read this excellent post on the blog Living Anthropologically about what draws people to anthropology and what keeps them there. The author made the following observation: “Anthropology requires a basic respect for people and working with them, not just studying them. Looking for answers means being humble and open to this process.”

This statement captures something I’ve always thought about myself: I’m a “people person.” I even wrote it in the personal statements that got me into grad school. However, I had never really sat back and thought about what it actually meant. I’ve described myself as a misanthrope yet, paradoxically, I recognise that I’m curious about people and that I want to know what makes us “human.” This curiosity is why I chose to study anthropology, and it’s subsequently shaped my own worldview.

But there’s a catch to allowing an interest in other people to inform one’s understanding of oneself. It means always asking questions — uncomfortable, unexpected questions — and not always understanding or accepting the answers. Continue reading

on reverse culture shock.

I’ve been back in the United States for about a week, and I’ve spent most of that time trying to “re-acclimate” myself to being here. The common phrase for this discomfort is “reverse culture shock,” but what it actually entails varies from person to person.

This isn’t my first time experiencing reverse culture shock, as my year abroad wasn’t the first time I’ve lived out of the US for an extended period of time. I think any trip abroad takes some readjustment when you come back — jet lag is the most noticeable cause of feeling out of sorts, I suppose — but coming back after living in Brighton in 2008 and after living in Manchester just this year were very different from shorter trips abroad.

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farewell, Manchester.

I’ve been putting off writing this post because I know there is no way that a few paragraphs will be able to encompass everything I want to say about my year living in Manchester.

I came to this city looking for absolution, or at the very least something that would give my life meaning once again. Whether that something would be football or my master’s program I really didn’t know or care — all I wanted was a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Have I found it? Not really, but I don’t say that negatively. Over the course of the past year, I’ve learned there is no one thing that will make my life worth living. The older I get, the more I start to understand that I have to look inward for that purpose, that motivation, that meaning. I have to believe not only that there is a reason for me to get up in the morning, but that the uncertainty and the doubt that often plague me are okay.

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the depression game.

Um, so. I’m not exactly sure how to begin this post.

Any time I see someone write really honestly and openly about their experiences with depression, I think to myself, “I wish I had the courage to write that.” And I suppose this is my attempt to fulfill that.

Everyone’s experiences are different. But here is my story. It’s not for sympathy or pity. It’s so people know they’re not alone in feeling this way. And while that may seem like a cliche, I know how much it has helped me just to have someone say that they understand what I’m going through.

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the dissertation breakdown.

A lot of people have asked what my dissertation is on. I’ve decided I might as well give an idea here. Rather than procrastinating, the more I talk about my dissertation, the more it actually helps me to sort through a minefield of research and concepts to create a clearer outline. I reckon in that sense, this post is actually a bit selfish!

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