In which I answer the age-old question…

No, the age-old question is not, “Do you have a boyfriend?” Mom, if you’re reading this, the answer is still “no.” Rather, the age-old question in this case is: why Manchester?

I touched on this subject briefly when I wrote my first post. The knee-jerk reaction from everyone, much to my amusement, is that by going to school in Manchester, I’m that much closer to Manchester United. It’s a sweet sentiment, and it’s definitely a boon, but I can say that I didn’t choose University of Manchester with the idea of being closer to Old Trafford. At least, not only with that idea!

The graduate school application process was long and arduous, the only upside being the fact that since I was only applying to schools in the UK, I didn’t have to study for, pay for, take, and most likely re-take the GRE. I’m rubbish at standardised tests, so I’m glad to have diverted my funds away from College Board and their endless supply of soul-sucking, esteem-destroying tests. But I still had a lot of work to do by researching graduate school programs at various schools.

I wasn’t set on Social Anthropology initially. I really wanted to go back for something Human Rights-related; I even flirted with the idea of doing international law, before my aunt (an attorney) talked me out of law school, something I was never passionate about in the least. When I finally settled on Social Anthropology, it was more a matter of finding the program that best reflected what I wish to gain from further education. Anthropology is a mostly new field for me. Besides one course as an undergraduate, it’s something I’m completely inexperienced in — and that one course was so difficult for me that if you had asked me junior year of college if I’d go on to do Anthropology in graduate school, I would have laughed and asked if you were crazy. But I like the idea of learning a new kind of research; I like the idea of pushing myself to try something different.

Now, when I tell people I want to do Anthropology, their minds either go to Archaeology (a reasonable assumption for those who knew I was an ancient history major in college) or to the other cliche, spending weeks doing research in the Amazon jungle. What has attracted me to Anthropology is not the field research, but rather the idea of getting to the root of societies and the ways in which collective memory forms within cultures. It’s the historiography that I love — something I studied closely in ancient history, and something I hope to pick up as a graduate student.

I enjoy doing research. While I have no set career goals, it seems increasingly likely that I may end up in academia long-term as a way to fund more research. Will I want to get a PhD and become a college professor? Honestly, at this time in my life, the answer is “no.” I’d love to work for a think tank, or specialise at a museum, or work as an analyst — anything of that nature. But I’m still young, and at 24, I can’t say that I know what I want to do with my life beyond what I will be doing for the next year.

All of this rambling brings us back to the initial question: why Manchester? Both the city and the university have a lot to offer. Now that I’ve declined a formal offer from Durham, the other program to which I applied, my reasons have become even clearer, crystallised. One of the main things I have to remind people is that applying to graduate school is not the same as applying as an undergraduate. I’ve heard the arguments — that Durham has the better overall reputation, that there’s a chance my degree may not be as highly regarded back in the US because it’s only a year-long program. But you choose a graduate course for the structure, the staff, and the support it offers, and University of Manchester is the better fit for me.

The program for the MA in Social Anthropology is structured as a crossover course for students who did not do Anthropology as an undergrad. There are required core modules that cover classical and modern schools of thought and the methods of ethnographic research. Aside from these, I can structure the other half of my Social Anthropology degree to fit my interests — gender, research, museum studies, etc. I like the mixture of the basic foundation with the option to shape the rest of my degree, and also that I have the entire summer to research and write my dissertation. The university has an excellent museum and an excellent library at its disposal. Manchester itself is, from what I can tell, a student-friendly city, and the university even has postgraduate-only housing for international students who do not have the means or time to secure housing before arriving.

I can’t deny that some part of it is the attraction of Manchester itself, or the idea of Manchester that I’ve always had. I’ve never been to the north of England, period. I love London; I love the south. I love the rolling, green countryside, the quaint villages, the history. But I’m ready for something new, for something to challenge me. I went to school in a college town. I grew up in a suburb of a city. I’m through with all of that; even Arlington feels like too much of a suburb sometimes, despite being an active and thriving part of Washington, DC. I love city life. I love the convenience of it, the options, the diversity and the culture. The fact that Manchester is going to be cheaper to live in than, say, London, is an added bonus. As is the proximity to that one place… Old Trafford.

I’m secure in my decision. I’m excited to move on with my life, to return to England, and to continue my education. I only want my family and friends to know that I’ve made the choice that is best for me and to continue to support me, as they always have.

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