Per Aspera Ad Astra. Comp diary, week two.

The second week of my comp mode is coming to an end. This was a week of intensive writing and tearful good-byes.  Two fellow students from my cohort (who advanced to candidacy) left Vancouver, reminding me that academic and campus life is unstable and in constant state of flux. It is also coincidentally what my first comp paper is about.

11391286_10152993074031973_5771399508531586383_nThis is visual of this week.

  • Wake up and have coffee.
  • Switch to tea throughout the day to cut caffeine  but continue to stay focused.
  • Read and write.
  • Repeat.

My outcome of this week: 3500 words, creeping self doubt and lots of “wait, didn’t I just read this somewhere?” moments. Writing a theoretical comprehensive exam paper is hard. You are pulling grand theories together, simultaneously trying to add to the conversation.  It is a repetitive, circular process of trying to see how same theory was or could be applied to different fields, your field, your dissertation. 

My first struggle is structure. Prior to starting my first comp I planned it in all possible modes: I made a mind map, I took small index cards and laid my paper out, I drew a visual on a white board, I created a word doc with headings and subheadings. It all fell appart the minute I started writing. 

When I sat down to write, my thoughs scattered. Quotations that I wasn’t planning for started jumping at me, new names and books demanded to be referenced. Maybe in a way this week was an exercise in self control and focus, but maybe on the other hand it was a lesson that no matter how well you think you are prepared you can’t be ready for everything. 

No matter how much you read about the country you are immigrating to, you can’t predict all questions that am immigration officer will ask you. No matter how on task you are with your dissertation, you can’t foresee where your research will take you. No matter how much you know about ethics of working on sensitive topics, nothing can prepare you for sudden emotional challenges you will face along the way. And you can tell you all you want that academia is all about instability, but when your friends leave, you still hurt and cry and nothing helps. 

In my paper I am writing about immigrants who are “regrounding” in a new place and about the unpredictability of the outcome. This week was chaotic and in a way didn’t result in what I planned for, but maybe it is a result in itself. 

Stage one, slowly moving onto two

My grandmother always ends our phone conversations with: “Good-bye, I love you and I am very proud of you”. She thinks I grew up to be independent, free spirited and brave. She prints photos of me reading in the library, standing ¬†on the mountain top, or just playing scrabble with friends. In her eyes, I live a wonderfully full life, surrounded by friends, leading to a blissful future ahead. So why am I sad, when my roommate is going home for the ¬†weekend, and I have to eat turkey sandwich “in the spirit of the holiday”?

If you are an international student, graduate student especially, these thoughts will come. They will come right before you fall asleep. They will appear while you are reading for the presentation. They will snatch you away from a conversation over morning coffee. What am I doing here? Have I made the right choice? Was there another way?

I fall at mercy of my doubts, I am really not a superwoman as my grandmother pictures me to be, but this is when I turn to people around me.

So far, when I needed help, a hug, or even a person you can sit together in silence, I was able to find it find it. There is no shame in reaching out, talking and sharing. The worst thing you can do to yourself is sit and be sad all alone. There are people out there who share same doubts and fears, and your story could be the key to a new wonderful relationship. There are no perfect people who are always composed, productive and always in control.

So I allowed myself to be sad over that turkey sandwich, because I am far away and can’t share these holidays with my friends and family back in Russia. But I am thankful for my friends here in UBC: Canadians, Americans, Spanish and Korean. They have the same doubts and get sad as well, we are all the same – grad students, who made a choice to move, to start over, and who get sad and afraid that this wasn’t the right choice to make.

We all can find something to be thankful for, small steps.