December 16, 2011

One down and three to go!

I survived  my first semester of grad school. I haven't seen my grades yet, but barring any major snafu in my final exams, I think I will be pretty proud of myself.

Flagstaff was an unexpected gem of the decision to come to NAU. For about six months of the year, the weather is outstanding. For the other six, or at least the part I've so far experienced, you better have snow-boots. Actually I saw a woman walking her dog on cross-country skies yesterday. That kind of bold spirit characterized this town as the pot-smoking-vegan-cowboy-environmentalist town that it is. If it isn't organic,made by Patagonia, or if you can't spend the week rock climbing it's caverns, it isn't good enough for Flagstaff.

Granted, I'm not exactly a Flagstaffer yet. I appreciate the concern for the environment and the healthier diets, but sometimes the hippie stuff is too much.

Moving on, my cohort of MA-TESL students is incredible. I've made some really good friends. Since we all share the daunting experience of being first-year graduate students, I think we bond on fear and anxiety. Those bonds go deep. It's a good thing to bond with your cohort, because they will be your biggest support. In an graduate program with both PhD and MA options, the MAs get run through as quickly and painlessly as possible. On the other hand, The PhDs go through an arduous screening-in process to become candidates. I didn't realize how political graduate school can be, but having shared an office with two PhD students, I sure got an ear-full.

TESL itself was a good choice for me. I feel like I am able to invest a lot of myself into the assignments because of my own experiences learning language, and my experiences in Cambodia. Especially for my term paper about attitudes toward English in Cambodia, I had put my heart into researching and writing, so it was a great validation to get an A. I spent yesterday morning discussing that paper with a friend who wrote about refugees learning English. We are going to present our papers together at a small conference in February. It was rewarding to talk with her about something that I was so proud of, and to feel like maybe I know what I'm talking about. It's the first of four semesters, but if I keep expanding my knowledge at this rate, I think I will need a bigger skull.

I also turned in grades yesterday for my ENG 105 class. What an experience. Teaching composition is one thing, but being a teacher is quite another. I had a few students cry during the semester, another disappeared, and some just never quite knew what to do. I have so much admiration for teachers. This profession goes so deep. You are the presenter of materials, the grader of assignments, the counselor, the motivational speaker, and, in a way, the decider of futures. Next semester, I'm signed up to teach a special section of 105 designated for international students who are at a high level in the Program of Intensive English at NAU. Two of my good friends taught this section this semester, and are going to do it again in January, so at least I won't be alone.

Grad school is an intense experience. It reminds me of studying abroad in a way. When I was in Austria, I felt like I was trying to eat, sleep, and breathe German language. Now, I am eating, sleeping, and breathing English. I wake up at 6 and start thinking about plans for the day. By 7 or 8, I'm checking emails from my students, by 9 I'm tutoring, going to class, doing homework, teaching, updating grades, commenting on papers etc, then at 10 PM, I crawl into bed. That's when I do mental lesson plans for the next day. Luckily, about half-way through the semester, I stopped dreaming about school.

It's kind of exhilarating to be that immersed in something, but at the same time, wow, do I need a break. I miss my family and my boyfriend. I miss my kitties and I miss the flat horizon of Nebraska. I miss thinking about things besides English. Just give me three weeks away from the ponderosas and the mountains and I will be fine.

Get ready, Nebraska.