Here in Buffalo, the academic year begins in the last week of August. Even before that date comes, the people who are already in the school are curious of the new faces that would be appearing in the hallways. We get curious as to who are the new students that will be here, and so we try to go to the department secretaries and fish out the information. We get curious as to where the international students are coming from, and who gets funding and such. We are curious about the classes that other people take, and what classes these graduate students get to TA or teach.
In a similar vein, I am beginning a new year here in this blog. As you may have noticed, since July is here, I am officially welcoming Year 6 in this blog. Yes, I have started this blog in July 2005, when I was preparing to leave Manila for a stint here in Buffalo for graduate school. I blogged about my hopes and fears, and even up to the days that lead to my departure, I blogged about what it is basically about to be a graduate student. And now I am nearing the completion of this journey (well, not yet, the dissertation still will take a long time), as 5 years later, I am one step away from being hooded and getting a PhD degree.
Anyway, so what changed with the advent of Year 6? Well, this upcoming year can be an exciting one. I am free from course work obligations at all: I am not taking any more classes, and the only class that I am taking for one credit will be fulfilled simply by showing up in class. I am teaching a new class that I haven't taught in the past, so that will be a challenge. And on top of that, I have 80 students, but I get to have a teaching assistant who is also a graduate student like me.
I have new equipment for this year, as the previous ones somehow already failed and lived their shelf life. I have a new laptop, which is great, and I also have a new phone, which is awesome. I also have a new visa, which gives me a year to get out of the country and get back in. Hopefully, this will suffice, and by the time it expires, I have new plans to either move to some other country or change my status here in the United States.
I also have a new roommate, so the apartment I am staying in will be occupied by a Filipino, an Indian, and a Vietnamese. Unfortunately, I don't know of any jokes that begin with those three characters entering a bar.
So how do I feel with the advent of Year 6? Well, slightly nervous and slightly disconcerted, actually. I already have a close friend who defended and graduated: this is a sign that my own dissertation defense and graduation is in the horizon. Before, the people who defend their dissertations are these ancient beings, people who I only know by name, people who I never even shared a class with, people who are just there in pictures, but we weaklings didn't know that they even existed. But that has changed. Now, the people who defend their dissertations are people who I personally know, and people who came to the department just about a year or two earlier than me.
A reverse feeling is also brought by the fact that the new faces seem to be very young. I mean, if you are a fresh graduate from undergrad going into graduate school, then you're perhaps around 23 or 24. That's about a full 4 years younger than me. These people sometimes can act immature and young, and there is just this social distance between them and me. After all, I don't take their classes anymore, I don't do their homework, so there is indeed this distance that the best explanation is nothing but age, either physical or academic.
And to top it off, this feeling of being 5 years in graduate school is starting to get me. I know, this is what I want, and therefore I am finishing it. But the thought that there are people out there who are younger than me and yet have more social maneuverability is a little disconcerting. I am starting to tire of the lifestyle of a graduate student, earning just enough to get by. But hey, it's all investment, I know that this will all pay off later, and I am doing the best I can to finish and get a lifestyle upgrade.
So yeah, that is where I am right now, 5 years after I started this journey. The place is indeed different, and the light at the end of the tunnel is more visible now than before. I really don't know whether this is my last year here in Buffalo or whether I have another one, but hey, the future is bright.