In 2002 I quit my life (quit my job, sold my cute condo, left my church) and moved halfway across the country to start graduate school. I picked Purdue because I liked the campus, the people I met in the department, and the package they offered me, but, most importantly, my cousin lived just an hour away in Indianapolis.
In the decade between when I was an undergrad and a grad student, universities made a real leap in teaching assistant training–a very good thing since these folks plan to become teachers and once upon a time had very little real training. I thought it was kind of annoying because I was a teacher and had had plenty of training, but in theory, having had mostly lousy TAs as an undergrad, I approved of the idea. Anyway…
At Purdue, the training consisted of mentor groups who met for a week before classes started and twice weekly after with advanced graduate students, most often (though not exclusively) from the Rhetoric and Composition program. There were eight of us: 2 men, 6 women; 7 lit, 1 creative writing; 2 former high school teachers, 3 who had taught college, 2 who had education degrees and had undergone student teaching, and 1 with tutoring and other experience; 3 of us were 30 and over, 3 in mid-twenties, and 2 just out of undergrad. In the week before classes started, we bonded. We fit together really well. We liked our mentor. It was intense training with lots of homework. We bonded over that. It was freezing in the classroom and boiling outside. We bonded over that. We were all getting used to the area and figuring things out. It was a tough week and I was lonelier than I could have imagined (I’d never lived further than across town from my parents), but it was a good week and we were (mostly) fast friends by the end of it. Our young creative writing guy never really fit in with the rest of us, but the creative writing program was smaller and he had his own group. There were also 2 Rhet Comp students who flitted among various groups and hung out with us sometimes.
My first office housed more advanced graduate students whom I liked, but, except for the gay Turk, with whom I didn’t bond. Halfway through the first semester I had the opportunity to switch into an office with one member of the mentor group and another first-year I had gotten to know (and a few other people). That made a huge difference for my time on campus.
Of course, there were also fellow grad students in my classes. Especially in the seminars, we got to know each other in class, after class, before class, during breaks.
Octoberbreak (a new and wonderful concept to this West Coast woman) I went camping with one member of the mentor group (the one I consider my first Indiana friend), her boyfriend, and his friend. My cousin says when she called me and I said I was in the next state with friends, she knew it was all good.
I loved those two years. Graduate school was so refreshing after the craziness of high school teaching. I missed my friends in California, but I was having so much fun being the student in a way I didn’t do the first time around. We hung out in one another’s offices, went out for meals or drinks (Chumleys! El Rodeo! The Other Pub! LBC!), had parties, went to lunch every Friday (Pitcher and Pie!), worked out together, hung out in coffee shops and did homework together (medieval translations!), and so on. I also hung out with the 18th and 19th century students thanks to a couple of the mentor group women. The second year, all the MA students who were testing met in a study group which bonded me to another group I had previously known peripherally. And there were a group of Christian women who met up occasionally to talk and pray (WOGs!). I didn’t abandon my cousin, either (though I almost did in this post). We got together one place or the other every week or two.
I don’t regret pushing ahead with getting married and moving and changing graduate programs. I was too old to hang out for 3 or 4 more years and I was in love. And graduate students are awfully transitory anyway. Several of us left after our Masters and several others a year or two later (they had come in with Master’s already). So it wouldn’t have been the same even if I had stayed. But that was a great time for me in community. Maybe my best ever. And I miss them.
I’d post photos of folks, but I’m not comfortable doing that, so you get one of me in the snow on my walk home from the university (here) and one of the foot bridge between West Lafayette and Lafayette (at the top).