What I Learned in Grad School

 

 

Trinity Library

Trinity Library

Last week, I received my MSc from Trinity College Dublin. It was a very civilized affair. There were a few antiquated traditions-men don’t wear caps as their education, historically, wasn’t finished whereas women’s were (excuse me, WHAT!?). But generally, it was throughly enjoyable. It was in Latin (with translations), extremely efficient, and barred obnoxious cheering. And there was a wine reception. So, all in all, pretty good. Plus, we got to sign our names into the Trinity Grad book, adding our names to the same registry as some pretty awesome historical figures. Plus, I think it’s pretty cool to have graduated from such an old University. As we sat, waiting for our names to be called, it all felt surreal. Had I really completed a master’s program? Written a thesis? Completed the last bit of my education? It certainly didn’t feel like it. To be honest, our program was not all that difficult. Which, I hear is common in many master’s degrees (or, it’s the complete opposite). We (or I) did learn a lot, and now feel I can competently discuss issues in Public Health, even if it is from a European stance, as well as feeling I could function effectively in an NGO setting. Public Health is one of those degrees that prepares you for everything, and nothing. And so at the end, it feels somehow unreal without the pragmatic direction other degrees have. But, what have I really learned? Trinity, or rather, moving to Ireland granted me a lesson I didn’t know I needed, and am so incredibly grateful to have learned.

I learned, finally, how to maintain and appreciate friendships with other women. Now, I do have girlfriends from high school and college that I’m close too, and those relationships mean a great deal to me. But, the oldest friendships survive in part because of history; we grew up together we know things about each other people will never understand. Until recently, I didn’t think I would ever have a solid group of girlfriends, just singular ones scattered about the world.

Growing up, I mostly didn’t relate to girls, at least until middle school. The first time I had a group of girlfriends was 7th grade, but by 8th two had moved away. And the nature of a college town is, people are constantly moving. It was difficult to form close relationships, aside from a few, I just figured why bother, they’d just leave anyway. Similarly, in high school, our group fractured. And then I got a boyfriend and did what many an immature teenager does and ignored my friends. It was not a proud moment, but the ladies that stayed by my side have proved to be life-long friends I cherish deeply. So by the time I entered college I still had not really figured out how to function in a girl group dynamic and spent those four years with a few close girlfriends, but primarily spending time with my male housemates (one of which I would later start dating, and am now marrying). Not there is anything wrong with this, and at the time, it was right for me. After college I moved around too much to ever establish close friends. Certainly, those I met on the road I count as friends, but they are scattered around the world, which is both fantastic, and not-so-much. So by 25, I figured I just wasn’t meant to have a solid core group of lady-friends. And I was pretty OK with this.

Turns out, I just hadn’t met my people yet. And then. I did. In a flash I was having girls nights and happy hour cocktails,  none of these women are typically girly (and that’s probably why we’re friends) our ad-hoc group of weirdos somehow all connected and formed a super tight bond pretty quickly. And this time around? I knew I had a good thing. I learned that just like romantic relationships you have to court your friends, and work on relationships, but they are so, so worth it. And your friends are going to annoy you. And you’ll annoy them, and that’s OK. Before, if I didn’t completely click with a girl, I’d generally dismiss them. Which, is ridiculous. I’m pretty sure most girls knew this a whole heck of a lot sooner than I did. Probably when they were twelve. And it’s still something I have to work on, I have this bad habit of too quickly dismissing people, and once I have? There’s no coming back. It’s a bizarre defense mechanism I don’t know why I have.

Over graduation we discussed with our Moms the unfortunate phenomenon of women getting into serious relationships and subsequently letting their friendships fall away, then, years later not having nourished friendships finding themselves isolated and alone. The Moms agreed, the tendency to isolate in a relationship was indeed the norm-at least in their day. And I totally understand how it can happen, I mean, neuro-chemicals are serious business. And I had done it myself. Granted, I was sixteen, but still. But these ladies have taught me that a network of support outside your significant other and family might just be as important. Did everyone else know this, and I just…didn’t? I mean, I know how important family is. But it somehow never occurred to me that the community in which we exist really, ideally includes others. Our happiness often depends on it. We are social animals, after all, and countless studies show-we are happier when we have strong social connections (remembering quality over quantity here). And when everything goes wrong, or the world throws its inevitable curve balls? It’s that community, alongside our families (blood or chosen) that will be there. It seems so much more concrete than the safety net of only a singular other that can leave, or be taken away at any moment. And while the obviousness of this might be overwhelming, it’s one I hadn’t really admitted was true. I have been my happiest in my adult life in the past few years, having Alex, family, and a close network of friends who I know would do anything for me (and I for them). Also, my frontal lobe is officially finally done developing, so…there’s that too. Being at Trinity, and meeting these incredible women is one of the best things that’s happened in my adult life, and I’m so grateful to have them by my side when we get married next year. And for years to come.

It was an unexpected lesson I didn’t know I needed, but I suppose, those are the best sort of lessons. So, Trinity, I thank you.

And now? On to Ethiopia!

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