As the fall semester begins, our International Voices columnists will be sharing their experiences as new UT students. Welcome to Austin, new (and returning) students! We hope your school year is off to a great start.
I was introduced to Austin one late August night like this: The airport doors slid open and I bumped into a wall of heat and humidity. It was the summer of 2011, and I had just walked into the hottest year of record with 90 days at 100°F (that’s 38°C everywhere else). Seeing as I was not familiar with AC window units, I spent my first night struggling to get my room at one of the co ops in West Campus to a viable, sleepable 70°F, but eventually gave up and fell asleep from sheer exhaustion.
It wasn’t until November that I learnt to appreciate the beauty of 229 sunny days per year, walking around in flip flops for most of the semester, and swimming at Barton Springs Pool in October(!) while my family back home was starting to bundle up in sweaters and turn up the heaters.
That first morning in Austin, I woke up at 6 a.m. and felt great. It was still pleasantly cool outside as I walked along the drag (Guadalupe St) to get my student ID, open a bank account and get an American SIM card. I felt accomplished for getting so much done before breakfast and considered myself invincible. I’d come to UT to get my PhD in Linguistics and get it I would!
This exuberant confidence lasted until my first day of classes when I was inundated with fear by my department’s expectations for me to get an A in all of my classes, by the new demands of TA-ing, in addition to taking classes, and by my fellow students’ laments that from now on, we would not have a spare moment until the end of the semester. But guess what? I survived my first semester. (I still wear an invisible badge saying: Got an A in Syntax)! I managed not only TA-ing but also AI-ing, and I did have glorious moments of spare time dancing at the Broken Spoke, listening to live music at Halcyon, or simply hanging out with new friends. Granted, some of those moments happened at 3 a.m., right after handing in that vermaledeite syntax assignment, but it just goes to show that you have to make time for fun and relaxation, whenever you may chance upon them. Because if you don’t, you will break down and you will cry in front of your professors, and that really doesn’t help anyone.
So if this is your first semester in grad school and you’re feeling overwhelmed, stop. Breathe, take a nap, have a healthy meal. Then go back to your desk with a clear mind, and if you’re still lost, talk to your professors. That’s what office hours are for and you’re not losing face by asking them to go over a tricky topic again. Use your cohort for support: study together, do assignments together, and moan about the amount of work – bond. Don’t worry about feeling like an impostor, ‘playing’ at grad school – I still do in my fourth year! And most importantly, make friends, Americans and internationals, outside of your department. Because who wants to talk about linguistics/biochemistry/central Eurasian studies allllll the time?
And you’ll be fine.