The past semester: A retrospective

While I’ve been home over Christmas break, I’ve had to answer the “How’s grad school?” question numerous times. I try to give a brief, chipper answer with a few individual details without trying to get too deep into it. Here’s everything I left out.

Grad school, for the most part, has actually been good. I came here mainly to improve my formal Indonesian and this is exactly what’s been happening. My language class has been fantastic. My reading confidence, and along with it my reading ability, has grown immensely. Before this past semester, I struggled to read the newspaper. I won’t say that I’m amazing at reading now, but I have gained enough new vocabulary and enough of a feel for the Indonesian printed word that I can read and understand quite a bit without panicking. My writing has gotten a bit better, but lags behind. I’m still incorporating too many habits from writing in English while at the same time struggling with not having enough transition words that I rely on in English to make my essays flow nicely. It’s frustrating, but I’m confident that this is all part of the process.

Aspects of my other class have been good too. In particular, my final projects—because they were guided by my own interests—were particularly fulfilling. For one class, I was able to read several Indonesian short stories. I was hoping that this would lead to a thesis topic. It didn’t actually, though it did provide some helpful framing material since I really had no feel for the Indonesian canon, so to speak, before this. For the other class, I researched the history of headscarves in Indonesia, a subject that’s interested me for a while but also something that I know I’m not going to write my thesis about.

However, there have been drawbacks to grad school as well. For one thing, I had been operating under the assumption that in grad school I would have the opportunity to really focus on things that interest me. That’s happened to a certain extent, but it still feels like there’s a lot of fluff in my classes that isn’t applicable to my interests. I guess I just have to power through that.

Secondly, I feel like I’m not getting as much guidance as I need. While the freedom to explore and figure out what I’m interested in is nice, I would like a little bit more advice or at least some assurance that I’m pointed in the right direction. I suppose someone would have told me if I actually was going in the wrong direction, but I still wouldn’t mind a little more affirmation.

Finally—at least for the present—I have no interest in the world of academics at all. I like learning and I appreciate the scholarship that’s going on, but I’ve found that I really have no interest in being part of a university system. I’m much more interested in making all that scholarship applicable. I have no idea how to do that, but it seems to me that a lot of research is being done but that this research doesn’t disseminate into the real world. To a certain extent, I suppose that’s why I’m interested in translation: that’s one way to bring ideas to a larger audience.

Despite these complaints, overall grad school has been good and is what I need to be doing right now. It’s providing a good way to regroup and reorient and figure out what I want to do next, which is another reason that I made the decision to go to grad school at all. So, despite all the hours spent alone in my room puzzling over social science articles, I’m glad that this is where I am.

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