It’s a Week into Grad School

…And it’s been one heck of an experience. From navigating multiple five-story buildings with mezzanines and skybridges, to learning how to cross the city streets (it’s different in Oregon! Jay-walking is legal!), to working with professors who stumbled into academia rather than pursued it and have industry jobs…. It’s been a little crazy.

Some things haven’t changed, though. Students still rush to their classes; there’s just more of them. The food in the student market is overpriced, but at least there are more choices. And the professors? As expected, they’re really cool.

It’s more than an understatement to say I’m having some culture shock. I’m not used to the huge buildings and giant lecture halls—or elevators, for that matter. The largest class building of my undergrad had a basement and three floors, one of which was barely accessible to students. The largest class I ever had personally was just over 60 students. We barely had any classrooms that could hold that many people. That’s not the case at PSU. They seem to have an excess of large rooms. My current largest class, with an occupancy of about 40 students, occurs in an auditorium with 200+ seats. It’s kind of nuts.

But more than that, the campus itself is simply huge. It spans 50 acres and more than 30 city blocks. The Portland streetcar runs through the campus—literally traveling between the bookstore, the student rec center, and a cluster of restaurants. There are at least three Starbucks on campus. I’ve barely begun to explore my school and already the scale overwhelms me. Part of it is that I’ve never spent much time in cities; I’ve lived in the suburbs all my life. But now I take the Max light rail into Portland four days a week and spend anywhere from four to eight hours each day away from home. And I’m sure that once my classes pick up, my time on campus will increase dramatically.

I still feel good about my decision to pursue a graduate degree at PSU. I might say that I’m more excited about the program now that I’ve started it than I was a week ago. But there’s a huge part of me that hasn’t adjusted to it yet—which, I know, is totally normal. Undergrad was such an easy transition for me. I was ready to leave home, and the classes were pretty much what I expected after taking as many AP courses as I did in high school. I could walk from my dorm to my class in five minutes. Now my commute is sometimes more than an hour each way (granted, it’s on the Max, so I can read or surf the internet while I travel). Most of my new friends in the program live across the city from me. On a campus of almost 30,000 students, a lot of times, I feel solitary in a way I never did in undergrad.

I know, I know. I’ll get used to it eventually. I may even come to love the sprawling campus after my two years are up. But, for the time being, it’s an unexpectedly difficult—yet also exciting—transition. And I look forward to seeing how it all turns out.