Friday, July 15, 2011

My First Month

Alright, so I'm really really awful at this whole blog thing. You wouldn't want to read about my first couple of weeks in Illinois though. I had a post that I had started writing during my first week here, but that even got too difficult and depressing to write. And plus, having to finish writing that icky post deterred me from wanting to post anything. To sum things up, I had a really hard first two to three weeks. My flight into Champaign was long (to keep things short), but I couldn't have been more excited to get here. I very quickly learned that I was not as tough and independent and brave as I had thought.

To start off with, the place I'm currently staying in is really out in the middle of nowhere. It's a really nice place (huge, gym, swimming pool, my own bathroom, furnished, free internet/cable), but far from everything. From this Google map, you can see the campus (shaded tan), which is made up of two towns, Champaign and Urbana. I live where that arrow is, in a really small town (pop: ~7000), known as Savoy. And you can see how far out it is from everything. It's so far out of the way, that the apartment complex has their own shuttle system to take students to campus and back. I have a Walmart nearby, but not much else. Even the bus will only come once every hour. If I go running in any direction, I would be running alongside cornfields. That makes going running pretty interesting, but super inconvenient if I want to go anywhere!

I found that when I was on campus and working, I was really happy and excited to be there. I loved it all. The campus is gorgeous; beautiful landscape and amazing architecture. I loved that I was learning science again, and especially that I was applying all the aspects of biology from the field I really enjoy, metabolism. A very pleasant surprise was the first day I arrived to research, I found a door with my name on it!  I thought, "Wow, this is really happening" and "I guess this means I'm one of the big kids now." I even get my own desk. It was all really unexpected, but it made me feel welcomed and belonged. This was everything I had wanted the whole year I was off and more!

However, once I came back to my apartment at the end of each day all those positive feelings I had left and loneliness, fear, and stress set in.
  • Of everything, I missed the comfort of having family and friends around. I miss the noise and "hooplah" (as bf would say it). I miss having dinner with my family. I miss having plans with friends at the end of the week to look forward to.
  • I'm normally someone who loves to venture out and explore (hence why I thought the idea of moving here wouldn't be so bad), but being somewhere so new and different made me scared. And not only was I tense about my safety, but strangely I also feared being judged. This might be silly. I have never lived somewhere where I was a minority, but being here suddenly made me very aware of how different I am. What didn't help was when I asked the airport employee here regarding how early I should arrive before my flights (for the sake of flying back home), she replied that I should arrive 2 hours prior to INTERNATIONAL flights. Am I wrong for feeling offended? For the next two weeks, I felt so self conscious of this and found myself in small acts of proving my American-ness.
  • Stress came in two parts. First of all, I was subletting for the summer (and so glad I made this decision), so I had to find a permanent place to live by the end of July. But places around here are very much geared to leasing to students who start school towards the end of August, so this really limited my options. The first few places I went to take a look at were awful, ugly dumps and I was so scared I wouldn't find a place that I would want to come back to at the end of a long day. Had the apartments in Irvine and Newport changed my perspectives on apartments? I was freaking out and pulled in quite a lot of help, until I finally found a place. I'm moving in next week! The second part of my stress came from my advisor suggesting I take a Biochemistry class over the summer. I have the advantage that it was one of my favorite classes I took at UCI, but its not like I did well in the class and I would have already missed 4 classes (totaling 6 hours of lecture). I didn't want to let my advisor down, so I had a ton of catching up to do before the midterm the following week.
Sean has been the world's most amazing boyfriend this whole time. Every other day that I sat at my desk crying. A couple of times I seriously wanted to give up and move home. I really believe that I was at the lowest I have ever been in my whole life. I had become the depressed grad student I feared I would become. I couldn't give Sean enough credit for comforting me. He told me not to worry about proving myself of anything. He gave up so many hours in between working on his med school applications to help me catch up before my midterm. He would even bring his laptop to the kitchen during dinner time, so that I could "eat" with his family and see his pup.

I think things started to get better towards the end of the third week. I found a place to live, completed my midterm (successfully!), got more acquainted with the lab, did more exploring, and was counting the days that I could go without shedding tears. I am really happy to say, that although I still miss California, things are getting a little easier. I wished I had friends and getting places were easier, but both Sean and I are just glad I'm no longer depressed. I can't wait for Sean to get here and explore with me. I'm looking forward to making our new apartment cozy. And I'm hopeful of getting a better hang of things in lab and meeting potential new friends.