I may have figured out the shortest route between Fisk Hall and the Evanston Davis Metra station—a dire necessity in Winter Quarter, when your first class starts at 9 a.m. sharp. I’m learning a lot about Evanston now that I’m spending more time there. The coffee shop in the Metra station serves hot chocolate with Nutella if you ask for it. One does not jaywalk across Sheridan Road lightly. It is entirely possible to notice red-tailed hawks perching on street lamps, if you’re observant.
The last time I spent this much time at Northwestern University, I was in high school, at “geek camp” studying physics. Now I’m a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism—yes, I got in!—and I’ve had to do a lot of adjusting. Evanston itself is virtually unrecognizable from my time there in 1999 and 2000. I keep catching glimpses of storefronts or buildings on campus that give me déjà vu, but there’s something more surreal than clarifying about it. More to the point, though, I graduated from the University of Chicago six and a half years ago, and while I’ve taken classes in improv, singing and ukulele in the meantime, I haven’t been a full-time student since 2006.
I only had a month between my acceptance letter and orientation, so there wasn’t much time to get neurotic about going back to school again. Mostly I was ecstatic, and I held onto that as long as I could. But the closer Orientation Day came, the more nervous I became. What if nobody liked me? What if no one else was nerdy? What if everyone else was miles ahead of me and I would have to struggle to catch up? What if I didn’t know what to wear? You’d think these fears would have been put to rest a long time ago (in middle school, maybe), but anxiety is the Energizer Bunny of useless emotions. I can’t tell you how much I fretted about what backpack to buy.
Anxiety is also not as special as we think it is. Everyone else in my cohort was just as nervous and excited and confused as I was. We’re bonding even more under the crushing workload, which we’re all too overwhelmed to accurately judge whether it’s actually crushing yet or if the best is yet to come.
The adjustments aren’t entirely external. My journalism background so far has consisted of a love of the internet and blogging, plus some professional experience with copy editing. It’s not so much that I’ve never recorded nat sound or written a lede or edited b-roll. I’m still surprised to wake up in the morning and think of myself as a journalist. I never thought I would be a journalist—except I used to long for a job that would let me meet people and write about them and travel and create media and spout opinions about the world. I tell everyone that I was looking for a career that would let me be Studs Terkel. I’ve been searching for it for so long, it’s strange to know I finally have a name for it. (It’s just as strange that it took me this long to make the connection.)
Now that I’m here, though, I’m blindingly happy. I feel like I’m among my people. And it’s only been three weeks—there’s so much left to learn: interviewing, audio profiles, the rule of thirds, the editorial drive, AP style, Supreme Court cases, news judgment, media ethics, the best place for sushi on a budget… and if there’s a quicker, warmer way from the train to Fisk Hall.