I had a conversation with my sister’s roommate, Steve, last night about going to grad school. I mean, I wouldn’t stop at anything less than a master’s degree and I hope I end up getting a doctorate. So, we were talking about finding work and I mentioned to him that I really only want to work one year (this year) and return to grad school the following year. I would prefer to be in grad school now, but thanks to application deadlines and such, that’s just not a possibility. Anyway, Steve wants to go to grad school too, but not in New York. I, on the other hand, would like to live in the same city for the next three years –I’m tired of moving around all the time. I want a place to stay –a room where I can really make my home and hang up all the posters and postcards I’ve ever had and just be happy –I don’t want to tear that stuff down after 12 months. I told him I wouldn’t go to any school to get my masters that didn’t give me funding. That’s when Steve went nuts on me.
He thinks that it’s obnoxious and arrogant of me to expect to be funded, especially in New York City. He said ~ ‘here, you’re up against kids that went to Harvard, and you went to Pitt, and you just expect to be funded by any school you apply to?!’ Well, yeah, I do. And he should expect to be funded too.
Let me explain: I went to the University of Pittsburgh –obviously not an Ivy League, or even a private school, but it’s not a bad school by any means. I got a double major and a minor in four years, I have a near-perfect GPA (my lowest grade was an A-), and I garnered a teaching position and an unpaid TA position as an undergrad. I’ve studied twice in Germany, and despite my disappointment in my own German skills (they're simply not perfect) anyone outside of my skull would label them as pretty damn good. German programs are generally funded anyway –I remember as an undergrad, knowing only ONE master’s student (in both linguistics and German) who went unfunded, and he even got funding after his first semester. That’s basically 100% in those departments. My father was an undergrad in Civil Engineering at a university that wasn’t even as good as Pitt at got a FELLOWSHIP at an Ivy League school when he went for his master’s. And that’s a field that generally goes unfunded. I don’t know –if I would end up not receiving funding because I didn’t end up not going to an Ivy League school, well, that’s just sad –because I got my 3.97 without the help of Ivy League grade inflation. I just think that if I “lost the battle” at age 18 because of which university I went to –then something is wrong with the system. Given what I had, I couldn’t have worked harder and achieved more, and if a university would be unable to recognize that, well then –that university would be a lost cause. If 90% of the universities out there would gladly give me funding, why then (as Steve thinks) should I feel honored to be accepted without funding by a university in New York City?
Steve was talking about how my academic success and job at the University of Pittsburgh was just the result of “a bubble”. He maintains that here (i.e.: NYC) is the real world and what’s outside is just a bubble. I see it as the other way around: NYC is a bubble of over-exaggerated competition and hard-knocks. I haven’t met anyone yet who’s being employed to their full potential –except my sister, who’s not employed in NYC, but rather in Philadelphia. I see people paying insane money for crappy apartments smaller than the average jail cell. It seems like everyone hates their day jobs and hates what they’re doing. This place makes everyone have to fight to prove themselves because they all know they’re settling for less than what they should. I think the main reason Steve got upset with me was because I showed him I’m not willing to settle for less than what I should.
Let me give you an example: I was out with Steve, Beth (my sister), and Litza (my sister’s friend from high school) last week and I was talking to her about how I didn’t think I was going to get a place to live in. Anyway, in an effort to comfort me, Litza told me how she literally lived in a slum her first year here. She was making it out to be worse than a housing project. I just thought to myself ‘why the hell would you do that to yourself?’ I mean, if she had moved to Seattle, Boston, Chicago, DC, San Francisco, etc. she would never have had to live in a slum. So why did she do it? Was her draw towards NYC so great that she was willing to do away with basic standards? What the hell could be worth all that?
And I keep asking myself why I want to live here, what could be worth all of this, and I keep getting silence as the answer. The only answer I’ve gotten from others is “the people”. I’ve been told I’ll meet so many great people here. But I don’t see that happening. Everyone I’ve met so far seems to think they’re simply an awesome person because they live here. They put up fronts of superiority because they’re among the privileged few who get to overpay for everything and live like a starving artist. People aren’t cool or friendly –they see you as competition. They want to see you break down and cry about how hard it is to make it in this city, because they went through it to. They want to see you lower your standards because they had to lower theirs just to be here, just to be among the “cool” people.
But the thing is: there are cool people all over this world –and ACTUAL cool people. There’s nothing superior or cooler about people in New York –in fact, I think it’s just the opposite. In any case, it’d take a miracle for me not to give up on this place now.