Reflections of a Grad Student

12107203_10206690345429846_8217961201597719238_nThis year I made a choice, a choice to play an active role in my life.  On December 2015 I returned home to Los Angeles after completing my first semester of graduate school.  (Quick side note: I graduated from Lehigh University on May 2015 with my BA and began my masters program at Lehigh later that year in August 2015).  Although I’ve been at Lehigh for 4 years as an undergraduate that fall semester broke me down in more ways than one.

I still remember arriving to Lehigh at 17 years old. I remember the feeling I had during the 1-hour car ride from Newark airport to my new home and how grateful I was to be arriving. I was not nervous and I didn’t doubt myself the way my peers did. Of course I faced my obstacles and challenges within my 4 years of undergrad but I always knew deep down inside that I was capable of overcoming all challenges. I learned very early on that I would have to work twice as hard to get half as far.  I never questioned this statement I simply understood my place in the world and I accepted the challenge.

Which is why I didn’t understand all the doubt and confusion that rushed through my veins during my first semester of graduate school. I walked into my classes and I began to doubt my knowledge. I began to question my every move and constantly compared myself to my colleagues. I found myself drowning in a pile of work every night. I felt guilty every time I broke down in tears because I knew that I was privileged to be pursuing my masters degree fully funded which meant I had no right to feel so empty.  ImposterSyndrome.

Who do I think I am? My first language was Spanish, the language my mother raised me with.  Who was I to graduate with a dual degree in English and Journalism and pursue my masters in English?  My insecurities began to creep up on me as I found myself sitting across white faces, reading canonized literature, and writing about matters that seemed frivolous to my soul.   I constantly thought about my dad who was waking up every morning at 4:00 am to provide for our family.

So…spending my nights reading theories that were created to understand narratives where my familia did not exist was suffocating.  What I was feeling was more than imposter syndrome. I felt I had lost my purpose. I felt that I was losing myself.

I decided to hold it together because I knew I had no other choice. At age 21 I felt numb. After completing my first semester of grad school I was so relieved to fly back to Los Angeles and be in the safety of my own home. I wanted to watch my mother cook, I wanted to hear my dad speak to my nephew in Spanish as my nephew responded in Spanglish.  I wanted to surround myself with the beautiful people of South Central and silently watch as they created their own narratives, the ones that didn’t make it into the great literary canon.

It was during my first winter break of grad school that I made a simple choice. I decided that I would carve out the experience I desired as I had done during my 4 years of undergrad. I decided that I would alter my education so that I can learn and study my mother’s country, its history, its narrative, and its future.  I am Salvadoran-American and I am living in a time where people are ignorantly chanting, “Make America great again”. America will never be great if we don’t accept our history and fight to change our present. I realized once again that the reason I chose academia was not for a tenured track job, but rather for the love of being inside a classroom where I have the privilege and opportunity to educate the next generation. I am not here to impress any professor or dedicate my life publishing articles. What I am here for are the sacred moments when a student attains social consciousness and is ready to pay it forward to their community.


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