Signing the Dotted Line: Four Years of New Beginnings

Yesterday marked four years since I moved to Europe and started my master’s. I tend to forget these kinds of milestones, but was reminded just a few days ago by one of my best friends, who admirably always seems to be on top of such things (she wrote a wonderful blog post about it).

It’s a bit ironic that I hadn’t realized this was coming up – just last week I wrapped up the latest issue of our graduate program’s newsletter. It’s a celebration of the fifteenth anniversary of the program, and my editorial team and I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the past decade-and-a-half in preparation.

In retrospect, I suppose there was nothing exceptionally momentous about the move itself for me. Compared to some of my fellow students, I hadn’t travelled particularly far, nor was Europe very unfamiliar to me. But the 21st of August 2012 is when I started, as the internet would put it, learning how to adult.

I tell this anecdote all the time, but perhaps it’s worth mentioning one more time. During our master’s program’s orientation week, we were given contracts to sign for the scholarships we were about to receive. They essentially stated that we’re committed to seeing out the whole two years of the program. I stared at that thing for what seemed like an eternity, taking it with me on a walk around the Université Bordeaux Segalen campus.

Two years, I thought – two whole years. That’ll feel like ages – not that I wasn’t going to sign it anyway, it was an incredible opportunity and I knew it. A week and a fourteen-hour train journey later, I was sitting on a bench waiting for the staff to prepare my hostel room. The street, Schönhauser Allee, has since become one of my favourite places in Berlin. I sat there thinking about how the next few years would pan out. I didn’t realize at the time how, like most things in the city, the train whizzing past was paradoxical, an “underground” line running half a dozen metres above street level.

Since then, time has hurried on just like that train – studying in two different cities (three if you count Edinburgh, which, as the initial inspiration for this blog, I definitely do) and simultaneously adapting to both a new career and a life outside my childhood comfort zone.

Almost two years ago, I once again signed a similar piece of paper for my PhD without so much as batting an eyelid.