Friday, June 17, 2011

Because a BA just ain't enough anymore...

So I'm back to the precarious life of a student.  This time, at the graduate level.

Three years ago, I thought I might be done for good, but after two and a half years in the public sector, six months of travelling, and four months working at a call centre (and thankfully, working at Collectively Beautiful, which legitimately kept me sane), I'm back in the groove.

The familiar territory of student loans, academic registration, first-day jitters, and class attendance came back to me like riding a bike... just not that time in Florida when a palmetto bug landed on me and I wiped out.  I'm definitely riding this bike a lot better than that.

The anticipation for the first day of the Graduate Diploma Program in Journalism at Concordia was excruciating.  I think I messaged my friend and Dip. '09 Alum, Amanda, roughly 18 bazillion times to ask her everything I could think of from how I should dress to what I should expect for workload.  (Thanks again for all your advice, missy!)

In reality, as usual, the first day wasn't so bad.  Actually, the first few days weren't so bad at all.  We had orientation, got to know some of our professors, got lectured on scholarships, bursaries, health services, journalism societies, and the overall expectations for the program.  We found out about internship opportunities, including a summer internship at a local weekly and a fall/winter internship at the CBC.  And for those of us lucky enough to have some money in tha bank, there's even a four to six week internship available at the CBC office in London, England - that is, if you've got the $1,500 for a flight and $1,500+ CAN for a loft in the city for a month, plus money for food and entertainment.  (If you haven't gathered yet, I definitely do not fall into this category.)

So, anyway.  We all got our student IDs, security passes for the Journalism building, and received an extremely thorough orientation to the school, the faculty and the program itself.  From the beginning we'd be warned about the intensity of the program and the level of commitment that was required.  The workload would be extremely heavy and it was suggested that if any of us had jobs that involved having to be at work during specific hours we should probably quit.

We began regular classes on June 9 and got our first three assignments in the next two days.  Within another two days we had two more assignments.  And just as we passed in a few of those we were assigned two more, and then another.  They weren't kidding.

Between interviews (we've each done a minimum of nine so far), classes, writing assignments, researching, writing for Collectively Beautiful and going to bootcamp, I didn't have much time for anything else.  But, when you love what you do, you don't mind committing all of your spare time to those causes.

Thanks to the beautiful summer weather, I've been walking to school almost everyday and my classmates and I have stuck around campus for the most part at lunches, giving us all ample time to socialize and blow off steam in between classes.  A few of us even spared some time outside of class to partake in a little undergraduate style alcohol consumption, which resulted in us receiving a threat from neighbours about the noise level and thus vacating to a nearby park where we proceeded to drink on a gazebo.  Nothing says "bonding" like a little drunken debauchery.

Back to the classes, though.  This semester we're taking Intro to Broadcasting with Bob Babinsky, Intro to Print with Wayne Larsen, and Computer Assisted Reporting with Leo Gervais (no relation to Ricky).  I haven't decided which class is my favourite yet, but I have a feeling it's going to be a tug of war between Wayne's and Bob's.  Computer Assisted Reporting is pretty dry so far (sorry Leo).  On the other hand, Leo does referee in the CFL, has some pretty awesome stories, and makes some pretty hilarious comments about shut-ins named Gladys Poutine who live in Verdun.  (Edit: Leo is also my official prof. homeboy... pound it!)

Needless to say, the faculty this semester are both engaging and entertaining, each having their own individual flare, sense humour, and teaching style.  And to be fair, my classmates, the "Dips" as they're referred to, are of the same variety of high-caliber individuals as well.

The students come from a wide variety of backgrounds - the youngest being those who just completed from their undergraduate degree to the oldest who I believe is 37 and a recent immigrant from Egypt.  Within that range you'll find people of all ages and all histories: world travellers, volunteers, scientists, artists, anthropologists (holla!), writers, jokesters, bloggers, poets and actors.  We have sports, culture, music, and film junkies, advocates, political fanatics, technology freaks and military news hounds.

If you couldn't tell, I think my Dips are the tits.

Although this year is already proving to be a challenge academically, with its extremely steep learning curve, I've got a pretty good lead (HA! Get it?) that we're all going to get through it together.  Whether we're venting to each other at lunch, helping one another out at the lab, or blowing off steam off-campus, I know we've got a solid group that has a real desire to help one another, rather than elbow each other on the way to the top.

Do I think the class will be competition-free?  Of course not.  But it's already proving that it'll be a helluva lot of fun and a lot of laughs.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Gypsy Re-emerges

After having been in Montreal for 8 weeks, I’d decided my inner-gypsy needed to re-emerge so I decided to take off to New Jersey and New York for a reprieve from my very un-gypsy lifestyle.  I got off work that night at 10:00 pm and the bus departed at 11:45 pm, giving me just enough time to boogie on up and stand in line – and what a line it was, no less than 75 people long, plus their accompanists.  I was kind of worried I might not actually get on the bus since seats aren’t reserved and it’s first-come, first-serve.

I managed to make it into a seat and settled in for what is quite possibly the worst commute on the face of the planet.  There’s only one thing worse than a ride on the Greyhound for eight and a half hours, and that’s a ride on the Greyhound for eight and a half hours, where you need to get out of the bus twice, in the dead of winter, before you actually arrive in your destination.  You were probably envisioning a nice, peaceful ride through the Adirondacks, my pleasant slumber accompanied by dreams of New York City food establishments and of course of my international love interest, but you couldn’t be more wrong. 

Not only do you have to get off the bus to go through Customs at 12:30 am where you wait, always anxiously, in line while people ahead and behind you are questioned, have their retina’s scanned, and are sometimes pulled aside for additional questioning; but you also have to get out in what I will endearingly refer to as the “butthole of America,” Albany, New York.  We arrived there around 3:30 am.  It was about 15 degrees below zero.  I was not a happy gypsy.  We sat in the station while they serviced the bus for another half hour, and then reloaded and as I approached my seat I came to realize that someone sniped it!  I thought everyone knew the rules of travel, when you sit somewhere, that’s where you stay – especially on lengthy trips.  I was delegated to the back of the bus, right next to the bathroom and some dude who snored loudly for the remainder of the trip.

The only saving grace of the whole drive happened when we arrived just outside New York City.  There was a cold, misty fog hanging above the skyscrapers, causing them to disappear into it, as if they could go on forever.  The sun began rising just as we approached the city and the vibrant yellows and reds behind the beautiful New York City skyline blew me away.  I was then grateful for being ousted from my seat, and for being kept awake by my snoring seatmate, because otherwise I wouldn’t have caught the magnificent view.

I’ve briefly referred to the five days I spent in New Jersey/New York City in my blog post on becoming vegan.  My trip took place just after I finished my four-week vegan cleanse and I was rewarding myself for my dedication by allowing myself to eat whatever I wanted, after all, I was on vacation.  My body had other plans for letting me know what was going to go down (specifically down my oesophagus).  Throughout the week I had a heaping pile of waffles with whipped cream and fruit, pork, chicken and beef taco sliders, burritos, Peruvian food, coconut cake, eggplant parmesan (it’s not a visit to Jersey without it), and chicken fajitas, not to mention snacks and other treats along the way. My body reacted by developing a chronic stomach ache and blessing me with nightmares every single night.  It was then I decided I was going to be permanently vegan.

Surprisingly, it was the last day and my travel back to Montreal that left even more of an impact.  Coincidentally, my best friends’ parents were in New York City for a conference, so before catching my midnight bus back to Montreal, Matt and I met up with them for a 20 minute, super fast, catch-up cram session and I was on my way, fearing that I was going to miss my bus.

During the drive to the US, I kept to myself with my headphones on, but on the way back I happened to sit next to a fellow, or rather he sat next to me.  He immediately offered me a piece of chocolate and so the conversation began.  He just got back from travelling for six months in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize and Florida.  He told me about how he began as a deck hand for a rich Floridian man who was sailing down the coast to Costa Rica, but after a few days at sea he realized their personalities clashed too much to salvage even a working relationship, so when they docked in Costa Rica he decided to stay there.

He took 48 hour long bus rides, hitchhiked, taxied and walked throughout all of the countries he visited, and all just at his own whim.  The travel wasn’t planned, it wasn’t sought out, it just happened.  He took the circumstances he had and made the best of them.  He received his certification as a scuba diver and was only coming back to Montreal now for a brief hiatus from the seas before he was heading West to Vancouver to meet up with a documentary film maker who was going to be at sea for three to six weeks filming whale migrations.

He didn’t know what he would do after that, but that didn’t matter to him anyway.  What mattered was that he was following his passion, the sea, and his heart.  I find the idea of static living to be so suffocating that a conversation with this late-twenties West Islander invigorating to the point that I couldn’t sleep until roughly 4:00 am.  It’s always so inspiring when I find people who don’t blend in or conform to societies’ rules of what they should do and when.  His life was full of uncertainty, not unlike mine, but also full of pleasure and pure joy, also not unlike mine.

As we parted ways at the Berri-UQAM station in Montreal, I wondered if I should have asked for his contact information, to be kept informed on all of his adventures and travels, but as I slowly descended the escalator I knew our brief encounter was just what I needed to remind me of my own need for adventure, drive for discovery and absolute necessity of listening to my heart.  The moment before a new, exciting chapter in life is what I refer to the “inhale,” and with that in mind I could feel myself breathe in.