Every few weekends I drive into upstate New York or Vermont to hike or shop or eat at familiar restaurants I am accustomed to. Each time I go, I pass through the border and greet the American guard, forced to define my existence and immediate future. Nearly every time I am questioned, I receive the statement: ‘You’re from Texas? How did you get all the way up here?’
Now what was at first a novelty, has become a vexing question. People seem genuinely curious why someone travels over 3200 km to live and be educated. Each time I leave the border and that question, I find myself too wondering why it seems so odd. Texas (hot, conservative, religious, Primarily english with some spanish) is in many ways, quite literally the opposite of Quebec (Often post-apocalyptic temperatures, liberal, french). So why uproot and start over?
Honestly, this question occurred very little to me when applying, negotiating and moving here. Maybe watching TV or reading gave me the impression this is what people did, go off to school, but I thought it seemed perfectly natural to choose this best establishment, best academics and best environment for success. Most of my graduating class seemed to disagree though, as most of them stayed in or within hours of the city we graduated in.
So why did they stay?
Well they probably have a network there of friends and family to support them. They are familiar with life in these parts, no major surprises likely, so they can reduce the amount of shock that a transition into graduate studies contains. After having made a 3000km leap myself, I must confess, this sounds like a very comforting and pleasant option, that would have made my first year considerably more enjoyable and easier.
However, I am still in support of choosing what you feel is best for you and your ultimate goals. Perhaps staying by your family, staying in a familiar landscape does just that, but it shouldn’t be automatic. You should consider taking the giant leap.
Why leave your comfort zone and forge a new beginning? My experience has taught me that leaving affords you a new start. You find an environment best suited for your interests and needs and you follow them there. This obviously includes academics, professors, universities and research, but it should also include climate, landscape, people, cities and affordability. By leaving, you allow the ability to customize rather than just accept where you’ve likely been most of your life. You become someone new. The transition is not simply into a new job or opportunity, it is a transition into an entirely different life, different person. Rarely does the opportunity arise for changes like these to occur. You are the master of your destiny and can choose a path rather than accepting ones you’ve known.
That being said, leaving also includes loneliness, struggling without support, adjustments to new surroundings (which takes much longer than imagined), new diets, new transportation, new weather, new people. These changes take time to set in and often it can begin as a painful and uphill struggle, while also juggling the new responsibilities as a graduate student, tech or post-doc.
Don’t fear the transition, though. It is, like any other major decision, something to be heavily considered, but once decided should be wholly accepted and passionately pursued. If maintaining a local boundary is the right step for you, by all means, enjoy the comforts of home, but if you feel the academic winds blowing and you wish to manifest destiny to somewhere far, far away, don’t be afraid to set out, and begin a new life, a new start.