This blog post has been a long time coming. After over a year of dreaming, scheming, and working I am happy to be able to finally tell you that I am going to graduate school in France. Paris to be exact. In Fall 2019, I will be attending Sciences Po Paris (Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris) for a Master in Public Policy with an emphasis in cultural policy as an Emile-Boutmy Scholar.
Phew, that’s quite the mouthful.
For those of you who might not already know, from 2016-2017, I lived in Nancy, France as an English teaching assistant at a French high school and middle school. My experiences there were challenging, rewarding, and an extremely important part of who I am today. My year of working in France was a period of tremendous personal growth. It was during this post-college moment of freedom that I truly had the time to consider not only what I wanted to do with my life, but how I wanted to live it.
As much as I loved being in Nancy, I knew that after my contract was complete I couldn’t stay in France. At the time, the only career path in France that I saw for someone of my background was continuing to work as an English teacher. Although I cherish my relationship with the English language, I have known for a very long time that my true professional calling is in the arts and cultural sector. So, I came back to the United States and found a job in the arts in my hometown.
For the last year and a half, I have been working in development for an arts education nonprofit. For those of you outside of the sector, that means fundraising. I work primarily in grant writing and database management. In my day-to-day, I do a lot of technical writing, reporting, querying, generating lists, and overall magic in Excel. This might come to you as a bit of a surprise, considering that my training in university was in flute performance. But this is one of the rare moments where I will commend the American job market. So long as you interview well and provide supporting evidence of your skills, it is possible for you to find a job in a field outside of your degree.
Anyway, back to the story.
I am so grateful for my current job. It has taught me so many things, technically, emotionally, and socially. I have gained practical skills working with data, budgets, and writing proposals. I have met some wonderfully passionate and creative colleagues along the way.
This job has also shown me how difficult it can be as a young women of color in the workforce and how to push forward in spite of prejudices. Most importantly, this job has reinforced my commitment to working in the arts and further fueled my desire to find a place for myself in the field of nonprofit and public arts.
I am also extremely grateful to have had the chance to come back to my hometown in a professional capacity. Since returning to Salt Lake City, I have had the chance to deepen my connections with my community by volunteering on several nonprofit boards and supporting organizations in the city that are doing good work. In doing this, I’ve gotten to see my city through a new pair of eyes. I’ve witnessed areas of strengths, areas of weakness, and areas where there is still room to grow.
So, the question remains. If things are going well in Salt Lake City, why leave?
It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly what is pushing me to go. Maybe call it intuition or (relatively) youthful exuberance? Either way, the fact of the matter is, ever since returning to Utah, I have consistently had one question in the back of my mind: What else is out there?
If you know me, you probably know that I’ve never been the type of person to rest on my laurels. I decided to take action. I started making lists. List of things that interest me, things that I love, things that I’m good at, things that I’m bad at, things that I want to achieve in my life. (See previous blog post.)
After this exercise, I came up with a list of several things that I really, truly want to accomplish in my life, two of which are to get a graduate degree and to live in a foreign country again. I didn’t necessarily think that these two things needed to happen simultaneously, but after researching several graduate programs in arts administration and cultural policy, I came across the Master of Public Policy at Sciences Po Paris.
I’ve never experienced love at first sight, but I imagine the feeling is something similar to what I felt when I read the course curriculum for this program.
(Yes, I really did just make that comparison.)
Not only is this program focused on something that I am highly interested in studying (cultural policy), housed at one of the best political science schools in Europe (Sciences Po), it is also based in a country that I’ve grown to love (France). The possibility of getting to study a topic that I’m passionate about while also getting to deepen my connection to a language and country that has shaped who I am seemed too good to be true.
But I told myself, you never know unless you try. So, about a year ago, I started the application process.
I spent almost all of my free time in 2018 meeting with former professors, drafting personal statements, revamping my resume, gathering administrative documents, soliciting opinions from colleagues in the field of arts administration, researching and visiting comparable degree programs, looking for funding opportunities, basically doing my best to prepare myself for this application and decision.
It seems so succinct when I summarize it like that, but in total, it took about a year’s worth of self-reflection, traveling across the country to visit other schools, and lots of work to get my application together (in addition to my full time job). Finally, on December 12, 2018, I got the email informing me that I had been accepted to Sciences Po Paris. And in March 2019, I was notified about my scholarship award from the school.
So now what? Do I go merrily along my way to Paris?
To be frank, now that dreams seem to be becoming reality, I can’t help but feel scared out of my mind. There are so many “what if’s” that haunt me.
What if I’ve been idolizing this program and I actually end up hating it?
What if I’m not cut from the same social cloth as the other students at Sciences Po?
What if I can’t make the finances work?
What if going to grad school doesn’t actually boost my career?
What if I’m the oldest one in class and all those precocious 21-year-olds kick my butt in econ and political analysis?
What if…what if…what if…
You might have noticed that I’ve known for a while that I’ve been accepted to the school, yet it’s taken me months to say anything in public about my decision. The reason for that is because it’s taken me that long to quell one version of my inner monologue and replace it with another.
This second narrative is not one of fearlessness, rather it is one that comes from sheer stubbornness and will. It is me constantly reminding myself that the most growth happens in life when we are uncomfortable. It is me constantly reminding myself that the things we want most in life require hard work. It is me constantly reminding myself that fear is part of the process and never to lose sight of the end goal.
There is no way of knowing where a certain path may lead. The only thing I can do is go forth with an open mind, an open heart, and eyes wide open.
That is exactly what I plan to do.
And with that, I’ll sign off with an à bientôt Sciences Po, à bientôt Paris.
P.S. I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge and thank all the individuals who have helped me through the application and decision-making process with conversations, editing, honest criticism, coffee, tissues, validation, and moral support. Seriously, I don’t know where I would be without you.