I’m here! Now What?

I feel weird going back and talking about something a month old now, especially since, as some of you know, I am going through a difficult time right now with my landlord. I will do a post about that soon, as I believe there are some important lessons to be learned and shared, but the whole purpose of this blog is to document my experience this year – all of it. And I think it will be nice to look back on what was a fun and exciting time.

My last few weeks in London were an emotional rollercoaster. I’ve always been an emotional person but that increased ten-fold those last few weeks.  I’ve traveled in the past, leaving home for longer than this, but I don’t recall getting so upset and worked up about saying goodbye. And it’s only for one year!  I must be getting even more sentimental in my old age.

I remember waking up for my last day of work though. I woke up with butterflies in my stomach and it was the first day I woke up truly excited. I knew that the last few goodbyes with my closest family and friends would be difficult but that once I got to Ottawa I would be excited to explore – and that’s exactly what happened. Before we get to that though, I should tell you about the day I left London and drove to Ottawa.

My Uncle, bless his heart, came over the morning I left to help pack the cargo van I had rented – which I needed a step-ladder to get into and spent $100 on gas to not even fill the tank! He packed that van like a pro though and we fit everything in I wanted plus a few things we didn’t think would fit.  Making the trip with me was my mom, her partner Edwin and my aforementioned BFF. The drive up was pretty uneventful but when we arrived at around 8:00 pm that night after nearly 8 hours on the road, we walked into a construction zone.

When I looked at the place at the end of June it was stripped down to the studs. Part of the appeal was that everything would be brand new. The landlord walked me through the rooms and detailed his plans – seemed like he knew what he was talking about, seemed like a decent, hard-working guy. I just had a gut feeling and it was the first place I got really excited about after seeing a wide range of crappy places. I thought he might have to complete some finishing touches but I never thought he would not be done, never mind not even close. I guess he had emailed me and one of my roommates who was going to arrive around the same time to ask us when we planned to arrive in hopes he could ask us to delay our journey. I did not get that email until after I was here but either way, I had a truck rented – this is not something that is flexible on the single biggest moving day of the year!

We ended up staying in a hotel that night. And let me tell you something about trying to find a hotel room on a Saturday night of Labour Day weekend in a university town. Near impossible…I don’t recommend it!  We were seriously thinking we were going to have to sleep in the car but lucked out after about an hour of searching and found the last room of a place out by the airport. It turned out to be quite a nice place along the river and very reasonably priced.

After a good night’s rest we headed back to unload the truck. Much to my embarrassment Edwin flagged these poor kids off the street to help carry boxes as he couldn’t stand seeing Joanna and I doing all the work and was worried about getting back on the road in good time. I have to say though, they had all my stuff carried down into the basement in half an hour and saved us much time and effort! Then the inevitable hour came when I had to say goodbye. The tears were already steaming down my face as my entourage prepared to leave. I was practically sobbing as I hugged my mom and didn’t want to let go!  But I eventually did and bravely tried to smile as I waved and watched them drive away. In that moment, I felt really alone.

Once out of view, I tried to pull myself together and went back into the house – which was still a construction zone.  I decided to go out exploring since there wasn’t much I could do there. I knew I was in between two main roads so just started walking. The first one I chose seemed very residential so I cut across to the other and hit the jackpot.  Within a ten to fifteen minute walk I found many amenities including a Tim Horton’s, which I would frequent during that first week for internet access, a Canadian Tire, Shoppers Drug Mart (which are seemingly on every other street corner here) and a grocery store. Ten to fifteen minutes the other way I found a shopping mall with another grocery store, Dollar Store, my bank and a LCBO. In addition there is a Target, which was not open then, but is now.  Further up, since I was enjoying my walk so much, I found the Rideau River with bike paths and lots of cute shops, pubs and restaurants. Walking around allowed me to get a feel for how long it would take me walk certain places, including bus stops, and scope out where the nearest ones are.

So here is the first of my tips TIPS, for those who are preparing to go away for school, especially for the first time: there’s no better way to get the lay of the land than to go for a walk around your ‘hood. My sister and I had looked up the area on Google Maps, but it just wasn’t the same. And if you will be depending on public transport, TIP #2a – bring comfy shoes! This seems intuitive but you don’t realize the extent to which you will be walking, especially if you are used to driving. Even some of my comfy shoes gave me blisters and it was a challenge to find something I could wear and walk in comfortably. My normal bus stop is a good five-minute walk away, which doesn’t seem like much until you’re attempting it with a blister. So it’s not just about bringing comfy shoes, but 2b – having a few different styles that don’t rub in the same spots so that if you do get blisters you have other options for those long days on campus.

Although the buses are not 100% reliable and I’ve discovered that timetables are loose guides, not bibles, I am enjoying not having to fight rush hour traffic – which is insane here. Even when I wake up at 7:00 am, the traffic reports are all the same with some routes and bridges already heavy/backed up. In addition, those who know how much I love mornings (insert sarcasm here) and know what a hard time I have getting out of bed and into my car in order to get to work on time will be very excited to know that having to go by the bus schedules is making me ridiculously punctual! I also like that I do so much walking (at least now during the nice weather). I don’t have time to formally work out by my “workout” routine now consists of walking, carrying a very heavy backpack, walking up and down a ton of stairs on campus, some weekend explorations on foot or bike and building core strength when having to stand on the bus. Seriously – try standing in a squashed bus with a huge backpack on your pack, hanging on for dear life while a bus flies around a corner!Great oblique workout.

Perhaps just as important, going out for a walk that first day took my mind off of missing my friends and family – the sense of adventure took over. I went to bed that night tired, but happy, and excited about the adventure about to unfold.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

It Takes a Village!

I talked about a few people in my last post that really helped and supported me along the way and this post is dedicated to them. You don’t uproot your life to do something completely different without some help along the way!  I have been extremely fortunate in this arena.

First and foremost…my family.  The whole fam has been great but special props go out to my mom and my sister. I’m tearing up as I write this because I can’t describe the extent to which they have helped me in SO many ways over the years – and continue to do so. My mom has become a texting and Skype pro since I’ve moved!  They have been cheering me on for years as I completed my upgrading – even though they thought I was nuts. This includes listening to me during the times I was frustrated or stressed out, and sharing in my successes. My family, including my Uncle Roy, who has provided transport and a crazy amount of physical labour over the years, have helped me move a stupid number of times as I downsized to save money, didn’t like where I ended up, did like where I ended up but then had to move for school… If this school thing doesn’t work out I think I can become a moving consultant!  I even moved in with my mom for a month before moving for grad school (maybe should not admit that at my age…) to save a bit of money and get organized, and the move to Ottawa was anything but smooth. What was supposed to be me, my BFF and a moving van ended up including my mom and her partner Edwin following us up so that I could take everything I wanted to take and have someone to drive the van back to London. Our entourage drove for 8 hours up the 401 only to find my new accommodations still under construction!  An impromptu hotel stay (try finding a hotel at 10:00 on a Saturday night of a long weekend in a university town) and bribing some passers-by to help and I was loaded into my room, finally. It was a stressful couple of days for all involved and I am SO indebted to Mom, Edwin and Joanna – who left a very teary me at the curb that Sunday afternoon.

My “angels” Joanna and Shirley have also been right there with me through all this upgrading and all these moves. Joanna has a large amount of my furniture and belongings in her basement so I wouldn’t have to pay for storage.  The move into my last place was a complete disaster and Shirley came to the rescue, rallying the troops and showing up with multiple people and cars to help. They have been my rocks and partners in crime and I miss them like crazy, but am so grateful to them for being cool with me “doing my thing.” All my friends have been amazing and encouraging in so many ways – I hope you all know how much that means, whether it be a text, phone call, email, or comment on Facebook. Every little thing helps and is noticed.

I mentioned two very special women from Western in my last post:  Dr. Shelley Taylor and Dr. Tania Granadillo. I took my second linguistics course with Shelley who was at that time, cross-appointed with a department on main campus that enabled me to take a course with her as an undergraduate student outside of Education. Ever since then she has gone out of her way to help and encourage me. This included introducing me and including me in functions when Visiting Professor David Little was here a few years ago. She afforded me opportunities I would not have otherwise been privy to. I met Tania when I took my first of what ended up as five courses with her. I really enjoyed and respected her teaching style – which not everyone likes because it puts the onus on students to take responsibility for their own grades. Not everyone subscribes to the “nothing worth having comes easy” school of thought but I applaud her for standing up for high academic standards. It was the Language and Power course I took with Tania that really set me on the path I’m on today though. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to see if I could turn my course paper into something publishable. Tania worked with me on that for months and although I got too busy to really give it a go, she’s been in my corner ever since. She was there, and even stepped in when I was having difficulty answering some of the questions, when I gave my first academic presentation at last year’s Western Interdisciplinary Student Symposium on Language Research (WISSLR). Both Tania and Shelley have had more confidence in me than I think I’ve had in myself at points and if they have their way, I’ll be off to do a Ph.D. before long!  (One degree at a time, please…)

I have to mention some more folks at the Faculty of Education. Every Supervisor, Grad Chair, Associate Dean and Dean I’ve ever worked with has been nothing  but supportive. My first Supervisor, Linda Kulak; Grad Chair, Dr. Carol Beynon and then Dean Pearson set the tone. When I first decided to start upgrading it was just Linda, Carol and I in a ridiculously busy office – but they never questioned me taking off in the middle of the day to attend class.  Carol – who has since been promoted to Associate Vice-Provost in the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies, was one of my referees for my grad school applications, along with Shelley and Tania. Dean Pearson provided me with some funding to attend a linguistics conference in Windsor even though I was not presenting and it was not related to my job (although I did my darnedest to try to make it appear so on paper).

Graduate Chair, Dr. Allan Pitman and Associate Dean, Dr. Bob Macmillan were equally as supportive. In mentioning the latter, I must also mention his lovely and talented wife, Dr. Kathryn Noel, who has since our dear Bob’s passing, gone to great lengths to support and encourage me.  My current Supervisor, Karen Kueneman, Associate Dean Dr. Susan Rodger, and Dean Schwean have also been incredible. They are the ones who gave the official okay for me to take a one-year leave of absence and have had to deal with the logistics of me leaving for a year. Not once did they even hint at being annoyed with the extra work that meant for them in hiring and training someone to fill in for the year. What an incredible opportunity I have, to take off for a year to pursue my dreams, knowing my job is waiting for me upon my return! They have been nothing but supportive as have SO many others in the Faculty of Education.

I mentioned in my last post that I was inspired to pursue graduate studies from working in the faculty. So the researchers and scholars, both faculty and students who I have gotten to know over the years have provided me with a stimulating intellectual environment and have all inspired me in their own way. There are some who have gone out of their way to ask me how I was doing and offer encouragement – even help in preparing my grad school application and WISSLR presentation. I hope they will forgive me not “naming names” for fear of leaving someone out – but I hope they know who they are. It means a lot and helps immensely knowing I have so many folks cheering me on. Those same folks will be the ones kicking my butt as I write my thesis while back in London, working full time again!

So there you have it.  Not an exhaustive list but you can see what an extensive support system I have. I’ve teared up more than once in writing this post because it’s an overwhelming but beautiful reminder of all who have helped me in getting to this point – and who will carry me through the next year. I’m am conscious of how blessed and fortunate I am and can only hope that I can repay the kindness, love and support that has come my way.

Thanks my peeps!! Couldn’t have gotten here without you.  :o) xox

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I had a dream…

Welcome to my blog!  For those of you who don’t know me very well, I’m a “forty something” year old Londoner (the Ontario one) who is completely uprooting my life to start grad school. I created this blog to document my journey. I feel obliged to warn you up front that I have the gift of gab when you put me in front of a keyboard, so I apologize in advance for what will surely be some “War and Peace” length posts!  (I’ll try to keep myself in check…)

Working in the Faculty of Education at my alma mater, Western University, inspired me to upgrade my three-year BA in French Language & Literature in order to qualify to apply for a master’s degree.

My first thought was to pursue something a M.Ed. based on my experience completing a marketing certificate program entirely on-line. I had some pretty wild experiences during this time – many of which Dr. Kathy Hibbert and I discussed ad nauseum! So I was thinking it might be interesting to do a master’s about on-line learning.

I had to figure out what courses to take to upgrade my undergrad though. You see, you need the equivalent of a four-year degree to apply for most if not all grad programs, so I needed to take the equivalent of five full (or ten half) courses. In addition, you need some decent grades – mid to high B’s, or if you want to compete for scholarships, A’s. Since I was a “solid C student” back in the day, I had my work cut out for me!

I had some chats with some counselors and faculty in the French department. Even after completing a one-week French Immersion program and a one-term, for-credit French conversation course I knew it would be an uphill battle – sheer vertical wall, really, to bring myself up to speed and get to a point where I could pick up where I left off with my French.  There’s a saying in language learning:  “use it or lose it.”  I can 100% attest to the validity of this statement!

I’ve always loved languages though so the suggestion was made to try a linguistics class.  Almost immediately I had that “ah-ha” moment…TOTALLY loved the Applied Linguistics course I took and knew that I had FINALLY, after thirty some odd years, found my passion. Western has a linguistics program, although not a stand-alone degree, that consists of 6 full/12 half credits. That would more than cover off that missing fourth year and the extra couple of courses (assuming I did well) would help me improve my average.

Awesome!  And so the very long slog began. For 6 years, I worked full time while studying part time. One half course at a time – that’s all I could handle on top of a crazy-busy job. Until last summer, I worked in the Grad Office. We were always terribly short staffed – for the first several years it was just myself, the Grad Chair and the Office Manager taking care of prospective and current students from “I’m thinking about applying” to “I’m ready to graduate” and everything in between, at a time when the programs (and number of students) were expanding.

I’m not going to lie…it wasn’t always easy. My family and friends can attest to my crankiness at points, being tired and burnt out. I also got frustrated at the snail’s pace at which I was progressing. Once I had a few classes under my belt – and was doing really well, I was super anxious to be done upgrading and get on with my master’s.

During this time I was spurred on by two very special women who became my mentors…and amongst my biggest cheer leaders.

The second linguistics course I took was an independent reading course with Dr. Shelley Taylor. At that time she held an appointment with both Education and the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, so although I knew her in the capacity of her teaching in the Education grad programs, I was able to take an undergraduate course with her.

Soon after, I took my first of five courses with Dr. Tania Granadillo. What I didn’t know then, was that Tania had just started at Western after being hired by Anthropology for a tenure-track position. She certainly seemed like an old pro to me and I loved her “tough but fair” teaching style which made students responsible for their grades.  There’s no magic formula or short cuts…you put in the time and do the work.  Call me crazy or old-fashioned, but it was shocking to me that many students don’t believe that this is the way to go.

Anyway, I had no idea at that time the extent to which these two amazing women would positively influence my life!  They have had more confidence in me than I have had in myself and I am deeply indebted to them for their direction and support. I’m going to talk a bit more about this in my next post :o)

So…after 6 long years I came to the point of finishing my upgrading. In the fall of 2012 I was in another fabulous class with Tania. I was going through my courses, making sure I had what I needed. I realized that I had a couple of extra courses so although I was registered for a course in the winter 2013 term, I dropped this course and applied to graduate.

This began the series of teary moments I’ve had in the last year as my dream became reality. I kept checking to make sure nothing had gone wrong.  I somehow expected someone to come back and say – no, you haven’t done everything you’re supposed to do!

You see, I hadn’t expected to be awarded a whole other degree for what I had been doing. I would have been happy to just have a notation on my transcript that said “major in linguistics” because I was applying to linguistics programs. Remember when I said the undergrad linguistics was not a stand-alone program at Western?  You’re supposed to take it in conjunction with something else. I had something else – my French degree, but the requirements today are quite different than they were back in the day.

So you can imagine my delight when I was notified – and picked up my degree certificate – for a BA, major in linguistics.

That was step one. I still had to apply for grad school. I won’t go into a lot of detail on this because we’ve already reached “War and Peace” status! I pretty much knew what I was getting myself into after processing who knows how many hundreds of applications over the years, but it was still a lot of work. I was thankful to have had the time to concentrate on my applications instead of taking another course last winter.  I was fortunate to have a few faculty and grad students read over and provide feedback on my statement of interest. And Shelley, Tania, and Dr. Carol Beynon, who was the first Graduate Chair I worked with in Education, wrote me some pretty rocking letters of recommendation.

I got into both the programs to which I applied, but I broke down in tears when I read the “offer of funding” from my program of choice.  Without going into detail about my dismal financial state, funding was crucial for me. Although I’ve been able to save some money, I have bills that aren’t going to go away just because I’m buggering off to school for a year on a one-year unpaid leave of absence!

So there we have it!  Six long years of hard work but the payoff is sweet. I can’t wait to start grad school!!  I have a LOT of work to do between now and then, though…

Welcome, again, to my blog – I hope you enjoy this journey as much as I’m sure I will. :o)  Tina


Filed under Uncategorized