A virtual beginning

Today I participated in the first discussion session for my MA in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of London, Birkbeck — from my apartment in Ann Arbor.

Finding out my program would be starting virtually was disappointing, of course, though I did feel some slight relief at not having to make a massive transition during a global pandemic. Mostly, the switch to a virtual format has made me appreciate the content of my program. Without the promise of exploring London and taking weekend trips around Europe, I’ve had to recognize what this fellowship means to me academically and professionally, not just experientially.

The answer: a lot. I’ve known for a few years that while I enjoy math and science, and value the analytical skills I cultivated during my studies in Biomedical Engineering, I don’t want to be an engineer. I also know that I love to write and read, especially because of the critical, holistic thinking these pursuits demand. I use writing to engage with the world in a way that feels relevant and contemporary. Aside from this, I have almost no clue what I’d like to do professionally. That’s what this year is for — to immerse myself in my writing, and hopefully gain some clarity along the way.

I’m grateful to have this quiet apartment in Ann Arbor, a lovely roommate, and plenty of time and space — both mental and physical — to focus on the content of my program. To be clear, I do hope to make it to London next year, but until then, the best I can do is engage meaningfully with my classmates, professors, and course material. My first class bodes well for the rest of the semester. The discussion seemed to translate well to an online format; my classmates are intimidatingly smart, and our conversation today was rich and exciting. I also started forging some virtual connections-slash-friendships with other students. I’m committed to being as involved in my MA program as possible, even if it is online for now.

The silver lining here is that when I finally make it to London, I’ll have a strong appreciation for the value of being an RMJ fellow. Beyond the glamor of traveling to another country, the fellowship carves out a space for deep personal and professional reflection.

I look forward to posting another update on my first, virtual semester. Until then, cheers.

— Alice