The first day of a doctoral program feels just like the first day of third grade. It’s been three years since I had a first day of school, so I felt particularly nervous. Starting a new routine is always both stressful and empowering. This morning I woke up before dawn and went to yoga, except it wasn’t already intense Vinyasa, it was this workout that I can’t even begin to explain. I don’t think I stood on both feet for more than 5 minutes. After surviving that, I came home and indulged in delicious pumpkin pie flavored coffee and a gluten free bagel that Jose made, smothered in onion and chive cream cheese. Finally, I rode my bike without harming anyone to the main quad on campus, found my classroom with minimal issue, and made it through Arabic. After lunch and more coffee, my Theories and Methods in Religious Studies class met for less than two hours, in which we discussed antics of philosophers and psychologists. I came home and made some delicious enchiladas and read for tomorrow’s class.
The thing about first days, besides being exhausting, is that heighten my awareness of what changes are to come. Have you ever looked back on a semester, or even a year, and realized how much transformation has taken place? You have several new relationships- classmates, teachers, teammates, fellow organization members. As each day brings the familiar back, we grow more and more complacent, forgetting that first day and all it’s intricacies. Now that I know where my classes are, I won’t experience the few moments of tense searching for the right building, realizing there was a much closer place to park my bike, or that forgetting cough drops was a giant mistake. This isn’t a negative, it means we can begin to thrive in our environment because the “housekeeping” is finished.
First days have never been a good experience for me. Overwhelmed and without a confident routine, my first days have consisted of spilled coffee mugs in a new backpack, waiting way too long in line at the bookstore only to realize I am one notebook shy, or missing a key line on the syllabus and thus already slacking on the homework. I once sat through an entire Advanced Mandarin class on a first day because I was too embarrassed to leave. Not to mention, I feel lost without solidifying the communities that are some of the most important to me- the classrooms. Part of the reason I love living in an academic environment so much is the ability it gives me to meet fellow linguists and theologians and historians and ethicists. First days remind us to trust the process that these dynamic communities will build themselves as we learn together.
Today was the best first day I remember. Perhaps that it because I have missed this environment so much. After three years, the search for the classrooms, finding a parking space, even learning I bought the wrong book didn’t overwhelm me as much as it made me feel joy at the notion that this will be my routine for a long time. Many days from today, I may look back and feel silly about this, but for now, I’ll enjoy the unknown.