Sorry to have been so quiet over the past few weeks! My grad school applications ate me alive. But now all the essays have been written, all the recommenders have been wrangled, and every application is in, and I can start living in my present instead of my future.
For the curious, here’s the list of programs to which I’ve applied:
Tufts University, The Fletcher School – MALD (Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy)
Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies – M.A. in International Relations
George Washington University, Elliott School of International Affairs – M.A. in International Development Studies
American University, School of International Service – M.A. in International Development
Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service – MSFS (Master of Science in Foreign Service)
University of Denver, Josef Korbel School of International Studies – M.A. in International Development
My goals? In short, pretty much what I’m doing right now. I want a career in international development and human security in the Eastern Europe/Central Asia region, one that will involve lots of travel and heavy field work in my most beloved part of the world. I find myself gravitating towards helping marginalized ethnic groups in the region, especially those whose lives have been turned upside down by ethnic conflict. But really, there are thousands of other directions I could also go within the field, and I’m excited to find out which road I’ll ultimately go down.
But now, I wait – until April, which is when I find out where I’ll be spending my next two years. Part of me is already getting excited about apartment searches and registration and move-in days. The other part, presentist through and through, finds such thoughts jarring. Life outside Azerbaijan seems hazy and implausible right now.
I kicked off another borrower verification on Thursday, my third out of four on my workplan (!). Spent a full 11 hours visiting borrowers in Sabirabad, Saatlı, and Ağsu, then looping home via a cloud-shrouded mountain ridge road that reminded me achingly of the trip over the Taconics into Williamstown. It gave me a lot of time in the car to take stock of where I am.
I’ve been gone for a long time, it strikes me. I’m approaching the end of my fifth month in the former Soviet Union. Five months without having seen my home country, and another four still to go. And I’ve been bouncing around like mad: three countries and eleven separate beds since I first left. It’s been tiring at times and downright frustrating at others, especially when the transitions haven’t gone as smoothly as I’d hoped.
But overall? I’m okay with this. More: This is what I picture my future career to be. I like not knowing where I’ll be driving next week, where I’ll be flying next month, where I’ll be living next year. I have trouble imagining myself with a stable life. To me, instability means a constant stream of new experiences, new challenges, new opportunities for personal growth. Stability, by contrast, seems synonymous with stagnation. I’m sure my feelings on the matter will evolve as I get older, but right now, I have a lot more life experience to gain before I’ll be ready to pack it in like that.
There are a lot of people who wouldn’t be able to stand such a life. I think part of the reason I can is that I genuinely don’t feel I have a home calling me back. I have family and friends I miss and places I’m really looking forward to seeing again, but… do either of those really constitute “home”? What is home, even? It’s a question I’ve been pondering for years now. It’s not enough just to have grown up in a place; you also have to want to go back there. And it’s not enough just to have lived somewhere; you need to have formed a deeper connection with your surroundings, with your memories lining every street and your friends (or their ghosts) around every corner. It’s tempting to say home is wherever the people you love are, but mine are scattered all over the world… and anyway, aren’t people mobile? Aren’t I?
I tend to tell people I’m from Philadelphia, for two reasons: first, it’s the most recent and most meaningful place I’ve lived in my native country, and second, at two years and two months, it’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere at a stretch since high school. It almost fits the bill. Yet I’m already gone from Philly, and no matter how much I like it, I don’t think I’d choose to live there again when there are so many other cities to explore. How is that a basis for “home”?
Okay, I could write reams more on this topic, and I think that’s reason enough to wrap it up right here. I’m curious what you think, though.
By the way, thanks to my MFI’s snaphappy driver, I finally have a picture of me in action! This is me interviewing Zohrab, an Aqroinvest Credit Union borrower, who grows apples and pomegranates on his farm near Ağsu. Up above, you can see a corner of his beautiful patch of land at the foot of a mountain, which he just bought from the government. He’s planning on turning it into a sunflower field with the help of his loan. We’re standing together with Aqroinvest’s Kiva assistant, Sabina, in front of the new house Zohrab is building for his family. Proof that my Kiva Fellowship is not an elaborately constructed hoax!