Quandary III

Fish Fountain
IU Bloomington Campus
Bloomington, IN, USA
November 3, 2015

I've been sniffing out Ph.D. possibilities at Indiana University, Bloomington. This has meant sitting in on an Uzbek language class, meeting with the department head (whom I'd consider asking to be my advisor should I go through with the application,) and spending several days alongside a Ph.D. student currently enrolled in the program I'm considering.

Connecting with the present Ph.D. student here at IU Bloomington was the easiest piece to arrange. Leila received me at the bus station. Within minutes of stepping off of my connecting bus from Indianapolis she and I walked together over to the Runcible Spoon to catch up over brunch.

Leila Welcomes David
Back to Bloomington
I knew Leila as she was on a tandem track just ahead of where I am back up in Montreal. She finished her master's degree just as I began mine in the same department at McGill. Though she'd already been graduated by the time I began we came to know each other in the interim years before she began her doctoral studies down here.

If it hadn't been for Leila, I'm pretty sure I would have just moved through the corridors on campus without making the connections that have given me a fuller sense of what I'd be stepping to in a Ph.D. program, contacts that might help me land a slot here for more grad school.

Tudor Room Lunch Buffet
On departmental advice Leila enrolled herself in an Uzbek language class at the start of this term. I asked if I could sit in for a session. She asked the prof if he'd be cool with me showing up; the prof was cool with that; I sat in alongside Leila and her sole classmate over morning class. Despite that I've never taken an Uzbek class, despite that I hadn't seen the lesson of the day until walking into the classroom, despite that I haven't attempted conversation in Turkic language in roughly 5 years... I felt comfortable sitting in. Something of whatever I gained over years studying Uyghur, a language so close to Uzbek, is still rattling somewhere around my head.

At the end of class the professor praised my "high level of Uzbek" though I felt like all I'd been doing was faking ability in the language by stuttering out the Cyrillic script from the textbook and guessing at what was different from Uyghur. Leila and I went from that class right to lunch. When she offered suggestions of places we might eat, I pounced on the one that I thought would be best both in terms of proximity and offering a unique experience. In one of the oldest buildings on campus is the "Tudor Room", a dining hall in the vein of the Round Table, a place with high ceilings festooned with banners bearing shields and other heraldry of dubious lineage. It was right in the heart of campus so close to Leila's next class. Moreover, they offered a lunch buffet.

Though the lunch deal was a bargain, especially given Leila's student discount, I contemplated the dessert deal advertised on the menu posted outside the Tudor Hall after we'd eaten:

"Hey, Leila. Check this out! Did you realize that we didn't have to gorge ourselves on the full buffet? We could have chosen the 'dessert buffet' option. We could have had all the coffee, tea, chocolate mousse, and pumpkin-spiced cheesecake we wanted for only $3.95, each! If I wind up coming here for more grad school I know I'll be doing that every few weeks... "

Leila laughed aloud, agreeing that the dessert buffet was certainly an option to explore in future.

IU Bloomington Campus
Not only do I credit Leila with getting me into her Uzbek class, I have to further credit her with introducing me to the very person I came to track down: the department head of the Central Eurasian Studies Program. He even held an audience with me for nearly an hour in his office. I know that wouldn't have happened without her connection: I'd e-mailed him twice before arriving but heard no response.

In a stroke of serendipity, Leila didn't even have to chase him down during his office hours. When she and I met on campus before walking to Uzbek class we crossed paths with him as he clutched a coffee cup and bagel in the lobby of the main library. She made a brief introduction and he and I were set to talk about Ph.D. programs in Bloomington later that afternoon.

For all the tremendous help Leila has afforded me, the one thing she wasn't able to offer was a place to host me over visit. No worries. I had somewhere to stay through a connection stretching back to when I studied here 5 years ago. I'd seen Amber briefly up in Chicago just a couple years ago but Jia-yi did the favor of asking her if I could stay with her and her boyfriend, Ali, for my two nights in town. They were good enough to host me on their couch; we finished our re-connection over pizza at King Dough on W. 6th Street where I introduced them to Leila.

Leila, David, Amber, and
Ali Post-pizza
I now feel confident that I've got a better sense of what I'd be stepping into here should I continue graduate study at IU. But, I'm a ways from coming to any firm decision. When meeting with the departmental advisor I asked how long it was taking docotral students to finish their program of study. He said, in all candor, that it was averaging 7 years. My internal reaction to that, which I thankfully did not blurt out in front of him was, "Oh, that's way too long," which makes me question whether I'd have the commitment to see the degree through. Leila herself has had something of a bumpy entree into her Ph.D program; she openly wondered aloud about what-all will be involved to ultimately see her program through.

The most significant part of my visit to Bloomington came unexpectedly. I received a letter (sent through e-mail) from the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration back in Canada. They've scheduled a date for me to take my citizenship exam: exactly 3 weeks from now. Which leaves me in a quandary: should I revise my itinerary to return to Montréal to meet that date or should I carry on with the Grand Overland Tour 2015? I might be able to reschedule the exam date, but suspect that would tie another layer of red tape around the existing bureaucracy.

Thanks to Leila, Amber, and Ali for making my visit to Bloomington more productive, more comfortable, and more fun than I'd imagined. As to where I go from here... I still have some weeks to make the decision whether to change my overall course. But, where I move along to right out of Bloomington is settled.

Next stop: Cincinnati

Bloomington Arrival from Chicago
Ticket Origin and Destination: Chicago to Bloomington
Carriers: Megabus, Miller
Length of Journey: 5 hours
Price: $13.50 USD
Total Ticket Cost to this Point: $54.24 USD