Archive for July, 2010


IMC 2010

July 22, 2010

Last week was the International Medieval Congress here in Leeds. It’s one of the largest gatherings of medievalists in the world, and is a nerdy medievalist’s heaven: four intense days of papers, lectures, discussions, workshops, and a dance. I went to so many sessions I felt like my brain was about to leak from my ears, but I truly enjoyed most of them. One of the sessions I went to was a round table discussion for a coming conference on gender, time, and memory (I keep finding myself being sucked into gender studies…). It was really interesting, and I was actually able to contribute to the discussion (a first!) and offer ideas for potential papers while advising others on their work. Afterwards, one of the speakers approached me and asked me if I would be submitting a paper to the conference because she really liked my ideas and wanted to hear more about them. I told her I couldn’t. She was persistent, asking me why. I explained to her that I would be in Ukraine next January, when the conference will be held, and there would be no way I could attend. She seemed disappointed (and surprised that I am only an MA student), telling me she hoped to see me soon at the very least.

I also presented my own paper at the IMC. It was on Icelandic literature and was an exploration of how Örvar-Odds saga is a critique of the fornaldarsögur (sounds impressive, huh?). It went incredibly well. I made people laugh (intentionally) and was told that my paper was very easy to follow and my argument was very clear. Afterwards, I was approached by multiple different people, PhD candidates, Professors, people who study Icelandic literature for a living, asking me if I would publish the paper, would I continue my study in Icelandic literature, and where I would be going for my PhD next year. I told all of them that, while I will try to publish my paper someday, I wasn’t going to be starting my PhD anytime soon. Each of them asked me why, and I found myself explaining over and over again that I was going into the Peace Corps and that I would be in Ukraine come this fall. It was intense.

It just really put my decision to join the Peace Corps instead of getting my PhD right away into perspective. I have been encouraged by a couple of my professors to get my PhD, but the response I received during the IMC was overwhelming. It just made me wonder, made me think about this choice I’m making and how…sad I am about how my formal study in medieval literature is coming to an end, even if it turns out to be temporary. There’s nothing wrong with taking a couple of years off between my MA and my PhD, in fact it’s something I would encourage since I am so thankful I took a year off between my BA and my MA, but it still made me think about my future and how sad I am leaving academia behind. I know I’m not ready to settle down to work on a PhD for 4-6 years just yet, I know I wouldn’t be happy doing that right now, I have too much of the wanderlust, too many things I want to do and see, but what about after the Peace Corps? Will I be ready then? Or will I never be able to completely settle down in the way needed to work in academia? Will I ever be able to return for my PhD, ever return to the field that I love so passionately but which still doesn’t completely satisfy me?

I think that’s ultimately the problem. I just don’t know what I want to do after the Peace Corps. I know, I know, I haven’t even left yet, I have plenty of time to figure it out, over 27 months in fact. But there are so many things I want in life, so many things I want to do, and I’m just not sure which path I should choose, if any of them would actually completely satisfy me. It saddens and, yes, frightens me to know that I may ultimately not continue in academia, may not get my PhD when it’s something I want so badly. To know that this might really be the end of my studies. The IMC really put that all into perspective, made me realise what exactly I’m giving up, what exactly I’m leaving behind as I prepare to leave for the Peace Corps. It’s going to be worth it, I know. The Peace Corps is going to be amazing, it’s going to be such an experience. But still…

No matter what ultimately happens, though, I plan on trying to get a couple of things published over the next few years while in Ukraine. I’m pretty sure I could get two or three articles out of my MA thesis plus that Icelandic paper, and if I could get something published, it would look really good on my resume if I do continue in academia and apply to get my PhD (which would offset my awful GRE Subject Test score…boo to the GRE Subject Test…). Maybe I won’t continue in academia, maybe this really is the end, but I’m not willing to shut that door just yet. I’m going to keep my options open, and maybe, hopefully, the next few years in the Peace Corps will help me decide what my next step will be.

And besides, even if I don’t end up in academia, it’s not like I can’t study medieval literature on my own. I love what I do, I love it so freaking much, and that will never go away, no matter what. What can I say, I’m a nerdy medievalist at heart.


Passport Fun – International Style

July 7, 2010

You may recall in a past post how I was concerned about how the whole passport thing was going to work out since I’m currently living in England and won’t be returning to the States until late August. I didn’t know at the time that Peace Corps volunteers don’t use their personal passports to travel with (which makes me sad – I was really looking forward to a Ukraine visa to go along with my China and UK ones). Instead, we use a special government type passport. So all volunteers must apply for this special passport.

The e-mail I received after accepting my invitation basically said: You have three options – 1) If you have a passport, use this form; 2) If you don’t have a passport or are traveling, use a different form; 3) If you are applying overseas, call the travel agency. I called the travel agency, and explained my situation to them, which was actually really amusing and went something like this:

Me: ‘I need to apply for my passport and visa but I’m living in the UK and the e-mail I received said to call you.’
Them: ‘When are you leaving for service?’
Me: ‘September.’
Them: ‘And when do you return to the States from the UK?’
Me: ‘September.’
Them: ‘…’
Me: ‘…’
Them: ‘Really?’

The people I spoke to were really nice about it and told me what I needed to do: I had to go to the U.S. Embassy with my form and passport and they would make an official copy of my passport that I could send in lieu of my real passport, since I need it to get back into the country. I just started to laugh. Really? I had to go to the Embassy in London (about 2 1/2 hours away by train)? Sure, why not, sounds like fun, and I’m always down for a road trip. Plus there’s this pretty decent Mexican restaurant in that area of the city that I could go to. Hoping online, I went to the website for the U.S. Embassy in London and learned they have no available appointments until August 27th, the day I will be back in the States. Ahh…nothing is ever that easy, is it?

Calling the travel people back, I told them what was what (the person I spoke to said, and I quote: ‘Sounds like you’re up a creek without a paddle.’ It took all of my will power not to bust out laughing), but the woman who could help me was out for lunch so I would need to call back. In the meantime, I did a little research and found out that the consulate up in Edinburgh (about 3 hours away) does passport stuff as well, and they had lots of appointments available! I decided to just go ahead and book an appointment with them and just hope for the best. Besides, I’ve been meaning to head up to Edinburgh since I would rather spend the time Dad and I will be in Scottland visiting the parts of the country I can’t get to easily. I wish I could have stayed there overnight, but things didn’t quite work out since I had other appointments scheduled for this week.

Anyways, yesterday I headed up to Edinburgh with all of my paperwork. My appointment was at 12:30 and I arrived at 12:00 (I have a habit of being perpetually early), but people were sitting on the steps of the building, which really confused me. Turns out it was a queue. A queue that went out the door. Brilliant. It wasn’t bad, though, just a little cold as I sat on the steps with everybody else reading the book I had brought until I was allowed to head inside at around 1:30 and wait in there. I was finally called up at about 2:00, and it took a total of 3 minutes to give them all my paperwork, explain what I needed, and to be told it would take at least an hour for everything to be processed. Gotta love it.

When I was finally called back up, turns out the guy who watched me sign my application was a RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) who had served in Tonga in the 90’s, and we chatted about what it’s like to volunteer and what it’s like to work in the Foreign Service, a career I’ve been entertaining pursuing someday (he said it’s simliar to serving in the Peace Corps except you get paid – love it!). He also explained why things had taken so long that day – apparently a lot of the usual staff was still on vacation for the 4th. I happily walked out of the consulate at 3:00 with my forms.

At 3:15 I was back, knocking on their door asking to be let back in because, after reading the instructions provided by the Peace Corps, I was afraid things had been messed up. He was really nice, read over the instructions and called his supervisor in London. The thing I was worried about I was told not to worry about (the instructions said they would seal the application in an envelope, which they didn’t do and they assure me they don’t need to do), but it’s a good thing I did go back, because he was supposed to include a seal on the application showing that I had gone to the consulate to have it done. Application freshly sealed, I walked out of the consulate at 3:30, after 3 1/2 hours, still a little worried about the fact my stuff wasn’t sealed in an envelope, but deciding everything would work out.

I spent the rest of the day walking around Edinburgh and went on a freaky ghost tour of a part of the underground city called ‘City of the Dead’. Very very cool, I definitely recommend it. Then I hopped back on the train and came back home. It was a very long but enjoyable day. Today I’m going to head to UPS and mail the forms off and hope for the best! Then I’m pretty much done with Peace Corps stuff for a few weeks until it’s time to start thinking about arranging my travel and purchasing the things I’m going to need for my time in Ukraine. I’m so excited!