This Thursday I took a bus to the Union Station, took a train to Santa Barbara, took a shuttle to downtown, took a bus to Goleta, and walked half a mile, all to attend a brief presentation and Q&A session for applicants to the psych program I'm looking at in Colorado. I turned out to be the only attendee, but the 5 1/2 hour travel time was worth it, because being able to speak one-on-one with a graduate of the program I'm looking at was extremely rewarding.
The program is a synthesis between wilderness educator training and counseling psychology. You graduate ready to sit for licensure as a counselor, but also prepared with kayak, rope climbing, horseback, wilderness first aid, and orienteering skills for getting folks out into the wilderness where nature can do its healing magic. In addition, (as if this weren't enough!) the program is run through a Buddhist university, so there is emphasis on self-reflection, self-cultivation, and meditation in order to keep oneself centered as one goes about trying to help others. Right? This is my PLACE!!
However. As I have tried to justify my application to this 3-year masters degree program, I have run into a few seemingly insurmountable roadblocks.
1) Finances. Oh, it is expensive. And oh, I am under no illusions that I am going to easily find well-paid work in this extremely narrow and obscure field.
2) Children. How exactly am I going to haul them off to Colorado without a lengthy and world-rending custody battle? And what are they going to be doing when I am on my long solo expeditions in the second year of the program?
3) Self-doubt. Can I be a single mom and a graduate student simultaneously? Will I be able to pass the licensure exam? Will I be able to negotiate promoting myself and pulling a business together on my own?
But the conversation with this woman--Krista---allayed many of these fears. Now I know that she is an admissions representative, so there's that whole I'll-say-whatever-it-takes-to-get-you-in-our-clutches dynamic, but what was interesting about this particular encounter is that she also, as a graduate of a Buddhist program, meditates. And reflects before speaking. And is careful to find the most compassionate response. Her good intentions were palpable. And here is what she told me:
1) there is a reliable and frequent bus system to campus from just about anywhere. Very few students own a car.
2) students often rent houses together. She has known of several occasions where students of the wilderness program trade off a year of childcare: for instance, in my first year I could watch someone's children while she does the intensive trips on the second year, and she would watch mine in return the following year.
3) there is a new program by which payback of student loans is prorated by income. So I would only have to pay back what I can legitimately afford until I get my feet on the ground.
4) about 50% of graduate students at this particular university are parents.
That leaves custody...a topic for another time. Altogether I left the session with a buoyant, almost giddy sense of this could happen. This really could happen.
And then my sort-of boyfriend picked me up and we wandered the streets of Santa Barbara together, giggling and eating and listening to mandolin music played by a dreadlocked individual on a skateboard. We watched scores of bike riders, all wearing false mustaches, throng the streets. We drove up the winding mountain roads to his home, where I proceeded to--HALLELUJAH!!!--sleep for TWELVE HOURS STRAIGHT.
For the duration of a full day I felt cared for. Someone was trying to help me resolve my difficulties, someone was holding me, someone was driving me home while I slept. How wonderful. I cannot adequately express what an overwhelming relief it is to let go and be cared for. It brings tears to my eyes even now. You forget what it's like.