Thursday, December 8, 2011

An education

Fall quarter officially ends tomorrow, but I've finished all the papers and tests. Now I have time to watch Hulu and reflect on the last few months. I moved to Spokane on Sept. 1, and I've settled in well, all things considered. Sure, the construction next door has literally shaken my apartment building, but all in all this is the quietest place I've ever lived. That's a true blessing for someone who greatly values quiet, as I do.

I've gotten to know Spokane a bit since moving here, and I've found that the horror stories you hear from Seattleites who have never been here aren't accurate. In fact, they're about as true as the outdated, stereotypical impressions of Seattle that you sometimes hear from Midwesterners or East Coast residents. Seattle isn't a forest of grunge and plaid, and Spokane isn't a smoking hole in the ground that smells like meth. Crime isn't rampant here. I feel as safe in Browne's Addition as I did in Ravenna, and the neighborhood is probably safer than Seattle's Capitol Hill. I live across the street from a gastropub and a Tully's, and a few blocks from a lovely park, a grocery, and a yoga studio. This place is just as comfortable for me as Seattle was, and the people here are friendlier.

Wherever I move after this, I want it to be a place where strangers acknowledge each other. Seattle is full of smart, literate people, but it's not friendly enough for me. Too many iPads and iPhones, too much personal space. Spokane's combination of urban pleasures (art cinema, farmers market, co-op grocery, gorgeously landscaped parks) and small-town charm is pretty winning. Bellingham would have been great, but Spokane has everything I need at a lower cost of living.

Grad school is a little different from how I pictured it, because I was picturing a highly academic program, like film studies or Spanish literature. EWU's applied psych program is just that: It emphasizes the application of skills, not tremendous intellectual rigor. Self-reflection matters as much as, if not more than, research papers, although next year there's a hefty one to write. The program's goal is to make us examine ourselves while learning the techniques and attitudes we need to help others. It's a program that gives back what you put into it.

This seems like an apt introduction to the counseling profession, since being active in the field -- going to conferences, networking, finding ways to learn on an ongoing basis -- is clearly the key to a successful, fulfilling career. I like structure, especially the kind that's imposed from outside. I'll need to get better at structuring my daily life, not just my academic work, in order to realize my goal of having a private practice. I'll also need to keep improving my financial skills. I currently create a budget for each month, and I tend to follow those plans pretty well. But responsible planning and investment go beyond that basic step, and I know it.

The support I receive is humbling. Many of my classmates have to work much harder, and manage much more, than I do. They have spouses or families, and some work multiple jobs. I'm learning to respect people whose political and spiritual views are different from mine. If I'd attended Western, I would likely have been among a more liberal, less devoutly Christian crowd. That would have been a comfort zone, which I'm not sure is what best serves a master's-level counseling student. Spokane is more working class, religious, and Republican than anywhere I've lived. Better to experience this part of American reality than to remain in a liberal bubble. I can always visit Seattle, and I can move to a big city after graduation. For now, being in a place where the political spectrum is wider, and the things I'm used to taking for granted aren't necessarily true, may be just the education I need.

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