Words of Wisdom (for my first year grad school self)

After two years in Iowa, Student Affairs, and trying to be an adult, I think I’ve learned a few things. While I am not now nor ever perfect, I think it both responsible and important to pass on a few life lessons I’ve learned. To anyone reading that may be starting their Grad journey, these are not an ends to a means. To someone struggling to be themselves, you are your own author. To the person rolling their eyes, bye.

It is ok to not be happy. Not everything will go according to plan. You may not like a professor, a class, a work assignment. It is ok to feel like the odd one out, stressed, and hopeless. Make your journey full of dissonance. Rejoice in the small things and don’t stress the big things.

You won’t be friends with everyone. The cohort (and program) is small in comparison to the rest of the University. You won’t get along with everyone. In fact, you can go your whole 2 years being able to count the social time you’ve spent with your classmates on two hands. THAT IS OK. Your cohort is not everything and don’t buy those happy-go-lucky fantasy stories that may be sold to you.

You have to speak up and advocate for what you want. Looking back, there is so much I should have asked to do. I was both worried about speaking up and was lazy thinking opportunities would fall in my lap. You have to watch out for yourself, advocate for unique experiences, and build that resume.

Do a practicum/internship outside of the University. Your University is great, but you will learn SO much more if you do a practicum/internship. I made my practicum visits a day-long event and did not worry about time. I was able to multi task by getting off my campus, building outside networks of support, and doing some real meaning making.

Find your social and support networks outside of your program and assistantship. Per the fact you won’t be friends with everyone, you need to find a friend and support group outside of well, your graduate experience. Connect with people in the law school. Find a student org. DO SOMETHING. If you spend all your time in HESA you will quickly limit your experiences.

Dedicate time for you to get away from Iowa City. There is so many cool things in and around your state. Check out websites like onlyinyourstate.com or just google search things. That randomly “wold’s only/largest xyz”, yea go check that out. That town with a cool name, go explore.

Actually read for class. You may either roll your eyes or think duh, but you will understand that reading is essential. However, you will have a temptation to not read, skim, or pretend you read. Don’t. Take the time to invest in yourself. Read, take notes, and make real meaning with your experiences.

Try to get a week or two ahead in your assignments. I discovered that when I got ahead in my assignments, getting away for a weekend was easier. Also life happens and you never know when something will come up that will prevent you from working on your classwork for a few days. If nothing else, for sure do this in the Spring semester of year two, you will thank me when the job search happens.

Don’t stress about comps. Period.

Start saving now for the job search. I know that is so long for now, but invest in yourself and save. Plane tickets, U-hauls, baggage checks, and airport food quickly adds up.

Don’t compare your journey to others. You do you and make sure you don’t get competitive. The program will say grades don’t matter, but if they matter to you then work hard for them, just don’t get caught up that XYZ got an A and you got a B+. Also when you do fail that first writing assignment, chill, it will work out and you will get better.

Reflect. Journal. Love yourself. Repeat.

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What they don’t tell you about speaking out (and having different views)

If you are privileged enough to go to college, then hopefully you are challenged, faced with hard decisions, and exposed to new ideas. College is meant to be a place of self-realization, exploration, and enlightenment. I spent five years as an undergrad and didn’t fully realize how much college changes you until my last year. I realized pretty quickly that I had abandoned my ultra-conservative roots and picked up a more liberal, left-winged way of thinking. From the Black Lives Matter movement to DAPL, I consistently had different opinions than my loved ones (specifically on Facebook).

I am a loud and proud individual. I am privileged as hell. I suffer from white guilt but choose not to be immobilized by it. I am a God fearing Christian. I am all of these things and more, yet I find myself constantly questioning my role, what society is suppose to be, and how to make a true difference. All of these things I have learned about on the job, in the classroom, on a Saturday night three drinks deep at a bar. There is so much knowledge I have gained, questioned, and created – however they don’t tell you everything.

They don’t tell you how to respond to harsh criticism to your ideals and beliefs by your friends. They don’t tell you how awkward it will be at family events whenever you’re the “flaming liberal” who has betrayed their conservative upbringing. They don’t tell you about the tears, rage, and fear you feel (all at once) when a family member you have loved, looked up to, and have worshiped all your life tells you they don’t know who you are anymore, that you have betrayed your heritage – essentially cutting ties. They don’t tell you the pain you will go through as you change into the person your trying to become.

They don’t tell you that sometimes you will wonder why you even bother to speak out about injustices, the hypocrisy, and the hatred. They don’t tell you that your family will slowly walk away whenever you don’t sit on the same side of the political spectrum. They don’t tell you have you sit, for hours, wondering if all you have done is even worth it. There is so much they don’t tell you – so here I sit, wondering if my activism, yearning for a socially just society, and hundreds of hours of self-education is even worth it. What am I really accomplishing? Is it even worth it?

I don’t know. I am terrified. My greatest fear is being lonely. They don’t tell you about all the shit that comes with picking the high road, the road less traveled, the road not in-line with your family. I am so young, yet I feel so old. I am so privileged, yet I feel like I have lost so much. No one told me that I would be where I am at right now. The only thing I have left to do is pray, read, meditate, and reflect. I don’t know what I am meant to do in this life – what I know now is that it gets real ugly, real painful, real. This is not the guilt confession of another white ally. This is not the bickering of a privileged male. This is true hurt, true confusion, true desperation. This is so much and more – the things that did tell me when I started this journey.

First let me introduce myself: #SAviews

13322115_10157103633525195_297510175469595778_n.jpgHey y’all,

So it has only been a few short days since my last post and only a few weeks into the summer. There are some changes going on and they are now in the works. But first, let me (re) introduce myself and all the details.

Name: Justin Kyle

Occupation: Higher Education Student Affairs

Future plans: World domination

Actual future plans: becoming an advocate of change

Desired future position: Chancellor of Ole Miss

Areas of interest: Fraternity and Sorority Life, Student Activities, Service-Learning, Housing and Residence Life, and Orientation.

Areas of interest not related to professional life but should be: craft beer, whisky, Pokemon, music (vinyls are rad), sloths, beaches, and thrift shopping.

So now that all of those things are out of the way, let’s talk about what is new.

New blog: I’ve decided that my old blog “private thoughts in a public world” was too narrow. So, after much creative thinking, I’ve decided to create a new hashtag and in the process a new blog title: #SAviews. SA meaning Student Affairs and views meaning my view of xyz. It also helps with Insta and twitter so I can stay organized. yay.

New ambitions: I’ve decided that life is too short to be narrow minded. A year ago I would have said I only want to every work at large, public institutions. After my experience at Coe College, I’ve decided that the opportunities are boundless and I can learn any and everywhere. Yay for increasing breadth of employment!

New Goals: Let’s be honest, I have no clue as to what I am doing. Instead of pretending, I want to be genuine. So with that said, I have a few basic goals and everything else just happens

  • continously learning about my priviliges, the systems of opression that impact so many, and doing what I can when I can, listening when I should, and advocating when necessary.
  • getting a MBA
  • getting a Ph.D.
  • working for my national fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi
  • have a wife, kid(s), dog, and a sloth
  • traveling the world
  • learning all I can so that I can return to Mississippi and make a difference in the backwards state I call home.

New attitude: I’ve been an ass at times (a lot). I have my set way of acting around some and that’s just not cool. From hence forth I am all in. No matter what the circumstance, I want to be fully present. No matter the task at hand, I want to do my all. No matter the amount of ice cream before me, I will eat it all. See where I’m going with this?

Now you may saying, dude what the hell are you rambling about? At that I will just default to the blank stare, smile, and wave routine. I rarely understand half the things that I do so explaining this would require a beer and a long conversation (which I am always down for).

So without further delay, I give you #SAviews – my personal hashtag, blog, journey, thoughts, feelings, emotions, attitudes, love of sloths, and oxford commas.

 

 

New School, New State, New Lonely?

Some may know, some may not, but I moved from my home for nearly all my life. Moving from Mississippi to Iowa was interesting. Countless people tell me “what a great school!”, “you will do great!”, and “I’m proud of you”. Truth be told, it was a failure. A hot, beautiful mess of failure. I still count the days until I can graduate, but it has taught me some lessons (see previous blog). However, that isn’t the reason for this blurb.

Rather, I have moved yet again (only for a summer internship) and a whole new mess of challenges have come my way. Yet, somehow, I am at the greatest peace with myself since, well, I have not clue since when. I drove over 1,500 miles and 24 hours to the sunny state of Florida and God couldn’t have planned it any better.

I AM LONELY.

I know no one here. 

I have no one to go grab a beer with, watch baseball, chill with on the beach, ANYTHING.

and I oddly am ok with this.

Have I changed? Yes I have. I have shaken off the shallow soul many once knew as JKT. I have learned from my mistakes of being a pompous, arrogant ass whole who thought he knew it all. I have changed.

This lovely revelation wasn’t free. It cost me, a lot. I lost the best friend I could have ever asked for. I have strained relationships with family. I have cried and looked the ugliness that was me in the eye.

What is this?

New school. New state. New kind of lonely. I can revel in the quietness. I can find joy in the silence. I am ok with not seeking the attention and love of others. Perhaps my greatest challenge of hyper-masculinity, hyper-arrogance, hyper-shitty-ness was that of my own self.

I have learned so much – so much about myself.

Being Lonely isn’t always bad – it can be good. Change happens at the edge of discomfort, so why not be revel in the times of strange?

Whatever these few months may hold, I am facing head on.

Whatever the next 348 days until graduation hold, I can survive. it.

Whatever life may bring, I know I can always learn from others – and myself.

Whatever the hell you may have known about me, may have experienced, may have heard – it probably was true. However, looking in the rear-view and the mirror for the past year has taught me many things and one thing for sure – change has come, change will come, life is change.

So long old self, Hello new lonely, new self, new life. 

I have began a journey to find myself and I cannot wait to see what tomorrow will hold.

cheers.

From Cotton to Corn: Grad School Year One

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Let’s be clear from the start, my transition to Iowa this year was awful. I have been in “survive” mode more than “thrive” and I even began a new grad school search in November. In my experience, I was sold a perfect picture of grad school from peers, supervisors, and institutions: cohorts that become automatic friend groups, opportunities all around, and all the adventures at your fingertips. We have done this to ourselves. We think of our experience in school and try to make it the same/think it will be the same for each new member. I genuinely struggled this year. I failed assignments, I cried, I wanted to quit and pack my bags for Mississippi (probably first time that has ever been said in the history of the world). To put it bluntly: this year was shit.

However, among all the failure, struggles, and loneliness, I made some self-discoveries. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, the profession, and just life in general. I’ve read some difficult articles, been challenged in class, and met confrontation head on. In true Rebel fashion, I challenged what was preached to me in classes and pushed myself and others. Now that the dust is starting to settle and I prepare for the summer and my two months of hard time on the beach at FGCU, I have a few things that I wish to share to the world about my adventures on the other side of the Mississippi (and 10 hours further up river).

  • Loneliness. Moving to a new school, city, and state was hands down the hardest challenge I’ve faced in my life (privilege acknowledged). I have taken for granted all the many friends I’ve made along the way. I forgot what it was like to be a stranger in the crowd, the new kid on the block, the person that is from a place no one has been they ask “why did you come here?”. I have spent my share of hours and days by myself, without someone to casually hang out. Granted, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some great people and finally have a small amount of friends, I still feel as if I am all alone. No one could have prepared me for this. However, I now revel in my loneliness. I have time to reflect, think, and meditate. I have learned more about myself than I could have ever done in the crowds at the Square of the Grove. I’ve learned to be ok silence and to sit in the quite. No I won’t go to a movie or bar by myself but I can go and eat a nice sit-down meal, go exploring, and shoot hoops for hours without talking to anyone. I’m always open to meeting new people but I now can handle being the only person I know.
  • Dating. It hasn’t happened. I’ve done the whole tinder, bumble, you-name-it apps. I’ve meet people through people and even tried the whole “lame pick-up line game” at the grocery store, bars, and the likes. I do not know what it is, but the belles up here aren’t the same as they are back home (must be the lack of sweet tea). Granted, I’m a white, cis gendered male so I have no room to complain about the dating culture (privilege acknowledged), but it has been “awkward af”. Granted I have some things to work on personally both in terms of myself and my past emotions, but still they don’t tell you about the difficulty of separating yourself from undergrads and trying to find a cute date. Not to mention the fact I live in a residence hall (but I have my own apartment!) and that tends to put an even more awkward twist on conversations. I’ve learned a great deal of patience and grown calmer in my spirit. I have journaled my struggles and don’t mind laughing with friends on my failed dates. I still am an eager beaver, but I know that my future is in fate’s hand and I am only playing my part.
  • Culture. The people here are weird. This whole “Midwest/Iowa nice” thing pisses me off. People run all over each other and are so damn indecisive. There isn’t any sweet tea, they put peppers or hot sauce and call it “Cajun”, and don’t even try and ask me about the tailgating (they do it in parking lots, they were this gaudy cover-alls, and they just stand there staring at each other drinking shitty beer). “Country” and “being from the South” to them is just a flannel and camo pants, talking in a “funny accent”, and kissing your cousin. They think they “know football”, “know what good soul food is”, and “know what hot weather is”. The amount of times I have shook my head, bit my tongue, and kept a level head this year when people talk badly about my home is astronomical (granted the South has a shit ton of problems, Iowa isn’t that far behind). However, I’ve learned every town, city, and state has its own unique culture. I’ve learned not to make Iowa like Ole Miss and to always learn in every situation. I’ve learned my way of living is just one of multiple realities. I’ve learned so much about my own culture back home and have noticed the many underlying privileges I have. It may not be Ole Miss, but Iowa is kinda nice.
  • Self. If you ask anyone around here what my name is they will (more times than not) call me Justin Kyle. JKT is a pet name, Justin is what I’m called when I’m in trouble or in Tulsa (long story), and Kyle is just another name in the crowd. I’ve always loved how my two names roll together and I spent the first part of the semester being so self-conscious about it because if I wanted to go by that, it would be “odd”. People have met me at various times of my life may be confused as to why this is. I’ve always struggled with making my own identity, name, and reputation. From Kell (oh high school) to Myrtle (because people my freshman year that it was hilarious), the words I’ve gone by have been many, but they just haven’t been me. In all the loneliness, awkward dates and talking about myself, and being a stranger in a new culture, I’ve discovered so much about myself. The things I have uncovered, re-discovered, changed, and shunned are many. The greatest of all, however, is my true name. A name that means the world to me. A name that gives me pride, makes we stick out, and truly captures my identity. Justin Kyle is more than just a couple words that confuse the hell out of people, it is who I am now from this point forward. The greatest thing I have learned since coming to Iowa is this: The man I was and the man I want to be is up to the man now to change. I am the author of my own path (in the hands of my God). We go to college to “find ourselves”, so even in grad school you can learn more about yourself.

The mistakes I have made in my life can make a grocery list jealous. I’ve pushed away people I have loved and not realized it. I’ve done what I can to impress others. I’ve been unauthentic, self-centered, and an egotistical bastard at times. I’ve done a lot, I’ve learned a lot, I still have a winding path ahead of me. Grad school has been hard, but it has been the best for me. No matter how much I wanted to leave, I know I couldn’t. I had to make myself learn by living in dissonance. I had to get out in order to come back home.

There is no telling what is in store for me from this point on, but I will take it head on with a stiff drink of Maker’s Mark, momma’s prayers, and passion for making a change. William Faulkner once said “to understand the world one must first understand a place like Mississippi”. For me, I’m trying to understand the world so that I can one day go home and make a difference. Iowa has given me a great deal of challenges, but a year in and I’m still going. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got 800+ students to move out of my damn building and drive to Florida for another experience. Cheers.

Grad School: On moving to a new school, new city, new state

Each learner is unique in their own way. This is evident when John Dewey believed that the learning experience should be tailored to the individual needs of the student. Lev Vygotsky believed that we learn based on our interactions with our environment and Nevitt Standford wrote about the necessary balance of challenge and support. Because of this, there is an unlimited possibility on how one can experience their graduate experience. To truly plan for everything one could experience would require omnipotent powers. Sadly, I cannot bestow such powers on anyone. However, what I can do is make my experience open for anyone to observe and learn. This is a list of possibilities one can experience during their transition to grad school. This is a list of things to watch out for, things to give caution to, and things to just completely avoid.  My experience is not yours, and neither is yours mine. However, I there are some things that have some universality. This by all means is not an exhaustive list, rather a starting point for one to reflect on their true selves and how they will react to a new environment. This list is not absolute, something you will never see. However, some things to consider:

  1. It isn’t always fun
  2. You will not always become automatic friends with your classmates
  3. You will struggle
  4. You will be overwhelmed, exhausted, bored, and even pressured
  5. Imposter Syndrome is real (look it up if you don’t now. It will be good practice for you to do your own research on topics).
  6. You have to advocate for yourself and make sure “you get yours”. Chances are, a lot will be asked of you and you will feel a lot of emotions. If you don’t take the time you need, you can and will fail.
  7. You have to get away. Get off campus, off the map, go reflect, go be you.
  8. Make friends that you don’t work with, take classes with, or do “student-affairs things” with. When you make said friends, limit or try not to talk about work and class.
  9. You know only your experiences. Period. You don’t know all, you can’t, so be cool with feeling dumb/lost.
  10. Don’t talk about your undergrad. As much as I love Ole Miss that is Ole Miss. Give your new place a chance. Be careful when you do talk about your prior experiences because you can easily offend people. Hard lesson learned.
  11. Go for a walk, listen to music, and explore.
  12. Find a mentor, someone who will call you out, someone to cry with, someone to laugh with. This can be one or multiple people.
  13. Don’t gossip. Listen when people do and make mental notes. People can be real shitty and stupid at times and you don’t want none of that toxicity in your life.
  14. Learn from other’s mistakes
  15. Learn from your mistakes
  16. “They” will tell you it is not about the grads but what you learn. True. But when you grow up in a K-12 and undergrad system that depends of pure memorization and “getting the grades”, it is about both. If you not satisfied with what you are learning or the grades, change it.
  17. “Trust the process” or don’t. Make it your own. (I’m a Rebel so I make my own way)
  18. Don’t say “I know this will probably offend someone but….” Chances are, you are going to shove your own foot so far down your mouth it will become a permanent member of your digestive system. I’ve said this, others have, and many will. Just don’t. Reflect, write down your thoughts, think about your privileges, and reflect some more.
  19. It is ok to make mistakes. It is not ok for your ignorant privilege to attack, offended, or appropriate others.
  20. Speak from your own view, do not ask someone to speak for a whole group of folks.
  21. If what you are thinking is not “good”, then don’t say it and reflect. Mistakes are ok but don’t be an ass.
  22. Journal, blog, talk to yourself, whatever you have to do to help reflect.
  23. It is ok to hate your classes, your job, your whatever. Everything can and will be ok. Reflect, make the necessary changes, and carry on.
  24. Take time to plan your schedule. Be deliberate.
  25. “Treat yo self”
  26. Say “yes” and “no”. Opportunities are all around. So take advantage and also know there are always more.
  27. Take time to talk to family (I like postcards personally), undergrad friends, and mentors. Don’t let the grass grow under you relationships.
  28. Do your own research. Look up random stuff, stuff you don’t know, stuff you think you know.
  29. Even if you think you know, you can still learn from any experience.
  30. Make your own theories. Self-author something that explains how you know what you know.
  31. Learn what words are “PC” and what isn’t. It shouldn’t be other people’s responsibility to correct you. Do your own research but don’t get caught up on every detail. Mistakes are ok but don’t be an ass.
  32. Find someone “different” than you. Make that person your friend. We learn at the intersection of discomfort and unknown. You will find out new things, both good and bad, about yourself. Embrace what you learn and do what is necessary.

This by all means is not everything that can happen. This is not what all you will experience or see. Make your own list and share with others. Know that you are not in this struggle/journey alone, but you have to respect yourself too. Learn from my mistakes, learn from others, and learn from yourself. Learning is a lifelong process so enjoy the ride because it will get intense.

Cheers.