I was planning on going to graduate school to get a master’s in international education, which made sense at the time. I had been working with international students for three years, both in the U.S. and in Costa Rica, and getting a master’s degree was the next logical step. I had a plan, I had a spreadsheet with all of the international education programs I was applying for, and I had a solid elevator speech to respond to the inevitable, frequent, and mildly painful question, “what are you going to do next?”
In a series of discussions with a religious studies professor from undergrad, who had gone to Harvard Divinity School, I began to consider applying to the Master of Theological Studies program. It didn’t seem as straightforward as applying to international education programs in order to then work in international education, but I kept looking at the courses offered at HDS, reading about the faculty, and thinking about how exciting the MTS program sounded. I was impressed by the flexibility of the MTS degree, and intrigued by many of the course titles, especially in comparison to the prescribed course structures and less enthralling course offerings in other programs. I still wasn’t sure if it made sense though. Why go to a Divinity School to go into international education, rather than an international education program? But once it was on my spreadsheet, I couldn’t bring myself to take it off, so I applied, telling myself that I wouldn’t get in, so the decision would be made for me, anyway. I started to look at housing in the area of my top choice international education program, and daydreamed about life there the next year. I didn’t let myself think that I might be at Harvard, because it was easier to focus on my plan, which felt more tangible. Going to Divinity School still wasn’t part of my plan, and my decision to apply there wasn’t even something I told many people about, because it was hard to explain why I was applying to all these international education programs and one religion program.
But then I did get into Harvard Divinity, and I immediately realized that was what I had been hoping for the whole time. I had been telling myself that I wouldn’t get in so that I wouldn’t be too upset if I didn’t, and I had done such a good job of convincing myself I wouldn’t that I was shocked when I received my acceptance letter. At first glance a religious studies program didn’t seem to fit into my international education path as readily as a program specifically designed to prepare me for a career working with international students and study abroad programs, but the more I talked to people and learned about the MTS program, I realized how much sense it made. An international education program would have given me the skills necessary to pursue a specific career track, but Harvard is doing so much more. Harvard Divinity School’s scope is broader, and the MTS program is amazingly flexible. I’m gaining skills that will translate to many different opportunities in the future, and going to HDS instead of a program with a narrower focus will allow me to explore more options later on, whatever they may be. And if I do end up going into international education, and stick to the plan, I will have a solid framework in intercultural understanding and communication from a religious studies perspective, which will be unique on the job market and make me stand out as an applicant in the field. The Office of Career Services helps students articulate the value of an MTS degree, so I already feel confident speaking about that.
When I started at HDS, my area of focus was Religions of the Americas, specifically religions of Latin America, which I felt would give me an area of specialty in international education. After just one semester, though, I realized that while I am very interested in religion in Latin America, I’m incredibly excited about gender studies. The classes I took in this area were great, I really liked my gender studies professors, and I found myself weirdly excited about homework when doing readings for those courses. So I switched my area of focus to Women, Gender, Sexuality, and Religion, which will also be a valuable perspective in the field of international education. In my experience working with study abroad programs and international students, I saw vast room for improvement in the ways study abroad programs interact with students when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality, and particularly with regard to sexual assault policies. A religious studies background will provide me with an important skill set for intercultural work in this area.
Although coming to Harvard Divinity School took me slightly off of my planned career path, I’m studying things that I find fascinating and I’m excited about all of the possibilities and opportunities being here provides, from the diverse array of professors and guest lecturers to the resources in the Harvard University network, including a great library system. While I’m not quite sure where I’ll end up after graduating, my HDS degree will definitely prepare me for whatever lies ahead.