When I found out that I had been admitted to HDS, I was about to head into an all-staff meeting at work. Upon receiving the news, I could barely contain my joy. I immediately informed some of my colleagues (a couple of them, HDS alumni) who had supported me in the application process. I called my parents, my siblings, and my husband. I thanked God. Then, I headed right back to work.
Although some students at HDS arrive on campus immediately after completing their undergraduate studies, others (like me) have spent some time in the workforce before returning to academia. For me, this meant that the decision to attend HDS had some big implications for my personal and professional life. I would have to quit my job, move away from my family and community to a new city, and drag my husband along. This was an especially challenging decision for me to make because I had lived in Chicago for most of my life. I value my relationships with my family, my faith community, and my friends. Adjusting to academic life was going to be a big change.
I’m now writing in the Spring term of my first year as an MTS candidate. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t difficult to be a full-time student, part-time employee, and full-time wife. When classes are over and my homework is (mostly) done, I still have obligations and responsibilities to others—my wonderful employers at the Pluralism Project and my supportive husband. This means that I often catch photos on Facebook of classmates and colleagues at parties and social events that I’m unable to attend and probably wouldn’t go to anyway. That’s because when I do have some downtime, I prefer to spend it relaxing at home with my best friend. But this doesn’t mean that I’m totally unengaged from campus life. As a student at HDS, you will be bombarded with announcements and invitations to events, projects, conferences, and career building opportunities. And if you’re anything like me, you will want to do it all.
I’m no expert on balancing personal, professional, and academic life, but making some strategic decisions has helped me play an active role on campus and keep up with my other responsibilities. Firstly, I live at the Center for the Study of World Religions, which grants me an automatic community of diverse neighbors and friends. It’s also close enough to campus that I can attend events and be home in time for dinner. Secondly, for every 20 events or initiatives I come across I participate in only one or two. Lastly, I try not to feel bad about missing out on social events, conferences and panels of interest, and other types of activities at HDS and across Harvard. I also try to include my husband in community-wide HDS events as much as possible.
This year, I joined a group of HDS colleagues to start a campaign to foster an environment at HDS that welcomes, engages, and supports HDS partners and families. We want our community members to feel a greater, more complete sense of belonging at a campus that strives to nurture the whole self—which includes both students and their loved ones. What’s great about HDS is that it can be a place where a student like me can balance my various life commitments and work with my colleagues to make our school an even more welcoming community.