To be completely honest, I always wanted to go to more prestigious universities like the Ivies or Stanford for grad school. As an international applicant completing a BA in China, I tried to get into PhD programs in the “top schools” that I have always longed for. I applied to Penn State only because I saw from a NCA ranking in 2004, listing the department as the number two in PhD programs in health communication. I even thought about taking it out of my program list — I am glad that I did not.
Penn State sent me an offer by the end of January — almost one month prior to the decisions from other programs. I switched from the original PhD admission to an MA because of funding policies, and I was very excited to learn that MA students in the department also enjoy full funding, including tuitions, health insurance and a generous stipend. Also, from the visit I learned that there is no waitlist for the Communication Arts and Sciences program.
The offer was really reassuring to me because I did not expect to get an admission that early on, and knowing that I have at least one school that would take me in carried me through the rejections that I got later on. I decided to go to Penn State after rejections from other PhD programs. Although I had another MA offer with stipend and tuition exemption from the Media School of Indiana University, I was already committed to Penn State and turned IU down right away.
The CAS department hosts a welcome weekend for its new recruits every year — they take care of your air tickets, stays and meals for three days. You get the chance to meet with the faculty, current students and administrative staff in both group and individual occasions. This year with my potential cohort, there were soon-to-be CAS faculty members visiting too. All of them are brilliant, and you can tell there is great chemistry and confidence in this intellectual community. One of the professors expressed her love for this place, “It’s only the best department in the country.”
On the night of arrival was a welcome party where I got to meet many people — too many that I felt bad about keeping forgetting names. That was my first outlook of the people I will be working with. I thought a department on the east side of the country like this would be all uptight and intense, but people were very warm and seemed like they have a life besides the academics — that is important to me, as I am an easily-bored person. After my long flights and brutal transits (three flights and one greyhound ride, and it took me two days to physically get there), I could see deference in their eyes, being the only person that traveled international for this.
The second day started with breakfast with my potential cohort-mates, followed by individual meetings with faculty members that could potentially be my advisors. I was somewhat terrified because I know my academic training is not as adequate as those who are finishing/have completed a degree in the States. Professors have different mentoring styles — some are warm and supportive, others are more seemingly aloof and critical. I felt like it was harder for me to bond with the only Chinese professor on the faculty, though he interviewed me and he was my original choice of my temporary program advisor. Afterwards I talked to another recruit about this — she is Korean and she feels stiff and terrified talking to Korean professors as well. Well, that’s pretty interesting. I think I’ll go with somebody else.
Four professors were on the colloquium panel on their forks and turns in the academic career. The professors gave very beautiful speeches and I do believe that this is the right path for me — I want to be like them. The tradition here is to go on happy hour after the weekly colloquium — another occasion where you get to know your CAS community and socialize with them. Then two current students took me and another new recruit to dinner. I am glad that they have the right kind of pizza in State College. The place is called Happy Valley Brewing Co.
The next day was scheduled for research, teaching and living in State College panels by current students. The sessions were informative and I can see myself doing the stuffs that they have been doing here. Pho 11 for lunch — my favorite kind of food when I am in the States. We met Professor James Dillard, who looks very smart, almost foxy, but at the same time very kind and open to conversations. The faculty here is very reachable and helpful, as they think of you as colleagues and friends beyond just students.
Campus tour and apartment tour. Two students showed us around the campus — where is our office, where will we teach, where are the books, etc. Pretty standard. Then we went for ice cream — the award-winning Penn State Berkey Creamery. I tried the Peachy Paterno and it is very good. Apartment tour is very useful, as I learned the price range for rents being a lot cheaper than on-campus housing, I promptly decided to decline the campus housing lease offer. However, finding roommates could be tricky and I need to sort that out later.
Then I played bowling for the first time. I made two digits in the first round (YAY). I kept trying and it did not look good. However, half way through the second game, the lights were off and that’s when I started to shine (okay during this trip I learned how to let go of my pride and stay open to new experiences). I scored 52 and was not in the last place, and three times the points of my previous game. Cool, see you next year.
I had a pretty good experience, except for the brutal transport. I made my first Latina friend but she faced some stereotyping and it was not as pleasant for her as it was for me. Anyways, I really look forward to joining the department in the fall and stay here for probably 6 years.