A dilemma, a decision, a destination


Ever since I started my applications to a PhD in the States, one of my secret wishes and dreams was to have that one moment of what I would like to call the ‘happy dilemma’. The ‘happy dilemma’ being me having ‘several’ acceptances from different schools, one as prestigious and awesome as the next, spread on my desk (yes, I know, they would be electronic acceptances, but this makes a better mental picture) and happily, with a pinch of pride and probably arrogance, playing at ‘Eenie Meenie Miney Moe’ and deciding which school would be granted with my wonderful presence. 

Unfortunately, all it took was the short month of February and the long month of March, an unimaginable amount of depression, tears, frustration, anger, desperation, cynicism and finally that one precious letter of acceptance from the University of Chicago to make me realize that I would not have that luxury. 

After having cried for the whole day of Friday, March 8th 2013, I was so excited about my first and only acceptance that I did not think twice before booking my plane ticket for the Campus Day at UC and impatiently and eagerly waited for the day I would finally fly to the States, to Chicago, to find out more about what would be my home for the next year. It would only be later, during the Campus Days, when I met with other prospective and current students and faculty at UC that I realized how crazy it might actually appear to others that I would come all the way from Seoul, South Korea to attend the three-day visit. In my defense, I did visit the city of Chicago for three days more after the visit. So technically, I didn’t go all the way there ‘just’ for the university.

After 12 hours of sleep on the day I set foot at the International House at UC, where I would be staying for the next three days, I woke up to an email from Boston University. My first reaction: Oh my God, wow! My second reaction, just seconds afterwards: Damn it. I was finally living that ‘happy dilemma’, albeit with a limited number of two choices, but it was not as fun as I had imagined. 

Whoever said to make a list of pros and cons when making a decision, clearly hasn’t been in a situation where he had to make a tough decision. Sure, I could make a list of pros and cons for each school, and I did. But it didn’t help. The list only made me more lost, confused, unsure, unclear, perplexed, disoriented and bewildered.

On the one hand, I had the prestigious UC, known for its strong curriculum in Social Sciences and its ‘run by the faculty’ policy standing strong, with professors like John Mearsheimer and Bruce Cummings whose names had so far simply been a combination of alphabet letters typed in various parts of my numerous readings at school. I would finally be able to give a face to these names. It was just a one-year program, but all the negative and positive opinions about the program I had found on the internet had one thing in common: that I would learn an awful lot, and that was my goal. Plus, the statistics were promising, 92% of MAPSS graduates having applied to PhD programs had been accepted to fully-funded programs in top 10 schools.

On the other hand, I had BU, perhaps with a lesser-known name value from a Korean perspective, but just as academically renown, with a respectable and admirable faculty, especially in what I saw myself wanting to study for my PhD. They were offering me full scholarship and a rather generous stipend in terms of Social Sciences (as opposed to ‘just’ half scholarship at UC). I had at least five years guaranteed, no need to re-apply and go through the harrowing and soul-draining application process ONCE AGAIN. 

I appealed to the help of some close people, which only lengthened the list above; but, having recently read a couple of books on ‘rational decision making’ and ‘decision based on self-interest’, or rather, the lack of such, I knew in my heart that this list of pros and cons wouldn’t help me in my dilemma. In the end, I would go with my ‘gut feeling’, whatever that was. What would come next would only be a feverish and exciting moment of making a list of all the things that would support and rationalize the choice I had made. 

The beautiful campus of UC, with its classic monuments reminding me of Hogwarts, 

      20130411_143534                                   20130411_143752

its amazing library where I could already picture myself fervently spending many sleepless nights, and the enthusiastic faculty and staff only made my choice harder, but my gut feeling sided with BU. Sure, my gut feeling had help from the financial perks, which you just HAVE to consider in life, but there was also this ‘something else’, on which I couldn’t quite put my finger, but that nevertheless told me BU was the better choice and what I would like in the long run. That’s what ‘gut feeling’ is about, I guess. 

So yes, after all this anticipation and commotion for UC and Chicago, I steered the same feelings to BU and Boston and yes, I have to sheepishly admit that I’m just as thrilled for the latter as I was for the former.

That IS the best feeling, isn’t it? Knowing where you’re headed to next, looking at and admiring it within a safe distance, not too far yet not too close, with a mixture of concern, trepidation, ardor and sparkle all at the same time, making the most appropriate ingredients for this cocktail that is called ‘Waiting’.

So here I come, BU and Boston!


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