It’s hard to focus on the future when you’re just starting college. And when you find your niche and friend groups on campus, it can be even harder to leave them behind for fear of missing out. But stepping off campus and out of your comfort zone can lead to some amazing learning experiences.
Ramya made the hard decision to leave her beloved campus behind for a year in order to pursue an internship and study abroad experience. Read her story and thought process below!
It’s only been two years since I first arrived at the North Gate of the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus in Baltimore. But while two years isn’t really that long, I feel like I’m a completely different person. I’ve grown and matured and (hopefully) picked up more professional skills, but, most importantly, my priorities have changed. It’s almost like turning 20 (I know, so old, right?) has opened my eyes to the post-Hopkins vastness that is my adult life.
My perspective wasn’t quite the same in August of 2015. As a freshman, I fell into classes and campus organizations with relative ease. At that point, college was so new, and I spent a lot of time reveling in my newfound independence. I wasn’t thinking about graduation, career prospects, loans, next steps; I had just moved in to my freshman dorm, and it didn’t feel like the right time. So I made academic and career decisions based on my involvement in the Octopodes (my a capella group) and mock trial. I decided that I only wanted to study abroad in the summer so I could have eight full semesters of mock trial competitions. I closed windows for DC internship opportunities available only during the school year because I didn’t want to cut into rehearsal time. I didn’t want to leave Hopkins because it felt like I had barely arrived.
But things changed as a sophomore, and for me it stemmed mostly from my major switch. Don’t get me wrong—changing tracks was the best decision I’ve ever made. But making the switch so late in the game was somewhat panic-inducing. I felt like I was racing the clock to meet goals I had set for myself at the start of college—goals like study abroad, specific internship opportunities, a senior thesis. I began to think more and more about life after Hopkins and what kinds of careers I saw myself in. But my top priorities for my junior year—besides academics, of course (don’t worry, Mom!)—were still Octopodes and mock trial.
In March, on a whim, I decided to apply to a special program at Hopkins for Political Science students. It’s called the Aitchison Public Service Fellowship in Government, named for founder Beatrice Aitchison, a Hopkins alum. The fellowship was established to “promote undergraduate involvement in the government and inner workings of our nation’s capital,” and recipients spend a semester studying and interning in DC. They take 15 credits that focus specifically on practical aspects of public policy, and classes are taught by professionals in the field—former government officials, campaign staff, and top advisors. It was a great opportunity to be exposed to public policy and American politics; the classes were interesting, focused, and off the beaten path, and I would (hopefully) be able to intern and do research with a think tank in the city. I wasn’t expecting to be accepted, and I was certainly on the fence about whether I would go—but I decided it wouldn’t hurt to apply.
So I filled out the application, submitted it, and later that same day I was contacted by the program coordinator and offered the fellowship on the spot. Although I was thrilled, I hesitated. Sure, it was an amazing opportunity and offered a lot of potential for personal and professional growth. But I was coming off of a mock trial season that was one of the best in our school’s history; the Octopodes had just decided to compete in the 2018 ICCA; I was running for leadership positions in both; and I didn’t want to leave my friends, many of whom were graduating in 2018, for an entire semester.
So I dithered and waited and back-and-forthed for six weeks, agonizing over the decision, talking the ears off of anyone who would listen about the pros and cons of leaving campus for four months. I talked credits, I talked cost, I talked return on investment. But I was really battling overwhelming FOMO. I was so invested in my Hopkins life that I couldn’t see anything beyond the next year. And by mid-April, I had decided: if I was elected to a leadership position in either mock trial or a capella, I would turn down the fellowship and (ostensibly) reapply in the fall of my senior year.
As it turned out, both elections took place within a week of each other in late April, and I didn’t get either of the positions I was running for. But oddly, the first thing I felt was relief. In that moment, I knew what I had wanted all along was that semester in DC. I wanted to do a think tank internship. I wanted to explore a career in American politics. These losses were a second chance, an opportunity, a sign for me to follow my real dreams. Talk about closing doors and opening roofs.
I called back the Aitchison coordinator and accepted my place in the program that very night.
I think a lot now about something that one of my friends had said when I approached him for advice on the fellowship offer. Ironically, he was a former member of the Octopodes and one of the first people I met when I became a Pode; he graduated the year before I joined but was doing an advanced degree at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and still attended some of our events. “Podes will be there when you get back,” he told me, “but if you turn down this fellowship because of them, you will regret it.”
At the time, I took his advice with several spoons of salt. I loved my groups and I loved my friends, and to me another year with them was worth turning down this opportunity. But now that I’m looped in on the Aitchison emails, now that I’ve seen where we’re living in DC, now that I’ve secured my internship for the fall—I know he was right. I would have regretted turning this down. Accepting the fellowship made me realize for the first time how much life I had left to live, and how little of that life would be spent at Hopkins. That’s not to say that my friends and my clubs don’t matter to me: they do. But there’s more to life than a capella and mock trial. My decision to go to DC marked a point in my college career where I began to look beyond my four years in Baltimore and wonder: what’s next?
In a turn of events that freshman-year me would never have foreseen, I’ve actually decided to spend an entire year away from Hopkins. I’m in DC for the fall semester, but I also recently decided to apply to a spring semester study abroad program in Amman, Jordan, focusing on geopolitics and conflict resolution. It’s an amazing opportunity to do field research on Jordanian politics, Islam and women’s rights and improve my Arabic skills, and I’m happy to say that the decision to go was significantly easier.
I’m sad to leave my friends for an entire year, but I know that our friendships are strong enough that they will endure. I’ll be able to visit Baltimore from DC, and I’ll be rooting for them from across the world. But I’ve made my peace with the fact that I have to do what is necessary for me to advance my career—which is, after all, the reason I’m here. It’s time for me to focus on my academics and my career, and while I will always be a Pode and a Mocker at heart, I have to think about the fast-approaching next chapter of my life and take the steps I need to chase my dreams.
Can you relate to Ramya’s dilemma? Share your story in the comments!