Why Philadelphia

Love on the UPenn campus.

Love on the UPenn campus.

 The graduate school applications were officially submitted last weekend. It wasn’t easy: in the end I was fearful of hitting ‘Submit’, scared of committing to another application cycle with its emotional free-falls and the bitter, lingering taste of hope. Would a year have made the necessary difference? Was I following the path I was meant to? The final drafts of my personal statements were completed in Imperial College’s library: I went over the Cafe, downed an espresso then went back upstairs and filed the complete applications. If they’re imperfect…well, I’m an imperfect human being. That can be dealt with.

I come across a similar exchange every time I’m talking about my PhD applications. The person I’m chatting with will naturally ask where I really want to end up.

“Philadelphia,” is what I immediately reply. They wonder why.

On the face of it, there isn’t much of a reason. I spent a mere 12 months in Philadelphia on an exchange-type program whilst I was a student. I worked for a year, travelled a bit and went back to Scotland. An awful lot of undergraduates go abroad in their penultimate year: I’d say it’s a 30-70 split of students who look to continue their life/education/work in their exchange country against those who don’t. It isn’t as if the 70% disliked their experience, they just saw the exchange as a temporary, short-termevent.

For me Philadelphia was a “long-term” experience. The types of friends I made were mostly Philadelphian professionals and students permanently based there. I made a long-term, professional commitment: it was whilst working in the pharmaceutical industry that I decided to train towards making that my career and going for the PhD. With the decision to commit came the first flashes of passion for my subject – mixed in with the certainty that I wanted to commit 10-20 years of my life to it and this was the right thing to do. The certainity and passion flared up when I returned to the Eastern Seaboard for my summer holidays, even after I’d faced the rejection emails and realised how shaky my upcoming year looked.

The view I had of myself changed dramatically (favourably) as well. Before I went to the USA I always saw myself within the context of Scotland, afterwards I realised I was no longer constrained to 1 country for the rest of my life. In fact, I didn’t want to confine myself to my home country at all. Moving to another country had once seemed too scary to attempt, then I managed it with barely any hassle. My outlook was no longer locked within 78,390 km²: I could think in continents.

I took social and personal risks when I was in Philadelphia, too. Travelling, mountaineering, ballroom dancing, joining a book club. My set of hobbies were almost unrecognisable from the type of hobbies I had tried before. I don’t think I became a different person during that year – I’ve seen enough of my personality quirks to know that they remain fairly constant whatever my location – but I was happy and the happiness modulated all aspects of my life, enhancing my “good” quirks.

Will moving back to Philadelphia guarantee happiness and good life choices? Man, I wish it could. The risk of returning is my illusions will be shattered (more damaging than if they’d never been fulfilled). On the other hand: if it works I should just go with it, right?

~ Audience Question: What are your experiences of living abroad/exchange years? What sort of long-term impact (if any) did they have on your life? ~

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7 thoughts on “Why Philadelphia

  1. Philadelphia seems to have that power on people, make them evolve into who they really are. I had a similar experience with it (see here: http://ohlittleaudreysays.com/2012/11/26/before-after/), however, I think its a personal state of mind. When you’re ready, you shed your old skin and go on with the new.

    It’s actually funny because I remember when you first walked in the dance studio, I think it was in Manayunk. And I remember looking at you, dancing with Nik, before you left, and thinking “I know dance will change someone, but that’s the hell of a transformation…” What I didn’t realized then was that dance was just part of that transformation. The city, the people, the experiences are what change you.

    Philly is one great city, that I can confirm… But never forget: the world is your oyster!

    • You’re right of course – no point going through life believing you can only find success, happiness and your true potential in one geographical location. That’s simply not true: happiness is where you look for it.

      What I find funny is that I can remember first walking into the Manayunk dance studio somewhen in September to try out Salsa. I guess a lot of new & exciting things happened between then and when I returned to Scotland, but I also tend to take a few months to warm to new places and people anyway. The SHDA folk showed me that Philly was a city worth warming to, at least.

      Thanks for swinging by!

  2. I know how you feel about submitting an inevitably imperfect application, and having to wait for answers now. All I can do is keep fingers crossed for you. I’m sure that you’ll find your way to return to Philadelphia. I’d wanted to go to the US for almost 10 years before the exchange program opportunity came my way. Then, I wanted to go to Australia or New Zealand for another year but had neither the money, nor a concrete plan for it. And now, 4 years later, i’m about to move to New Zeland!
    Keep us posted and… Merde! (that’s what we say in French to wish luck without spoiling it ;-))

    • There are always summer holidays and cleverly-constructed “business trips” to get me back to Philly if my life takes me someplace else. There are *always* opportunities to relocate yourself, its just a case of knowing where to look…

  3. Pingback: Happiness As A Destination | St Andrews Lynx's Blog

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