Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Sally Ellis.
When you think about paying out-of-state tuition rates upwards of twice that of state residents, most people’s first reaction is probably not, “What a great opportunity!” At least mine wasn’t. But when I decided to attend the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana instead of schools in my home state, I made the decision based on UIUC’s distinguishing characteristics: synchronous online classes, on-campus requirements for every semester, and a two week long “bootcamp” to start the program. Having completed my undergrad in a traditional brick and mortar setting and having completed a Tech Certificate in an entirely asynchronous online setting, I felt I needed a bit more of a hybrid to suit my lifestyle and educational goals. Tuition costs aside, it is a decision I am glad I made. Although the physical component made scheduling my life a bit tricky, the network of support that came with it was worth it.
The biggest bonus to taking on this tuition, however, was that it suddenly made the cost of classes abroad an easy decision. I had never traveled internationally before starting grad school and I certainly didn’t anticipate grad school being the time in my life when I started traveling internationally. But life is full of surprises. I honestly can’t remember when I first heard about possible classes abroad, but once I did, I picked at that idea like a worn hangnail. I had to take 40 units of worth of classes, right? And I had to pay almost exactly the same amount in tuition and travel expenses to get to IL each semester, right? And, if I took these classes during Winter and Summer breaks, then conceivably, I could graduate that much sooner, right? And if I just throw in the tiniest bit more money to pay for my flights, wasn’t that like visiting other countries for practically nothing? And if my husband and kids survived me being gone for an additional 6 weeks during the course of two years, wasn’t that really, in the long run, a wonderful opportunity for them to prove their independence and strength to themselves? See, it was all so easy.
At least, that’s how my thinking went. In the end, it was hard. It was hard to schedule our lives; it was hard not to have any breaks between semesters, it was hard to write papers on planes and later, under the influence of jetlag; it was hard to go without a paycheck when I exceeded my vacation limits at work (BTW, I turned a blind eye to this and didn’t factor that lost revenue into the cost of the trip—I was focused, I tell you, focused!); it was hard to go into a new group and make friends; it was hard to come home and leave those new friends and pick up where I left off. It was hard. But, oh, was it worth it.
I started my travels with the University of North Carolina’s Summer Seminar Series. First stop, London! When it comes to describing these trips, I get a bit tongue-tied and nostalgic. I really just want to sigh at the sweet memory of strolling along the river in Cambridge, riding in an open air red tour bus through the city, standing on a Bath train platform in glorious golden hour sunlight. And the laughter. So much laughter. Lest you think I was shirking my studies this whole time, I was not. The itinerary included visits to special collections, public libraries, medical libraries and their very interesting specimens, academic libraries, and great lectures by professionals doing wonderful things to expand information science and literacy in all its forms.
Six months later, I was off to India with the University of Maryland. This class focused on business/corporate librarianship and I learned much about Knowledge Management Systems through the generosity of the international corporations that gave us access o their lushly landscaped compounds and gave of their entire day for the benefit of our education. India, a country I had always hoped to travel to, is beautiful and our hosts there were gracious. Many times while there, I had to remind myself that “I was in INDIA!” What an incredible opportunity to learn and make connections as a grad student.
My last trip, again through UNC, was to Prague. Holy cow. What can I say? Monastery libraries that look like the library from Beauty and the Beast (where they let us touch really old things), music libraries, academic libraries, charming towns with cobblestones everywhere, crepes as large as my torso, hot chocolate with the consistency of a melted chocolate bar, and the nicest group of hosts anyone could ask for. Truly.
If you’re like me, graduating is a terrifying prospect because there is still so much to learn and no more credits available with which to learn it. So, I’ve been asked, do I regret using up my precious credits on these classes? Did I really learn transferrable skills on these trips? Absolutely. I practiced the soft skills so necessary to a successful career—outreach, assessing and navigating group dynamics, learning from and interacting with diverse cultures, and adaptability. Academically, I learned vocabulary, context, performed in-depth research on several topics, and viewed librarianship through different lenses.
So, considering a program out of state and wondering if it’s worth it? Think of it this way: it will be much easier to travel the world if you’re already paying the cost.
For those of you who have already graduated and are lamenting your exclusively stay-at- home education, UNC’s seminars are open to professionals and laymen, as well. Bonus: no 20 page paper to write!
Hack Library School readers, what surprises has library school brought to your life?
About Sally: I am recent graduate of the University of Illinois Urbana/Champaign. When I started grad school, I had been an at-home mother for 15 years. I have worked at the Claremont Colleges library in Claremont, CA for the last two years and am now looking for a professional position. I love making things beautiful, doing genealogy, and helping students find what they need! In addition to gaining a wonderful cohort of supportive friends in the process, the opportunities for seeing new parts of the world were the best part of my LIS degree.