What Will My Toaster Look Like?

-written by Sarah Glenn, a current graduate wife

We were moving in three weeks and items were slowly being sold off one by one. The first real, bittersweet casualty was the toaster. That magical device that gave our rushed mornings so many easy breakfasts and our bread a golden hue.

OK, maybe I am over-romanticizing the toaster. But being forced to fit your family’s life into four suitcases can do funny things to a person.

After two years studying abroad, it is time to return to the USA. For 730 days (give or take a holiday or two), my husband has been buried eyebrow deep in medical school at St. George’s University. It is not a U.S. medical school, meaning that the first two didactic years must be spent abroad. The next two years will hold all the real patient-centered fun, when he takes his book learning into the hospital for his clerkship years.

While he has carried on this all-consuming love affair with medical science, I have been freelancing, reporting, blogging, running a university organization, earning my Personal Fitness Trainer certification, learning and growing.

But life is a snow globe and once again, the hands of fate are shaking it up. The dust will settle in July when the school finally tells us where we are going. For the next two months my professional title will be “Freelancer who lives in her in-law’s basement.”

Exciting, huh?

Transition is hard for everyone. But a flying leap into the unknown lugging four suitcases is terrifying. When that flying leap is from a foreign country, the stress level gets bumped up a few notches and unanswerable questions start flooding your already overworked mind. Suddenly the stability of having one toaster that you will keep for the rest of your life starts sounding pretty good.

The price of higher education is steep and laying the money and inconvenience down on the table can feel like a nerve-racking gamble. After all of this struggle, will I be able to find a good job in a place where we fit in? What will the neighborhoods be like? Will professional life post-education be the all-glorious heaven we thought it would be?

These questions ring through the mind of every academic (and academic’s family). All students can agree that we are here now (in strenuous hard-work hell) because we want to be somewhere better in the future. The heart palpitations come when we realize that we aren’t quite completely sure what “better” will feel like. The whole thought process can be beautifully summed up by the toaster; will we have a shiny 4-slicer Black and Decker or the $5 Walmart brand?

What will my toaster look like?!

Many of my cubicle-dwelling friends have expressed envy for our nomadic student lifestyle. It must be liberating, right? Leaving all but the bare essentials behind for a life of discovery and progress. As those desk-dwellers come home at the end of their day, household items fade into the background as a dream of unfettered freedom beguiles their subconscious.

Freedom is great, but have you thought of what you would do with the toaster?

Unfortunately it is human nature to be fettered. Most of us are inexorably tangled into a dream of success. We all want something better, and whatever shape your dream might take, it will probably involve lugging around a little stuff with you. Once you decide on the life path of liberated travel, those household items don’t just fade into the background while your Marry Poppins bags pack themselves with everything you might need or want.

As we travel that road towards being a doctor or a lawyer or a rock star, or whatever we may dream, we will each acquire our own “toaster”  – that thing that tells us that we are home. Whatever home means to you, don’t forget to appreciate the little things that give your life stability – such as the toaster.

How do you deal with the transitory nature of graduate education? Is knowing that where you are isn’t where you are going to stay a comfort or a burden?

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