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Considering leaving my program...advice?


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Hi everyone,

I just recently finished my first semester of my MA in French. Earlier this semester I posted about experiencing depression, stress, loneliness, etc...basically the whole shebang. I started seeing a counselor and things did get better -- I got all my grades and I actually did very well, I made a few friends, and I felt slightly more adjusted.

However, I am now seriously considering quitting my program, for various reasons. One is that I relocated 2000 miles for school, and while I wanted to embrace the new city and see a different part of the country...I am not a fan of where I live and I just feel lonely, despite the friends I have made. I feel out of place and quite honestly, it is extremely difficult living so far away from my family and friends.

Additionally, my program isn't a great fit. There is only one professor in my department who specializes in what I study, so while I am able to take 1 class/semester that directly relates to my interests, the others, while interesting enough, are basically not what I came here to do. Plus, these "extra" classes require so much work and stress that they just overwhelm me and don't seem to be worth my time. I am also a TA and I have found that teaching is not something I enjoy and just adds to my stress levels. Everything is starting to seem like an enormous burden.

And aside from all that, I'm also starting to feel doubts about whether school is even where I want to be. I started grad school immediately after undergrad and I'm starting to regret that decision. All my previous passion and enthusiasm for school -- and I'm one of those people who LOVED school and LOVED learning -- has disappeared. I enjoy about 20% of what I do, and the rest just seems to wreak havoc on my mental and emotional health.

I don't want to ramble, so to summarize: I have experienced a SIGNIFICANT drop in overall happiness since starting school, for both personal and academic reasons. Admittedly this degree would help me achieve my ultimate goal (I want to be a translator), but I am beginning to feel that the unhappiness I am experiencing just isn't worth it. I feel as though there may be other avenues I can take to achieve my goals. I've looked into Translation programs which, while requiring more school, seem to be more directly related to what I want to do. I'm hoping that the passion I've lost for my education could perhaps be revitalized by studying something geared toward preparing me for what I want: a job in industry. I've realized that academia not where I want to be, and the mere idea of going back to school next semester creates a knot in my stomach and makes me feel anxious and sad. This just doesn't seem right.

I talked to my adviser (who is also the professor who specializes in my subject of interest) earlier this semester, but this was before I was seriously considering leaving the program. She suggested a few ways to better tailor the program to fit my interests, so I'm going to see how this upcoming semester goes, but like I said, I'm now starting to feel that the world of academia isn't going to satisfy me -- and worse, will continue making me unhappy.

So I guess my question is...are these valid reasons? Has anyone experienced anything like this or know of other people who also left their program? My doubts mostly stem from the fact that my experience looks so good on paper -- I'm funded, with a relatively easy TA job (so they say), and the degree would help me in the future -- but I hate living 2000 miles away from everyone I am close to and I don't know if this unhappiness is worth it. I'm afraid that living far away is influencing my decision and preventing me from being rational, but at the same time, I don't want to compromise my happiness for a couple extra letters after my name. I "only" have 1.5 years left but at the same time, 1.5 years of extreme dissatisfaction seems a long time.

Any outside perspective is MUCH appreciated, and thank you.

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I moved across the country for my program, and I honestly think I would be in your shoes if it wasn't for my boyfriend and his family living here too. I've experienced depression, anxiety, doubts about the fit of my program, etc. But a big part of me is up for the challenge still, so that's making me want to stick it out.

I think it would be worthwhile to stick it out one more semester. I JUST started to get the hang of everything (coursework, research, getting help) so now I anticipate things being at least easier.

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I think the reasons you state for wanting to leave are completely valid and legitimate. If a place is good for professional reasons but bad for personal reasons, it's overall not very good for you. The question is really if there are ways to improve the badness of your personal situation, because I agree that suffering for a year and half is not worth it. My experience with moving far away home is that it takes me about a year to really feel acclimated, though things improve significantly after the first 6 months or so. It just takes time to get to know people and not feel lonely (also to understand the language, the customs, the food -- if any of those apply). As ktel suggested, it's worth trying to give this another semester if you feel that you can. I just wanted to stress again how different my first year was from my second -- the second was so much better.

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Your reasons are valid. But, honestly, it doesn't matter whether or not we think they are. What matters is what you want to do. Everyone takes classes outside their immediate subject of interest (that's part of the breadth of earning a degree in a particular field), so going elsewhere wouldn't change that. You could try to do independent studies so that you have fewer classes, or maybe take things outside the department that are also connected to your interests.

As for the personal, let me be blunt. Will you ever be prepared to move far away from your family and friends? If the answer is "no", then you should figure out what careers/jobs are viable in whatever location that is and pursue those. If I were you, I wouldn't do that. Just because you aren't in love with a particular location doesn't mean that moving home is the only/best option. I've found that I've only appreciated some of the places I've lived after moving away from them. At some point, you will have to make compromises. The question that remains is this: when are you going to do this? Obviously, you're not ready to do it now. Maybe you will be at 28 or 32 or 35.

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Thank you for the responses. I know I really should see how next semester goes, since I have been told before that it does take time to adjust. And while part of me really does want to adjust...to some extent I just sense that my heart is not in it.

@rising_star: You make a good point. To a certain extent it's definitely apparent that I'm not ready to move away from home; I thought I would be, but I think the challenges of school combined with my lukewarm feelings toward this new city made me feel all the more isolated and distant from my support system. I know that at some point I'll have to make compromises but I'm starting to think that right now, my unhappiness may not be worth this particular compromise. However, we'll see how next semester goes.

Next semester I will be taking a class outside the department that is still related to my interests, so hopefully that will go a long way toward improving things. But the feeling is still creeping up on me that I want to pursue a more "vocational" education, if you will...I just feel so out of place among all these people who love doing research and are passionate about their studies whereas I'm trudging along and feel completely burnt out.

Thanks again for the input, it's very helpful!

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