If convenience wasn’t such a big factor in choosing a graduate program, I would not have ended up at Montclair State University in 2008. I entered the Counseling program with one thing on my agenda: get the degree as quickly as possible to work in higher education. The Student Affairs concentration was the only thing that had my attention and I had no interest in Counseling.
Although I never verbalized it, I entered the program believing that only “crazy” people needed counseling. Yes, I just said that and yes, I was one of those. I thought I was fine. I thought I was happy. Weeks go by and all of a sudden, I’m forced to reflect all the time. At first, I thought reflecting was easy and that I was doing a damn good job too. I was living life up there on my high horse until I began receiving assignments back with grades and comments that told me otherwise. “You’re not reflecting”. “You need to dig deeper”. I was obviously doing something wrong and I didn’t know how to fix it.
I started to pay more attention. I paid more attention to what I was learning, to what other students were saying in class, to my actions, to my internal monologue, to my everything. I can’t pinpoint that “a-ha” moment when things started changing but seemingly out of nowhere, my world was different.
I could feel the walls within me crumbling as I, for the first time, started “digging deeper” without trying. The realizations started hitting me one by one. I realized that I had been hiding behind the kind of person I wanted to be viewed as instead of living authentically. I realized that I always got everything I wanted because people felt too uncomfortable saying no to me. I thought the reason why I never cried was because I was strong, but really, it was because I instinctively masked my pain with anger because it was easier to handle.
I was noticing more and more with each passing day that what I was learning in the classroom was translating to my own life. The way I understood people, the way I interacted with people, and the way I processed information had changed.
4 years later, here I am with some serious student loan debt. Will I be paying this sucker off for several years to come? Yes. Will I, at different points in time, blurt out long strings of unmentionable words thinking about the debt? Yes. But, (and cue the silver lining), the amount I have gained because of it doesn’t compare to the monetary cost.
I am continuing to become a better friend, daughter, professional, and citizen of the world because by some accidental miracle, I found myself in graduate program that redirected me. My student loans gave me more than just a means to pay for my degree. It blessed me with a new perspective.
Jessica Ha is a counselor and a freshman advisor at Florida Tech