A look back at my first semester

For the past six weeks, I have been back in New York City and away from my life as a graduate student in San Francisco. This time has given me the opportunity to reflect on my first semester at USF, and try to readjust to my old life in NYC. I cannot help but make comparisons between life on the East and West Coast. I am relieved to be back in a city where I can wholly rely on public transportation, but I am not enjoying the weather here.

Looking back, I cannot make sense of all of the leaps of faith I have taken in the past 6 months. From withdrawing money from my savings to make the initial deposit at USF, to turning in my last paper of the semester, I cannot believe that I made the series of decisions that have led me to today.

Every doubt that I have had, at every turn, I have been met with the excellence of my peers and professors. Each student has pushed me to reason differently and think critically. Each professor has made me question my preconceived notions and imagine new possibilities.
 In Data Visualization we hacked data and learned about online mapping platforms. With GIS we mapped urban health disparities, potential sites for transportation improvements, and emergency response deficiencies in the city of San Francisco. I was beginning to see the city in many new ways.
 In Issues in Urban Public Policy class we were blown away by Fainstein’s the Just City and disgusted by Moretti’s the New Geography of Jobs. Then three months later, when given the opportunity to create our plan for increasing moderate income housing in San Francisco, our ideals went out the window and Neo Liberalism might as well have written our final plans. The ‘gotcha!’ look on Corey Cook’s face when he explained to the class how we had so clearly and quickly gone back on our ideals was gratifying for only Corey.
In History of Urbanism class we learned about the disturbing history of racial covenants in San Francisco. Now I find myself constantly searching for street signs, and racking my brain for names of neighborhoods from my readings.
For my TA position with Professor Shin, I got a glimpse of what it is like to manage 80 undergraduate students. I was able to sit in on sociology lectures and learn about social determinants of health. Ultimately these lectures informed my own research interests in my graduate classes.

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For my social media position with the McCarthy Center, I found myself attending events on campus that I wouldn’t normally have gone to. I had the opportunity to learn about varying subjects, from the imperial history of San Francisco to ranked choice voting in Oakland. I have become more involved on campus, and am beginning to feel a sense of ownership for USF and its community.

Uprooting my life and becoming a student again has been challenging to say the least. Thanks to the support I’ve found, I’ve been able to fully take advantage of this new life. My professors, my fellow cohort members, the McCarthy Center, the beautiful campus, the city of San Francisco, my supportive and loving family… all encourage and inspire me to continue to take these leaps of faith.

I have a few more weeks in NYC before spring semester starts. While I am enjoying my time off, I am also looking forward to getting back in the classroom.

– Amanda Smith, MA in Urban Affairs Candidate
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