Cross-posted on the MFA Chronicles
When I visited Penn State in March, some of the MFAs gave us an unofficial tour of the Burrowes Building, home of the English Department. They showed us some of the seminar rooms where we’d have classes, the library of lit mags and previous student theses, the big poster listing all the student publications, and they showed us the GTA offices. All the MFAs have their offices in a large basement room divided into shared cubicles. It’s fluorescently lit, cluttered, and feels like…well, cubicles in a basement.
I was a little put off. My disappointment was probably because I had the good fortune to be an undergrad a couple of years after the English Department had moved into a brand new building and the grad students at BG had real offices – two (or maybe three) people might share a room, a real room with a door, and they’d each have a desk – on the 3rd or 4th floor, with windows. Those little basement cubes were just depressing!
At the beginning of this semester, it was a little bit annoying to have to schedule my time in the office in cooperation with my cube-mate; there’s only one desk and one computer so we can’t both be in there at the same time. And the temperature regulation in the basement is not the best; it tends to be hot, so people open windows, so then it gets cold. I’ve learned to leave a sweater in my cabinet.
In spite of the fun that I’ve had here in State College, I’ve still felt pretty isolated, particularly during the week. My “previous life” in Columbus was very social: I had a lot of friends, I might go to trivia on a Monday, karaoke on a Wednesday, or just meet someone for coffee or a drink or dinner any day of the week. I seldom went more than a couple days without some sort of social interaction. And here it’s not like that. We are all buried in our work during the week (some people stay buried on weekends) and I might talk to the people in my classes, I might talk to my roommate for 5 minutes here and there, but then I go home and work.
Enter my cubicle. For a few different reasons, I ended up spending more time in my cube this week, and I realized that I would not want a separate office somewhere. I really like seeing people walk by; sometimes they just wave and say “Hi, how are you?” and a few times this week I actually had real conversations with some of my fellow students. It was nice! Just taking a few minutes out of the work day to chat with someone was surprisingly refreshing, and I realized that I love my cubicle. I would imagine the set-up was just designed because of the lack of available space, but it functions to foster community and to help people feel connected to each other.