Q&A, Part 2

This is a continuation of my previous post, Q&A, Part 1, in which I answered questions that people usually ask when they hear that I will be spending the next year or so pursuing my MA in Central and Eastern European Studies at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. The remaining questions are:

  • “Why Poland?”
  • “Why are you getting an MA?”
  • And, the clincher, “What do you plan to do with your life?”

I initially became interested in doing something with Eastern European Studies during high school, when I took a Russian history course. After years of only being able to take United States history, studying the Golden Horde was a welcome relief from learning about the American Revolution for the umpteenth time. I’d always been a reader and had learned about world history through that coupled with extensive travel, but the vast majority of books for a 14-year-old to read about Russia were spy novels, so this presented an entirely new perspective on Eastern Europe. By the time I arrived at university, I intended to major in Russian and Physics (at NYU, Russian was the closest thing to Eastern European Studies, and the flexibility of the major meant that I did not have to exclusively take classes about Russia). While Physics ended up being something of a disaster of epic proportions and I switched to Computer Science, and at the end of my time at NYU, I possessed a degree in Russian and Computer Science.

Meanwhile, I was spending my summers travelling. In 2006, I went to Kraków with my family and fell in love with the city. Then in 2007, I spent a month in Moscow with friends. It was during this trip that I began to research graduate programmes in Eastern Europe on location. Jagiellonian University became my instant top choice for a number of reasons.

  • It is in Kraków, a great city all-around, with a plethora of concerts and other cultural activities.
  • I wanted to go abroad for my MA, since I didn’t have to opportunity to do so as an undergraduate. Plus, I’d like to work abroad, and companies generally look favourably upon some overseas residency in those cases.
  • The cost of living in Poland is lower than in Russia, which would have been my next choice. (In fact, Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world in terms of cost of living.) After 5 years of Manhattan, that was a welcome break. In addition, the cost of the programme is less if you are an EU citizen or have Polish heritage.
  • I like the idea of going to a university with such a long history.
  • The programme is taught in English. The only other languages I know are Latin (more or less useless for practical purposes in this day and age) and Russian, which I don’t know quite well enough to be in most lecture situations.
  • The curriculum is exactly what I was looking for – a blend of politics, economics and history.

Which brings me to the next question: “Why are you getting an MA?” (and at the same time, “What do you plan to do with your life?”). Well, as I said, my initial interest in Eastern Europe began as a result of taking a Russian history class. However, the Russian program at NYU is very much culture-focused: a lot of literature and language with some film and history. The politics and economics classes, and to some extent, the history ones as well, were only for those majors, which meant that they either had extensive prerequisites or were impossible to get into. Ultimately, I would like to do something involving both of my areas of study: technology and Eastern European studies, perhaps a job where programming is a part of it, but not the main focus. I am interested in analysing the technology sectors of developing economies (with a focus on Eastern Europe). So, having a literature degree isn’t exactly useful for that, and a more practical degree, such as one in area studies, where I gain exposure to politics and economics, would be much preferred. Additionally, with the large numbers of undergraduate degrees out there today, higher degrees make for much more competitive job applicants (and higher salaries) in a tight market.

So, what exactly do I plan to do with my life? While I admittedly harbour something of a Bohemian, go-where-life-takes-me dream, I do realise that there are other, more practical considerations (I do have a dog to spoil and a shopping habit to support). After I finish my MA, I am going to see where things stand, and most likely, I will find a job, hopefully one that allows me to live abroad/travel often (as I mentioned earlier, I’ll probably be looking for some type of analyst job). Initially, the alternate plan was to pursue a PhD in Computer Science (concentrating in natural language processing/computational linguistics, since I am interested in machine translation), but my life has been heavily CS-centric for the past few years, and based on those experiences, I’m not sure that I want to make that kind of long-term commitment. (Don’t get me wrong, CS is loads of fun, and I LOVE web app development, but it’s not what I see myself doing, 12 hours a day for the rest of my life.)

Well, that wraps up the Frequently Asked Questions for now. Any more questions can be put to me via comments.

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