— Laura Jernegan
I experienced a variety of emotions while driving from Massachusetts to Pittsburgh with my little car full of everything I imagined I might need. After being on the move ever since graduating from American University in 2013, it feels good to finally settle in a place where my exit date is undetermined. While my three years as a Peace Corps volunteer ended last year, I went back to my country of service, Vanuatu, at the beginning of this year to work on a short consulting project be fore starting graduate school. In essence, it really feels like I just got back to America after almost four years on a tiny island in the South Pacific. Having never been to Pittsburgh, I arrived at the beginning of May to ensure that I would have time to read just to American life and speaking English, while also having time to explore the city and get a feel for my new environment before diving into orientation.
On one of the first days after I arrived in Pittsburgh I made my way to campus, just planning to get a feel for where my classes would be and check out the rest of the facilities and resources. While I was in Rockwell Hall I stumbled upon the graduate programs office and to my delight there were a few faculty members around who were happy to welcome me. I felt bad dropping in unannounced, but they kindly took a few minutes to welcome me to Pittsburgh and Duquesne and immediately made me feel comfortable in my new world. They were excited to ask about my move and make restaurant recommendations; their positivity and warm welcome allowed my uncertainty to be replaced with comfort. I could actually feel myself settling into my new city, new life, new network and the abundance of new opportunities that awaited me over this next year. Throughout the next few weeks of solo exploration I came to realize that this kind of warm welcome isn’t reserved for MBA-SBP faculty but radiates throughout the city of Pittsburgh as well.
While I enjoyed my few weeks of adventure, I couldn’t wait to get started and meet the rest of the cohort and faculty. On the first day of orientation we arrived one by one and, as is expected, slowly eased into our introductions while enjoying a light breakfast. I mention breakfast because it was a very comfortable environment for our first interaction as individuals becoming a group. As opposed to meeting each other sitting behind desks during our first session, this enabled us to walk into the first orientation session with at least one friend in the room. As the morning progressed we met the MBA-SBP faculty and staff, got a feel for what our next year would be like, learned about many of the tools, resources and opportunities available through Duquesne and in Pittsburgh, and were very thoughtfully reminded that while this would be one of the most rigorous years of our lives, attention to self-care and a responsible balance between school and life was essential for success in the year to come. It was clear to me that the program would require a good balance between self-driven success and support from an incredible community ready to encourage and guide us through any uncertainties that may present themselves.
I left orientation after day one with three distinct feelings: relief, excitement and the overwhelming sense that I am exactly where I am meant to be.One thing most people may not realize about the Peace Corps is how much time we spend going through a variety of different trainings throughout our entire service. This means I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with activities about identifying personal strengths and weaknesses and how they contribute to overall group function. Nevertheless, I will never tire of learning more about myself and how I can manage and leverage my own personality within a group of diverse people. For this reason, I loved our session on communication and collaboration during which we used the Change Style Indicator survey to identify our individual styles for making change and recognize how we aligned with the larger group. I also appreciated that we began networking on day one. Networking has always been a word that incites uncertainty and fear in me but being encouraged to start right away I quickly felt my fear beginning to fade. I left orientation after day one with three distinct feelings: relief, excitement and the overwhelming sense that I am exactly where I am meant to be.