2014, Archives, September 2014, The MFA Years


A day late, a dollar short. Well, a day late, at least.

I intend to post on the last day of each month to summarize what I’ve been up to here at Alaska-Fairbanks. But that intention has already gone awry, though justifiably, I think. This week has been jam-packed with various orientations. Still, I will get you caught up the best I can.

I’m calling this entry “August”, but in reality, it covers the whole summer. You see, my pedagogy class began this summer, online. Our instructor thought it would be more useful to us to finish the first project, which helps to define and refine your teaching philosophy, well before the start of the semester. And this was smart thinking on her part. By the time I got to Fairbanks for teacher orientation, I had a solid direction for where I wanted to lead my composition class.

One of the great things about the composition program at Alaska-Fairbanks is that nearly everything we use in our training is freely available to the public–check it out at http://writealaksa.org . With the resources here, I could almost hit the ground running when I got up here.

All of this should tell you that the program here is serious about teaching. I’m in a smaller program with a lot of support, advice, and encouragement from the faculty and staff here. I think the underclass composition students here are well served by how well prepared they make their graduate teaching assistants.

Of course, class preparation wasn’t the only thing that consumed my summer. There was also the little business of shlepping myself 2500 miles away. You’re only allowed so much baggage on a plane, and shipping is expensive, so as you prepare to move, you learn to edit your life down to what you need. Not that I got that process down perfectly. Fortunately, a friend of mine back in Minneapolis is keeping my some of my stuff, which gave me time to decide whether to have her ship it up to me or to give it away.

And the longer I’m here, the more I think I’m going to give a lot of it away. Once I got to Fairbanks, I realized a lot of things would be a lot cheaper to buy here than to ship. And there is more here than you might expect from a town so small (about 80,000 in the immediate Fairbanks city area) and so remote.

I lucked into a furnished one-bedroom apartment on campus, perfect for someone who doesn’t drive, especially since most everything on campus is within a ten-minute walk of my home, and anything I need that’s not on campus can be got to by the bus that stops right in front of my building. This has been especially important these first couple of weeks, as I had to make a lot of shopping trips to put my household together. Fortunately, there’s a Fred Meyer store (a chain that sells everything you can imagine, from groceries to clothing to jewelry to eyeglasses) just a 15-minute ride away.

And, my gosh, this place is amazing. Nature is everywhere. The city is really spread out, which you can see in part from this bus schedule:

Click to access RedLine.pdf

You’ll see there are broad swaths where there’s not really anything but trees and water and wildlife. And that’s what you get here. As a writer, I value quiet spaces so that I can sort out my thoughts. Having moved from the bustle of downtown Minneapolis, I have all the space in the world.

Yet Fairbanks doesn’t feel like the middle of nowhere. The city offers more than most towns its size, in part because it’s the second-largest city in the state, but also because it essentially serves as the hub for all of northern Alaska. If you’re clear out in Nome or Barrow, you might need to hop a little puddlejumper (like the one I took from Anchorage to Fairbanks) to take care of any major business.

Fairbanks is also more culturally diverse and cosmopolitan than I could have imagined. I’ve never lived in a place with such racial parity, both in sheer percentages and in socioeconomic strength.

(By the way, if you like Thai food, you’re going to love it here–I heard that Fairbanks ranks #2 in Thai restaurants per capita, which wouldn’t surprise me.)

I have so much to learn here, not just in the classroom, but in this wonderful city and state. I know I made the right choice for myself in coming here.

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