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Have I really been here for an entire year?

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Have I really been here for an entire year?

So, again, it’s been a while.

Wasn’t it just January like two weeks ago? Why is it so sunny and hot?

Time has flown since my last post. I’ve dived into my new internship head-first. I’ve begun to code my fieldnotes (and you know what that means: pretty colors!). And I will get to that one interview I still have to transcribe and translate. And those twenty 20 internet tabs that are still open on my browser. Eventually. [Cue flashback.]

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And speaking of time, which also happens to be a major theme of my fieldwork research (can you tell I’ve been consumed?), today marks one year since I touched down on Jordanian soil to begin PhD fieldwork. And it also happens to be my 25th birthday.


Both of these markers terrify me.


The fieldwork milestone is scary because a PhD student never thinks she has enough fieldnotes/interviews/observations/data to work with. As my fieldwork has mostly been a very long struggle uphill, it’s easy to forget just how much information I have gathered in this year.

And 25 is… well…


It’s a big number. It’s not that I’m about to have a quarter life crisis (I think?). On the contrary, I see this number as motivation to grow more as a person, to reflect on the journey, and to move forward with a clearer mind. Where did I think I would be at 25 when I was younger, and where do I want to be now?


25 is a symbolic opportunity for me to make some personal evaluations. I see May 10, 2018 as my new year. And I have some resolutions. But first, this marker calls for reflections.

24 has been one of my most challenging years to date. Between fieldwork, being more deeply immersed in Jordanian culture than I have before, internships that have felt more like jobs, being invited to give academic talks, and the usual apartment struggles, I feel like I have been catapulted out of being a student. But at the same time, it’s also felt like a mere simulation. After all, I do have to go back to Cambridge for at least a year to actually finish being a student.

I won’t share here what I’ve learned in the past year; I don’t want to follow my last post, which was quite reflective, with another reflection. Not to mention that I’ve learned so much that I could write an entire dissertation analyzing my experience in the last year. But no one has time for that. So instead I include below a short listicle of some of my realizations because ‘listicle’ is more fun-sounding than ‘dissertation.’

  1. I have learned more about myself in this year than in any other, and I’ve discovered more about why I am the way I am.
  2. I know my strengths and weaknesses.
  3. I have a better idea of what I want and what I don’t want.
  4. Living and working abroad has made me learn about life very quickly.
  5. I can speak Arabic! I can understand Arabic! Arabic is no longer the biggest challenge in my work! I am bilingual! Alhamdulillah!
  6. I was introduced at a talk I gave as “soon-to-be Dr. Gatter,” and I realized that the title isn’t why I’m doing a PhD. But it’s a nice perk.
  7. I have slowly begun to transition from a student who is just learning to one who can also teach and publish articles.
  8. Some of my opinions have changed, many have been reaffirmed, and a lot have become very confused.
  9. Fieldwork often makes me feel like I am on Mars. And that’s not just because I’m in the desert.
  10. Friends and family have helped to ground me when I feel like I am on Mars.
  11. Netflix, podcasts, yoga, and taking care of my mint plant, Clara, are seriously therapeutic.
  12. Making healthier choices includes saying no more often.
  13. I’m ready for a real job.
  14. I feel like I’ve aged ten years in the last year.
  15. I’m going to need some time to decompress after all this.

Well that became a bit depressing. But this is what I have to work with over the next 365 days. And although 24 is over, my fieldwork is not!


As for today, I’m just going to enjoy and embrace turning 25. The resolutions can start tomorrow.

Melissa Gatter (@melgatter) is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge. This story was published on May 10, 2018, on Melissa’s blog, The World Behind the Curtain (available here), and has been republished here with her permission.

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Published on: May 30, 2019

PhD candidate in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge
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