“What’s in Kansas?”
My friends weren’t the only ones asking this question.
As I flew from Orange County into Kansas City for the K-State English Department’s Graduate Student Visiting Day, I was apprehensive.
But why? Of all the English departments I had contacted, the professors and current K-State grad students were genuinely interested in welcoming me and answering my questions. They wanted me to be part of their community and gave me the sense that I would be supported in my academic interests — everything seemed perfect . . . except for the location.
Choosing K-State meant that I would be giving up a full-time job and moving 1,500 miles away from the Pacific Ocean, my close-knit community, and my family (but you already know this story has a happy ending).
Visiting Day changed everything. By the end of it, I headed back to my hotel room and called my mom. “How did everything go?” she asked.
I began sobbing. What can I say? It had been an overwhelming day — overwhelming in the best sense.
“Nothing’s wrong, Mom. That’s the thing.” I had initially been resistant, but then I stepped onto the campus lined with limestone buildings and redbud trees. The variety of coursework opportunities, the graduate teaching experience, the faculty mentorship, and the hope of a supportive, collaborative grad community transformed my vision of what, in that moment, I knew was going to be my near future. I was already looking up grad regalia on K-State’s bookstore and picturing myself in a mortarboard and robe, hooded in purple and white Wildcat pride.
“It’s everything I wanted in a grad program and then some.”
So, what is in Kansas?
After two years, I have been introduced to new ways of thinking through literary theory, I fell in love with all the conversations surrounding the Beautiful and the Sublime. I have written poems and attended a writing conference; I have studied under some of the brightest, best, and kindest professors in children’s literature who care about my ideas and scholarship. I wrote about some of my favorite books and dived deep into an exploration of wanderlust in The Wind in the Willows. What’s not to love?
I have taught expository writing courses and had grading parties with fellow GTAs. We GTAs have learned how to teach in-person and online and — despite a global pandemic — are still cheering one another on toward graduation and beyond. I have encouraged prospective students to consider the K-State experience and find myself reading and re-reading the course offerings for 2021-2022, wishing I had just a little more time.
The Pacific Ocean is glorious but so are thunderstorms and sunsets on the Konza Prairie; I love In-N-Out, but there’s now a Radina’s sticker on my water bottle.
And today, as I drink my second cup of jasmine green tea and count down how many pages of writing and readings stand between me from graduation day, I think back to when I first drove into Manhattan, Kansas, in March of 2019 wondering, “What am I doing here?”
The answer to the above question continues to reveal itself as I finish up my degree. My time here in K-State’s English Department has been an unexpected gift — one that I hope I never take for granted. The magical is often hidden under the guise of the mundane, and I am so thankful that my eyes were opened to what could be.
—Katherine Dubke (M.A. ’21)