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The mastery of socialization

I may only be 21 and a junior at Miami, but when I graduate in the spring of 2023 (please don’t remind me of how close that is), I will do so with a graduate degree.

Like many other students here at Miami, I am not just pursuing my Bachelor’s degree. I am in a combined program in the Spanish department working on both my Bachelor’s and my Master’s at the same time, which is always a great fact to whip out at family Thanksgivings.

The combined program is great. A little terrifying, sure, but wonderful. 

I am currently taking three classes that apply to my graduate degree — except they’re combined courses (not grad-only), so I am sitting in classrooms in Irvin Hall with the same people in my undergraduate courses. They’re working in these courses at the 400 level, and I — along with my fellow combined-program peers — am at the 500 level.

We’re taking the same classes, but the 500-level students have to do extra work. That’s the best way I can describe it.

Last year, when I was applying to join the Spanish BA-MA program, I had no idea that my classes would be combined with undergraduate students. Sure, my advisor had advised me that 9 credit hours would count towards both of my degrees at the same time, but I honestly thought I would be in classes with all graduate students.

My heart was in my stomach when I walked into my first grad-level class this past fall. I was so nervous that I would be one of a small handful of undergraduate students thrown into the lions’ den of older graduates — people who had done the whole “undergrad thing” before and were far wiser and more mature than me. 

Instead, I found myself staring back at my friends and peers — people with whom I’d studied abroad, people from my classes in previous semesters, people from clubs and organizations I was in. 

I was almost relieved. Instead of being the “lower” odd one out — an undergraduate in a room full of graduates — I would be the one regarded as academically cool, doing an extra degree while everyone else was just getting their Bachelor’s. 

For a while, it was fine — and then came the time for me to run a class.

It’s not uncommon, at least in the Spanish BA-MA program, for the Master’s students in a class to have to do an extra presentation on their own, or, if presentations aren’t really a “thing” in that class, to run one day of the course by themselves. The former is currently happening to me this semester, while the latter happened last semester.

I got up in front of the class, did my presentation on the history of gender-neutral language in Spanish-speaking countries, listened gratefully to the halfhearted applause of peers that one can only get in a college class after finishing a big presentation and then went to take my seat again.

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The shift from how the undergraduate-only students in the class had seen me before the presentation to after the presentation was noticeable. I started to see it right away.

I was one of the “others” after all — someone doing extra work they didn’t need to worry about, so talking to me about it wasn’t something they needed to do. Sure, we were doing the same work sometimes, but this extra level of a Master’s degree became a social barrier, something between us that couldn’t be climbed or torn down.

Part of this, I’m sure, came from the subsequent grouping-up of the BA-MA students. I won’t deny that we’re all fairly close — most of my friends from my Spanish courses now are my fellow combined-program kids. We have group chats to laugh in, presentations to work on, extra texts to read and conversations that non-BA-MA people don’t understand. 

It’s not cliquey, per se — I still have plenty of friends who aren’t in the BA-MA program. But there is a visible divide, and a lot of it comes from how the BA-MA students are treated by professors — fittingly, like graduate students.

One of my BA-MA friends often comes into a combined class, which I am in and she is not in, to help the professor with presentations and lectures. Another of my professors often refers to the small handful of combined students as “the students of [insert 500-level class here],” singling us out and identifying us as a group to the rest of the students.

It’s necessary, but small things like that make me realize that I’m not the same as my undergraduate peers anymore. This social barrier is not something that I would like to see continue.

I can only hope that as we grow closer to graduation and to each other, the wall begins to come down and I can enjoy both the undergraduate and graduate sides of my academic life all at once.