I’ve loved Madison since I stepped onto the University of Wisconsin campus more than (gulp) ten years ago. I remember the gorgeous fall day my alum dad and a few friends visited the campus, a warm breeze flowing as we walked up Bascom Hill. I was taken with the details of the historic buildings, Abraham Lincoln overlooking the large swaths of green space, students hustling to class, or reading with their backs on the grass, chatting, enjoying what could be the last warm day, leaves gently falling.
It may have been, in reality, somewhat less idyllic, but in my memory it is like falling in love, the beginning of my first trip away from a home, the same sense I felt when I first biked the streets of Beijing, or sat in my mother-in-law’s kitchen in Mexico, taking in the earthiness of her homemade tortillas.
Places have always been important to me, immersing myself in the context of somewhere to which I am not accustomed. I grew up conservative and suburban, then moved to Madison, a place where liberal discussion and the sharing of ideas was the norm. Discussing environmental conservation or human rights was every day business. Madison was the sort of place where an east coast prep, a hippie, a hipster, a jock, a conservative business major, a few future beat reporters and an evangelical Christian would run a newspaper together for a year.
Last fall I couldn’t shake the idea of going to law school. I talked to a few law-student acquaintances who encouraged me to go for it, offering tips on studying for the Law School Admissions Test and applying to a top school like UW. I knew it was a long shot, and I was not confident.
After I took the test, recalling far too many frustrating minutes when a woman stricken with the flu coughed and sneezed her way to the front of the room, five feet in front of my desk, whispering under her breath, tic, tic, tic, I’m distracted, knowing the section was going terribly, the proctor coming to finally remove her from the room, she argues, I’m fuming, she finally leaves and her coughing can still be heard from the hallway. Then getting to the second problem on the logic games section and realizing it’s something I’m surprisingly unfamiliar with, after all my preparing, I was surprised. Leaving the test, thinking, “oh well,” Marquette will be good enough. I’ll keep working, I’ll get to live at home, yes, it will be fine. I almost didn’t bother to complete my UW application, thinking I had no chance. Then I got into Marquette in February and nearly sent a check to accept and hold my spot. A month later I received the shocking e-mail acceptance to UW.
In the myriad of thoughts and opinions I have had and shared with Fermin and others in the past six months, it boils down to the education, and the opportunities, and the environment. The weekend after I received my acceptance to UW I headed to Madison for the law school’s admitted student’s weekend, a mini-conference designed to help accepted students decide whether UW is the law school for them.
I shouldn’t have expected anything less than to be wowed. But I wondered if there would be a disproportionate number of 22-year old frat boys running around, or if all the women would be wearing power suits or if the professors would seem detached and boring. Not the case at all. Most of the other prospective students I met were not 22. Many, like me, were in their late 20s, some were married, and just about all were friendly and down-to-earth.
At dinner I sat next to a recent graduate who had started law school when she was 29 (like me). Her husband had lived in Eau Claire and they had commuted to see each other every other weekend for the first two years. She had graduated and almost immediately had her first baby, something I am quite likely to attempt myself, unless, like several other women I heard about during the weekend, I attempt to have a baby mid semester my second or third year. My impression from the weekend was that it wasn’t a big deal to be a 29-year-old married law student or even a 49-year-old married law student, and it didn’t seem like a big deal to have a baby during school. It didn’t even seem like a big deal to voluntarily live apart from your husband for most of the year.
The professors I heard speak on Saturday morning were wonderful. The first one mentioned how badly the school needs an immigration clinical program, and how there were so many opportunities for students to run with things they were passionate about. I got excited about being back in a classroom. I even got excited about spending hours in the law library, with its glass atrium overlooking Bascom Hall.
Much to Fermin’s relief, I came home without any more worries about commuting. It didn’t seem foolish anymore to keep our house in Milwaukee, which is what we both want anyway (with the market as it is, with all our stuff, and just because we like our house). And it all just fell into place. I scoured craigslist for an affordable living situation in Madison and found something nearly ideal – great location, cool roommate, free parking, very affordable rent with utilities included. My roommate will be an environmental sciences grad student whose fiance is graduating from the law school and will begin working in Waukesha very shortly. He will mostly be in Madison on weekends, when I will mostly be gone. They seem laid-back and cool, and I think her and I will live well together and become friends.
So back to Madison it will be. My dear friend Sara commented that I “glow” (like a pregnant lady I guess) when I talk about Madison. I have always loved it. I look forward to walking up and down Bascom Hill, attending classes with a laptop (technology has saved me from atrocious handwriting!) enjoying even closer proximity to two lakes, late nights studying, weekends back to life in Milwaukee and looking for my niche in the school. I’m not sure what my practical immigration experience in Madison will be, but I plan to blaze my own trail when the time comes.