U.S.A. Whirlwind Trip Report

So, I made it back to Japan and am actually writing this from my desk at work. Of course, there’s incredibly little to do, given that the kidlings are all on vacation. But I am fairly happy just to be sitting still and on my way to absolutely nowhere in the near future.

The last week was really too crazy to relay in detail, but I’ll try to hit a few of the high points. It all started on Thursday night, when I took the shinkansen to Ueno station and was met by Star, who had ever so kindly pre-located a yakiniku restaurant for us to feast at (I’m so predictable). Our friend Richard was in town, taking a break from his busy grad student life in Syracuse, so we hung out a little that night and Friday morning. Star and I saw a few of the first cherry blossoms in Ueno Park and I would have gone back to see more, had time not run out on me.

Richard and Kristi, Tokyo
Originally uploaded by kristi-san.

After that, it was off to the U.S.! I didn’t sleep much on the plane. I find the games and movies on the Northwest Airbus flight to be quite addictive, btw – highly recommended. Anyway, I took care of some business in Seattle and got to hang out with my brother and Adam for a little while, which was nice. Oh, and I got a much-needed haircut.

Chris, sporting his DMZ souvenir
Originally uploaded by kristi-san.

After that, it was off on the whirlwind graduate school tour. After two planes, two trains, and a lot of walking, I arrived at Princeton University and embarked on a series of appointments bookended by a lunch and a dinner with various graduate students and faculty. I really liked a few of the people I met, particularly Jennifer Widner and Lynn White. The program has hired something like 16 new faculty in the last year and a half and about 60% of the faculty has been there for 3 years or less, indicating some sweeping changes and perhaps an exciting department to come. But things could also go the other way. I’m going to refrain from saying anything that could be considered “sensitive information”, so you should ask me if you have specific questions. The funding was definitely a big selling point for Princeton, one that came up again and again – not too surprising, given that Princeton is the second most well-endowed university in the U.S., but still. It’s a strong, mainstream program with a lot of resources to offer. But it’s not very strong in terms of Japan, and at the end of the day, is lower ranked than Berkeley. To be honest, I liked it and have a feeling I would be well-served by going there. But it was my least favorite of the three.

After my dinner, I went up to New York City and spent the night in Manhattan with a very nice Princeton grad student couple who were amazingly hospitable and accomodating – and I was amazed at the PoliSci student’s job prospects! Five offers and pretty great salary choices, all of which made me feel a lot better about academia as a career choice Since I had never been to New York, Gabriel was nice enough to walk me through Times Square and a bit of that area.

Kristi, Times Square, New York
Originally uploaded by kristi-san.

Tuesday morning I caught a bus to La Guardia Airport, where I boarded a fairly small plane to Ithaca. You know, the kind of plane where they strategically seat passengers in order to balance weight. A short while later, I was at Cornell University, which was experiencing uncharacteristically warm weather and was truly beautiful. The campus is huge and really majestic in its scenery – waterfalls, gorges, hills… I again embarked on the marathon lunch-appointment-dinner schedule, but came away with a much better feeling than I did at Princeton. The Cornell Government Department seems really congenial and welcoming – and a place where I would feel very comfortable. I really liked Rob Wiener and Valerie Bunce in particular. I wish I could’ve met with Peter Katzenstein, whom every since student *raved* about, but alas he was out on travel. I also went bowling with a bunch of the grad students, which was good fun. I really liked the feel of the place and found Ithaca to be charming and quite livable. I wish it were ranked a tad higher – to be honest, I feel a pull towards it, even more so than to Berkeley. I also liked that the cohorts are so small – 12-15ish versus Berkeley’s 20-something.

After a brief stopover in Detroit (which has a very nice airport, btw), I found myself in San Francisco and then in Berkeley shortly thereafter. The West Coast really does feel a lot more comfortable to me, I’ve gotta say, though this has its good and bad points. Anyway, Berkeley was pretty much everthing I thought it would be. Unfortunately, my visit occurred during their Spring Break, so I met with the department chair and T.J. Pempel (who was also everything I thought he would be) before heading back out to San Francisco to meet my best friend Camden. I was pretty destroyed by this time, so we stayed in, ordered pizza, and caught up on stuff. Anyway, Thursday I met with four different grad students who were all very nice and quite sharp. One girl there has interests remarkably similar to my own – something that I hadn’t encountered at any of the other schools. Berkeley felt good. It felt big. Like UW on steroids, kinda. In general, I like big, but wish I could’ve come while classes were in session… I get the impression that I have an *amazing* funding package in the Berkeley context, which makes me very happy. And the area seemed just as exciting as I’d heard. So… yeah, probably the most logical choice, given my professed goals.

So yeah, things are still up in the air. I’ll probably choose Berkeley, but was surprisingly drawn to Cornell. I’ll let you know when I’ve made the final decision.