In 2007, I went on a month-long Rotary Fellowship to Saitama, Japan.  It was an opportunity to blend my previous experience of Japan with my new found love of philanthropy.  My focus during that month was on how philanthropy appears in Japanese society.  It was the days of the export of “strategic philanthropy” from the US and the chatter of “Asia not having traditions of philanthropy”, and I was curious enough to want to dig deeper.

A month wasn’t going to be enough.  I returned knowing that I wanted to conduct further research – how philanthropy appears in other cultures and what we can learn from those models.  I wanted my Ph.D.  I just didn’t know how to go about it.

In 2008, in my first job interview in Canada,  I was asked about my goals, I replied, “I have two.  To be an Executive Director and to get my Ph.D.”

Since 2007,  I’ve read books on culture and philanthropy (very obscure, academic ones), and I’ve trolled the Internet for any new research.  I’ve met with professors in Washington, I’ve visited centers in California, and I’ve kept my eye attuned for anyone mentioning something akin to this topic.  I keep thinking, someone is going to get to this and if it isn’t me, I’m going to be heartbroken, pissed, frustrated….

In November 2012, my daughter was five months old and I was on maternity leave.  I decided it time.  I studied everyday, in 15 minute increments, for three months to prepare for my GREs (a test I swore I’d never take).  In January 2013, I took the exam and applied to Arizona State University, School of Community Resources and Development.  And I got in!  With funding!  It was going to be a glorious capstone to my five year desire.  We would move, I would study, and things would fall into place.

Except they didn’t.  I went back to work after maternity leave.  Things became less clear, time sped up, and worse, we fell into the hands of U.S. Immigration.

It was May 2013, when we realized that my husband’s U.S. immigration procedures would never be finished by August.  I held on to the hope that a miracle would occur.  I waited until the very last minute to defer my acceptance.  I felt like my breath had been taken away.  I’d done everything right.  I reached out to anything that would fill the void – nearly buying a very expensive new house.

I put my belief in the idea that U.S. immigration couldn’t possibly take that much longer, and that we’d be on our way in a year.

Then the U.S. government shut down in October 2013.  Then my husband got cold feet.  I found distraction in anyway I could.  I had given up my funding when I deferred, and in my second attempt, the funding was much, much less and the offer was less secure. Then my sister left Arizona, and my father started working from San Francisco.  The safety net and income that we had presumed were now in tatters.

Yet still, we held out hope.  That was May 2014.

And then, London happened.  It happened very slowly, then very quickly.  I released my thoughts of Arizona, and I applied to school in London.  I revised my research proposal while sitting in a Calgary coffee shop on Mother’s Day.  I added research methodologies and timelines.  It was the most in-depth I’d ever considered the topic.  I got a green light from the department, after reviewing the proposal, to apply.  I thought, here we go.  This is it.

Until, I got the letter of decline.  My heart stopped.  How could this possibly have happened?  “It is a good thesis and the methodology needs work, but no faculty wanted to advise on it.” – is what happened.  I stood in my living room with the ground shifting below my feet.  I let my ego wallow in its victimhood.  I threw myself into the logistics of the move.  It was the only thing strong enough to distract me.  That and one conversation with my coach, “You were worried about being penniless in Arizona, now you won’t be.  What if this was just a reordering of events, instead of an elimination of them?” It was all I had to hang on to.

And all of this story?  I can count on one hand that people that know it.  The silence I’ve kept probably has been the worst thing I’ve ever done to myself.  I’ve been writing this blog the entire time and felt that I could not share this huge part of life.  I can not provide a clear answer as to why.  I chalk it up to failure, lack of trust, and insecurity.  I’ll toss loyalty in there too – loyalty to the story I described here.

A world away from where I was mentally and physically, I can now refresh my thinking.  I’ve started talking about the research.  I’ve shared research proposal with a number of academics and continue refine the methodology.   I’ve spoke with a group that is organizing peer learning events on local cultures of giving. I’ve started to write about the topic in small ways, a letter to editor and blog posts.  Once again, it feels close.  Yet, I know that feeling too well, and I don’t trust it anymore.

It has been eight years.  I’ve tried to shake the desire.  I’ve tried to deny that it exists.  In my miserable moments, I’ve read every Internet story on “why not to get a Ph.D.”  I’ve allowed myself far too long contemplation on giving up.  Yet, I can’t deny that I love the histories and ethnographies of other researchers, that I increase in weariness at the lack of critical thought on our philanthropic system, and when I reflect on my experiences, I can not fathom not completing this research.

If for nothing else, at this moment, in this pursuit, I’ve stopped my silence.  The rest is yet to be known.


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