In February 1999 when I learned that I was being offered a Berkeley Graduate Fellowship, I had been a part-time English as a Second Language (ESL) instructor at a small community college in Washington state for 10 years. In 1997 I had been awarded a Part-time Faculty Award of Excellence at my college, based on both my teaching and program development work, and then in 1998, I was turned down for a full-time position. I was ready for something new, and excited about the idea of doing research on the social contexts of second language learning in immigrant communities. I also had a house, a husband, two children, and a large extended family in my town in Washington, and it was difficult to consider uprooting. Berkeley’s offer of a prestigious fellowship helped to reassure me that I wasn’t completely out of my mind.
Berkeley wasn’t the only place I had applied, of course, and I received a comparable fellowship offer from the University of Pennsylvania. I visited both schools in March of 1999, and very quickly decided on Berkeley for lifestyle reasons – spring sunshine, eucalyptus and redwood trees, university family housing in an excellent school district … I left my teaching job at the end of spring quarter, packed up my household and moved south in July, then started classes at the Graduate School of Education in late August. The fellowship I had been awarded was not designed to support a family, but fortunately my husband found a job right away.
The thing I came to appreciate most about Berkeley was the intense intellectual stimulation. I had successfully earned BA and MA degrees, but I had never experienced the kind of excitement that my Berkeley professors generated in their graduate seminars, week after week, semester after semester. I read a lot, wrote a lot, and learned a tremendous amount – about social theory, about literacy, about ethnographic research, about language, about identity.
So the quality of teaching at Berkeley was off the charts. The quality of mentoring was not as strong. I found that my professors were supportive of my research interests in immigrant language learning – but they expected me to be very self-directed and find my own path. Fortunately, I DID have strong interests of my own coming in, and the excellent research methods classes I had taken turned out to be sufficient preparation for moving out into the community and conducting my own ethnographic study at an adult ESL program. Sometimes this was difficult, but the independence I was expected to have as a Berkeley grad student was also great preparation for moving beyond graduate school and starting new research projects as an assistant professor.
In February 2004, I filed my dissertation and received two academic job offers, plus a Fulbright grant to research English language teaching in Chile. I accepted my first-choice job at the University of California Davis (UCD), in the Linguistics department, and was able to conduct my Fulbright research during breaks in the UCD academic year. At Davis, I teach Ph.D. students in the Second Language Acquisition and Development program, MA students who are training to be ESL instructors, and a wide variety of undergraduates with interests in language and applied linguistics. I have published nine articles based on my dissertation in academic journals, and have had three more accepted based on my research in Chile.
And my husband and children have survived all these moves with me. He had a bit of a rocky transition this time, but finally found a job with UCD Student Housing, which he really enjoys. We live in Davis, where we own a home and appreciate the great bicycling opportunities. My daughter is about to graduate from high school here, and is applying to Berkeley, with my encouragement. She has fond memories of occasionally attending classes with me there as a nine year old, and even does imitations of some of my old professors. Now she wants her own chance for extreme intellectual stimulation, and I think she is self-motivated enough to handle it.
— Julia Menard-Warwick