When I was first researching Seton Hill University to see if I wanted to pursue the MFA program, I was concerned with the lack of blog posts about the experience. Since I just came back from my first residency a few days ago, I thought it would be useful to share my experience for others who are either interested in SHU's program or curious about low-residency graduate programs in general.
I arrived on a Friday evening and then left for home the next Thursday morning. The orientation on the first night was probably the most awkward part of the whole residency (a.k.a. an introvert's nightmare). I walked into the library where there was a large group of people by the door. I couldn't see any sign in area, and no one really greeted me so I immediately walked over to a big open area where chairs were set up. Once the orientation started I was able to meet another newbie, but those first ten minutes or so were super uncomfortable.
The next day started with a critique group. Everyone sends in 10 pages before residency, and then there are three days of critique groups where 2-3 of those submissions are discussed. Thankfully, my pages were talked about in my first critique group to get it over with! I was pleasantly surprised though. The mentor was brutal with his edits (adverbs, words repeated over and over again, stuff I pretty much already knew needed help), but overall he really liked the scene. He even suggested I use that piece as my thesis project! Everyone in the group was supportive and even brainstormed some big picture edits I could apply to the whole novel concept. I'm so glad this session started off my residency because I walked out of it feeling encouraged and inspired.
Most of the days were set up with a critique group in the mornings, lunch, and then a learning module in the afternoon. As a newbie, the learning modules were already picked out for me, but once I get further along in the program I'll be able to choose which ones I want to attend.
I was nervous about Sunday evening because that's when I would meet with my mentor to discuss my thesis project. It went pretty well though! I'm so glad I've used NaNoWriMo to push myself to finish drafts because I think that has really affected how the mentors judge my capabilities and experience. Everyone seems so supporting of each other, and I enjoyed going to the graduation on the last day to celebrate the graduates.
Now onto the really weird stuff that happened.
It was incredibly cold during the first few days of residency. I'm talking 0°F during the day, and -8°F at night. COLD.
On the second night of residency, my sister came to pick me up from the university and we stopped to get her food at Wendy's. We went through the drive through and when we tried to leave, the driver's side window would not roll up. The window had been rolled all the way down and started making a grinding noise when we pressed the button. After some stressful (but calm) phone calls to our parents and a failed stop at the police station in town, we drove back to the hotel and hoped that draping a blanket over the window would be okay during the night. It was so cold that the duct tape I borrowed from the front desk lost it's stickiness and didn't really help at all.
Now if it hadn't been so cold, I wouldn't have worried about the window too much. Because of the cold though, I was so worried that the car wouldn't start the next morning. Thankfully, when I got up early to go out and check, it did start up so that was a relief.
On Sunday afternoon during a break, my sister and I went to the closest Walmart to try to find materials to cover the window. It was too ridiculous trying to drive with the heat instantly being pulled out the window, and whoever drove needed a hat, scarf, and mittens to offset the cold. In Walmart we got a clear poncho and tape, then we spent the next 20 minutes taping up the window. Unfortunately, I got us lost trying to get back to the university, and we had to stop to patch our plastic covering once or twice. But eventually the covering held, and I was able to get back to the school to wait to meet with my mentor.
But wait, there's more. I had about an hour to wait for the mentor meeting and during that time I was talking to my mom on the phone when she got a call from my sister. The sprinkler system had busted and WE HAD TO EVACUATE OUR HOTEL!! At this point, I felt so awful because my sister had to deal with all by herself while I was at school. She had to pack up ALL of our stuff and go check in at another hotel. Thankfully, my parents to the lead on this and were in touch with the new hotel to work out matching the rates and reservation information.
We were relocated to nicer hotel (the room service wasn't so great, but the rest was nice!), my dad drove up to switch out vehicles so we wouldn't have to worry with the window, and my sister and I were finally able to relax.
I'm so thankful that my parents are so supportive and that I was able to stay calm during all of those obstacles. If I had been a different state of mind, I probably would have felt so disappointed and questioning of whether or not this program would be worth it. Somehow though, I was able to stay calm and just work through it, but I'm definitely looking forward to a much warmer/comfortable residency in June! Overall, I did enjoy residency. I made a few connections and received a good bit of encouragement from the mentors I met. I'm excited to start the online component as well as begin drafting my thesis project.
If you made it this far, thank you so much for reading this post! To wrap up, here are some photos from the university. The Christmas decorations were still up and really pretty, and the chapel looks so breathtaking at night.