It’s only been two years since I first arrived at the North Gate of the Johns Hopkins Homewood campus in Baltimore. But while two years isn’t really that long, I’m a completely different person with completely different priorities. It’s almost like turning twenty (I know, so old, right?) has opened my eyes to the post-Hopkins vastness that is my adult life.


Savoring the Novelty


My perspective wasn’t quite the same in August of 2015. As a freshman, I fell into classes and campus organizations with relative ease. At that point, college was so new, and I spent a lot of time reveling in my newfound independence. I wasn’t thinking about graduation, career prospects, loans, or next steps. So I made academic and career decisions based on my involvement in the Octopodes (my acapella group) and mock trial. I decided that I only wanted to study abroad in the summer so I could have eight full semesters of mock trial tournaments. I closed out windows for DC academic year internship opportunities because I didn’t want to cut into rehearsal time. I didn’t want to leave Hopkins because it felt like I had barely arrived.


Thinking Ahead


But things changed as a sophomore, and for me it stemmed mostly from a pretty drastic major change – Computer Science to International Studies. While changing tracks was the best decision I’ve ever made, making the switch so late in the game was also somewhat panic-inducing. I felt like I was racing the clock to meet goals I had set for myself at the start of college – study abroad, specific internship opportunities, or a senior thesis. But my top priorities – besides academics, of course (don’t worry, Mom!) – were still Octopodes and mock trial.


In March, on a whim, I decided to apply to a special program at Hopkins for political science students. It’s called the Aitchison Public Service Fellowship in Government, and recipients spend a semester studying and interning in DC. They take 15 credits that focus specifically on practical aspects of public policy, and classes are taught by professionals in the field. I saw it as a great opportunity for exposure to public policy and American politics; the classes seemed interesting, focused, and off the beaten track; and I’d be able to intern with a think tank in the city. DC is also only an hour away from Baltimore, so I figured that I could still be involved on campus while also getting a “semester abroad.” I wasn’t expecting to be accepted, and I certainly was on the fence about whether I would go, but I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to apply.


So I filled out the application, submitted it, and later that same day was offered the fellowship on the spot. Although I was thrilled, I hesitated. Sure, it was an amazing opportunity and offered a lot of potential for personal and professional growth. But I was coming off of the best mock trial season in our school’s history. The Octopodes had just decided to compete in the 2018 International Competition for Collegiate A Capella (ICCA). I was running for leadership positions in both groups. And I didn’t want to leave my friends, many of whom were graduating in 2018, for an entire semester.


Decision Time


So I dithered and waited and back-and-forthed for six weeks, agonizing over the decision, talking the ears off of anyone who would listen about the pros and cons of the fellowship. I talked about credits, cost, and return on investment. But really, I was just so invested in my Hopkins life that I couldn’t see anything beyond the next year. And by mid-April, I had decided: if I was elected to a leadership position in either mock trial or acapella, I would turn down the fellowship and (ostensibly) re-apply in the fall of my senior year.


As it turned out, both elections took place within a week of each other, and I didn’t get either of the positions I was running for. But oddly, the first thing I felt was relief. In that moment, I knew that what I had wanted all along was that semester in DC. I was excited about the classes, the internship, and the overall experience. Those election losses gave me a second chance to follow my real dreams. Talk about closing doors and opening roofs. 


I called back the Aitchison coordinator and accepted my place in the program that very night.


What’s Next?


I think a lot now about something that one of my friends had said when I approached him for advice on the fellowship offer. Ironically, he was a former member of the Octopodes and one of the first people I met when I became a Pode, recently graduated but doing an advanced degree at the JHU Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Podes will be there when you get back,” he told me, “but if you turn down this fellowship because of them, you will regret it.”


At the time, I took his advice with several spoons of salt. I loved my groups and I loved my friends, and to me another year with them was worth turning down this opportunity. But now that I’m here in DC, doing the coursework and working at an amazing internship, I know he was right. I would have regretted turning this down. That’s not to say that my friends and my clubs don’t matter to me; of course, they do. But my career wasn’t going to be based on acapella and mock trial, and my career is why I chose Hopkins in the first place. My decision to go to DC marked a point in my college career where I began to look beyond my four years in Baltimore and wonder, What’s next?


In a turn of events that freshman-year me would never have foreseen, I’ve actually decided to spend an entire year away from Hopkins. I was recently accepted to a spring study-abroad program in Amman, Jordan, focusing on geopolitics and international conflict resolution. It’s an amazing opportunity to conduct international field research and improve my Arabic skills, and I’m happy to say that the decision to go was significantly easier. I’m sad to leave my friends for an entire year, but I know that our friendships are strong enough that they will endure. I’ll be able to visit them in Baltimore, and I’ll be rooting for them from across the world. But I’ve made my peace with the fact that I have to do what is necessary for me to advance my career – which is, after all, the reason I’m here. And while I will always be a Pode and a Mocker at heart, I have to prioritize the fast-approaching next chapter of my life and take the steps I need to chase my dreams.

Ramya Prabhakar

Ramya Prabhakar

Ramya Prabhakar is a junior at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD, majoring in International Studies and Political Science focusing on the Middle East and security issues. In her free time, she loves singing, laughing, and doing things she's not good at, like bowling and laser tag.
Ramya Prabhakar