Beyond the tower: Alums discuss life after Yale

When Polly Ha ’02 decided to study at the University of Cambridge this fall, she exchanged one Gothic campus for another. While Ha has found the transition to post-Yale life a smooth one, other members of the Class of 2002 say the shift hasn’t been quite so effortless.

As current Yalies settle into the routine of answering roommates’ phone calls and late-night Yorkside trips, last year’s crop of graduates are maneuvering through their first fall outside the Ivy walls. For four 2002 graduates, the changes have ranged from taxing to nearly imperceptible.

For Paige Herwig ’02, the real world crept up in the plethora of bills suddenly appearing in her mailbox, and the experience of sharing an apartment with her boyfriend.

“It’s a challenge, certainly, to budget for myself and — know that I need to be putting money away,” Herwig wrote in an e-mail. “But the biggest change is that I’m living with my boyfriend.”

She said the compromises they have to make range from which apartment to rent to where to hang the pictures, negotiations that echo back to underclassmen days of roommates at Yale, but have more long-term significance.

Herwig, who is working as a paralegal in New York, said it has been a challenge to adjust to her new lifestyle.

“Being responsible for cooking my own meals is just about enough to make me long for the dining hall,” Herwig said.

Some of last year’s graduates, however, have not yet made the switch to the independent life. Ha, for example, still lives in a residential college.

“It is not surprising that the transition from Yale to Cambridge has been so natural given the intimate relation that has always existed between the two universities,” Ha said.

Leah Zimmerman ’02 has moved into an apartment, but is only blocks away from her old Timothy Dwight College stomping grounds. Zimmerman, who is working as an intern for Yale Students for Christ, said she loves being part of New Haven in a more integral way than she was at Yale.

“It’s the death of New Haven when all students think you have to [take] from the University for four years and then leave,” Zimmerman said. “There have been a couple of times when I’ve seen people on campus, and they give me this look, ‘Why are you still here?’ — I think that’s a tragic attitude.”

Zimmerman’s job consists of meeting with students, planning conferences and retreats, and leading Bible studies.

“The best thing about my quote-unquote job is to talk to people and see lives change, to see people make decisions and take steps forward in their faith,” Zimmerman said.

In contrast to Zimmerman’s flexible schedule, Herwig’s paralegal job consumes 60 to 70 hours each week.

“Here, my schedule is completely dictated by the attorneys I work for,” Herwig said. “I might be home ‘early,’ as in around 8 p.m., or it might be 5 a.m. before I get out of the office. — It’s strange to relinquish control and accept that your place in the ‘food chain’ is at the very bottom.”

Jacqueline Errecart ’02 said her current job at a groundwater consulting company in Pasadena, Calif., is less stressful than Yale.

“It generally requires less thinking and more monotony than school,” Errecart said. “However — the need to be accountable for every cell of every spreadsheet and every word of every report is nerve-wracking at times.”

Errecart said her Yale degree helped her get her current job.

“Having the Yale name was key in getting this job,” Errecart said. “Several Yale geology majors have worked here in the past 10 years, and they were looking for people who could write well and learn quickly.”

Errecart said while the people she met have been nice, the friendships she has made with colleagues in Pasadena are not like those she had at Yale.

“My office is relatively young and vibrant, but the interaction, though friendly, is very different from at school,” Errecart said.

Herwig said she misses life in New Haven. Luckily for her, she won’t have to wait for a professorship to return. After she finishes her year as a paralegal, Herwig will be headed back to the Elm City for law school — and she’s thrilled for the prospect.

“I’ll have moments where I realize just how big [New York] is, how it will never be ‘mine,’” Herwig said. “Aside from being independently excited to head back to Yale Law School, I’m going to look forward to watching my freshmen — I was a frosh counselor — enjoy their junior and senior years.”

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