Living at the Intersection: Reflections on the Graduate Student Experience

Reflections of an Orthodox Jew: Entering the Real World

Guest columnist: Chaya Lieba Berger, BA, Long Island University Post

My name is Chaya Lieba Berger, and I am currently completing my first year at Long Island University Post’s Psy.D. program. I am also an Orthodox Jew.

From the moment I began graduate school, I was confronted by my religious identity. Having never before been in a school that was not specifically for Orthodox Jewish women, everything was a transition. Even my name was a challenge, as it is difficult for people who do not speak Hebrew to pronounce. I have noticed that when I introduce myself, people seem to not even hear the unfamiliar sounds, nodding politely before they erase the introduction from their minds. I have always been called by this name, and so adjusting has been an experience, and I am appreciative of my professors and classmates for the patience they have exhibited in learning it. I have also never before been in a co-ed school setting. It has been a challenge to feel comfortable discussing certain issues in a co-ed classroom, working on projects and presentations with male colleagues, and being open to becoming friends with the men in my program.

Recently, I was speaking with my mother about a non-Jewish organization I had been volunteering for and she laughed as I attempted to describe them with: “Oh, they’re normal. I mean they’re regular people. I mean they’re not religious.” When did become the other? When did the people I have spent most of my life surrounded by become different, irregular, and not normal? I am so grateful to be in a program that respects and accepts me as an observant Jew. At the same time, I have become, essentially for the first time in my experience, a minority. And being a minority can be a very “other-ing” experience. At times, the Hebrew and Yiddish expressions that are merely a part of my vocabulary remain stuck on my tongue as I search around for the appropriate English translation. At times, my experience of certain issues is swallowed by the experience of the majority. My world, a world with its very own dress code, its own music, and dating rules far different from my colleagues, has now become the “other” world.

I can say with certainty that this process, thus far, has been a learning experience. It has also, however, been a challenge, balancing my multiple identities as a student, an Orthodox Jew, a single woman, a psychological researcher, and soon, a clinician. I have come to realize that as much as one may try to separate one’s identities, it is simply unavoidable:

Wherever you go, every identity enters the room with you.

In my growth as a psychologist, I attempt to bring every part of myself with me. As I enter the real world, I am integrating an understanding of myself as the other, and I bring my other world with me.

Editor’s Note: This column is part of a series highlighting the experiences of students and professionals with diverse intersecting identities and was created by the APAGS Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and the Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity. Are you interested in sharing about your own navigation of intersecting identities in graduate school? We would be happy to hear from you! To learn more, please contact Heather Dade.

Check out previous posts in this series: