I spent the first two weeks of this month trying to decide between offers to study a one-year master’s at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, and to study a two-year master’s at University College London. Both are research-oriented, both would cost a big chunk of my savings. I managed to factor out almost everything that differs about the two prospects, and I decided in the end to choose to go to London. This came down to my emotional reaction to spending a year in a small Scottish village versus spending two years in vibrant London, despite not having any money while there. And then the University of Arizona, a significantly higher ranked philosophy department than either UCL or St. Andrew’s, made me a last-minute offer to go study there, fully funded with a salary on a teaching fellowship, giving me just 48 hours to respond.

I accepted the offer from Arizona and spent a week or so with my heart still in London. However, my desire to go there has now faded away, and I’m looking forward, admittedly with great apprehension, to moving to the U.S.A. Here’s my view of what I’m about to embark upon.

Having lived in Korea, doing the job that I do and meeting the people that I meet, I now know more clearly what my priorities are when it comes to the career I’ll pursue in the longterm. Dignity in the way I am treated by my employer, the freedom to work in the part of the world/country where I want to, and stability of the employment period and day-to-day schedules have become important to me: more important, I think, than the sense that the work I’m doing is cutting-edge academic research. So I don’t want to be a professional philosopher anymore. Not very many people who embark upon careers as academics get stability and dignity, and even those who do don’t get it until after many of the best years of their lives have already passed them by. I care more about myself than I used to, and I’m just not sufficiently interested in most of philosophy—that is, I’m not fanatically obsessed—to give up my desire for all these good things that come much sooner/at all on other career paths.

I owe it to myself, though, to give graduate-level philosophy a try. I want to know what it is like to do it and be around other people doing it. I want to develop skills to allow me to read and write philosophy from time-to-time in the future, and I really need to go to a university and get those skills now rather than later, when I’ve embarked on some other career. Another reason why now is a good time is that I’ve got to leave Korea because I’m so bored with my job. I’m not putting my heart into it anymore, and I dread going into work on a Monday; this wasn’t true at all a year ago.

Arizona is offering me a chance to do philosophy, talk philosophy and teach philosophy, and also a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go and live in the United States. I could get a degree (an MA or a PhD depending on how long I stay) out of it. But since I don’t think I want an academic career, this really is just a piece of paper that might hold personal significance while not being relevant for getting other jobs. It’s also true that less than half of American Philosophy PhD students complete the PhD and graduate with a PhD degree. So I can leave when I feel I’ve learnt most of what Arizona is going to teach me. The department has a reputation for being friendly and inclusive: I know this from my old American philosophy tutor from Oxford, and from talking to current Arizona students, not from their website.

I’ll also be keeping my options open if I change my mind about wanting to be a professional philosopher. The ranking of the institution you got your PhD from matters a lot in getting philosophy jobs, and as I said, Arizona is significantly higher in the rankings than UCL or St. Andrew’s.

After accepting the offer from Arizona I spent a while unconvincing myself of my choice to go to UCL in London. I realised that my ongoing fantasy about living some cosmopolitan intellectual life in London is at this point a fantasy about giving up on academic study and getting a job in London, probably doing some kind of computer programming. It’s not a fantasy about actually studying philosophy. So I’m not really giving up on being able to go to London and try to live that fantasy life if I decide that academic study isn’t for me anymore. London isn’t going anywhere.

When I got the offer in the morning last week, and realised that I was definitely leaving Korea within the next few months, I almost cried while riding my bike to school and was holding back my tears for the first ten minutes of my first lesson. This was because I was sad that my time in Korea with my girlfriend is coming to an end. We’re going to try it long-distance, since our futures are very much open: she is tied to practising engineering in Korea for between two and four years, and I’m going to Arizona for a similar length of time. Receiving the offer clarified my feelings about her as I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go ahead with a long-distance relationship or not until that morning when I rode my bike to school that way.

One very visible difference between U.K. and U.S. philosophy graduate students is that almost all U.S. graduate students have to do some teaching in exchange for a stipend and no tuition fees. I think this suits me because there is some more concrete work to be done in addition to the open-ended “get on with your research.” Initially I suspect they’ll just have me marking papers, but anyway, this is how I imagine my classes.

A few months ago I started having swimming lessons and had a bad first few weeks. I wanted to conclude on the topic of whether swimming was right for me and make a judgement. However, unexpectedly I found that I loved it and now expect to continue for a fair while. I should accept the uncertainty of whether Arizona will be good or bad, and resist my desire to make a story as to whether or not I like it before I’ve been. To help me do this, I will remind myself of my recent experiences with swimming.