And then I moved to New Zealand. To get a PhD. In poi spinning.

I realized one day, as my sister and I casually discussed the future of our lives, that there was a deadline for this vague idea I’d had for years about going back to school. And that deadline was based on something completely meaningless to me, yet very important to the process…the GRE. You have no idea what I went through to get my slightly less than mediocre score on the GRE. Nothing about that test makes sense to my creative, slightly dyslexic brain. Discovering that my test scores would no longer be eligible in 7 months, and knowing that I was never going to take the GRE again, I decided I was going back to school now, or never.

I knew I wanted to study the effects of poi spinning on physical and mental health. I knew I needed to do some scientific research in order for people to take poi spinning seriously. And I knew my background in media arts was not exactly a helpful stepping stone. Finding PhD programs that were even remotely related to my area of interest, with faculty members even remotely intrigued by poi spinning, AND who were willing to admit someone with a background in the arts, proved to be about as challenging as I imagined (nearly impossible). I checked out play therapy programs, neuroscience, physical therapy, expressive therapy, biokinesiology, interdisciplinary…

“Have you reviewed the pre-requisites for the PhD program? It would be important that you have the necessary science background to be successful in the coursework, etc.”

“Unfortunately, Columbia cannot make exceptions in terms of meeting the prerequisites for admission. All courses in the biological and physical sciences would need to be completed.”

“Since we have specific expertise and we use an apprenticeship model of research (with students working closely with faculty on their projects before splitting off to complete their own studies within the expertise of the faculty), we are limited in the areas of research we can accommodate”

“I am sorry but poi spinning is not a research interest of mine; thus, I would not be an appropriate mentor for your PhD program.”

I also had an Individually Designed PhD program tell me they were not a good fit but I should contact the Expressive Therapies program, while, simultaneously, the Expressive Therapies program at the same school told me they were not a good fit but to contact the Individually Designed PhD program. Somewhere amidst my flurry of “I am interested in applying to your PhD program, but I have a somewhat nontraditional background and line of inquiry…” emails, I fired one off to the University of Auckland. Same as all the rest, except I took out the stupid sentence that explained what poi spinning is. These people know. It originated in New Zealand.

I got a response right away from the Head of Dance Studies, about a recently developed research group based on dance/movement and community engagement in partnership with the Centre for Brain Research. I couldn’t believe it, this research group was made for me! A long email chain flowed forth with nothing but support from the faculty. I revised my statement of intent, I learned about funding, the head of Dance Studies and the head of the Centre for Brain Research stepped up to be on my committee, I imagined myself spinning poi amongst the hills of the Shire! All the puzzle pieces fell into place, the application was in, and then…I waited. And waited. My life became a total stand still. I couldn’t look around my room without thinking about each and every object, and if I would bring it to New Zealand or not. I couldn’t commit to future gigs and I didn’t want to tell people why, in case I ended up not going. I couldn’t stop myself from checking the application status first thing in the morning, a few times in the afternoon, before I went to bed. I couldn’t motivate myself to invest in anything really, because, what if I were leaving it all behind? A week went by. A month. 2 months. 2 months and 25 days…and then…

“Your application for registration as a doctoral candidate at the University of Auckland has been reviewed by the Dean of Graduate Studies on behalf of the Board of Graduate Studies, and I am happy to inform you that your registration has been approved.”

…the biggest adventure of my life was about to begin, and not once did they ask for my GRE scores. I think I’m going to like it in New Zealand…