I have finally figured out where I want to move, at least for a sabbatical and maybe longer. The town's name is Bethesda and it is in Maryland right outside Washington, DC. I had heard of Bethesda before because it was named among the Top 5 cities to "live and launch" by Money Magazine in 2008, but it is only when my very best PhD student to date, R.D., got a job offer from a company headquartered there that I looked into the town more thoroughly.
It turns out to be my dream town. Absolutely and completely my dream town. Here are some of the wonderful amenities of Bethesda, MD:
- the Strathmore performing arts center, official DC-area home of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, National Philharmonic and Washington Performing Arts Society.
- my favorite stores: Panera, Pain Quotidien, Whole Foods, Lululemon, Eileen Fisher.
- great yoga studios such as Balance (they even have Pilates equipment! I've always wanted to try.)
- an independent movie theater called the Bethesda Row Theater with indie/foreign films and stadium seating.
- easy access to Washington, DC through the Red Line (Bethesda stop). Yes, I root for public transportation.
- the Politics & Prose bookstore, one of the most venerable and successful indie bookstores in the nation with an impressive lineup of daily author events, is only two subway stops away.
- a vibrant economic life anchored by the National Institutes of Health located in Bethesda, and the proximity to major universities (Georgetown, George Washington, George Mason) as well as many thriving companies.
- a Writer's Center with classes, workshops and readings.
- a "foodie hub" (in the words of Money Magazine) with over 250 restaurants.
- out of a population of about 60,000, there are - according to the MIT directory - about 600 MIT alumni or 1% of residents.1%! And that's just MIT alumni. Imagine how many people there must be from the Ivy League and other top institutions. Educated, ambitious people!
- The MIT Club of DC is one of the most active MIT alumni clubs in the nation, for instance with a seminar series held in Bethesda. This year's topic was "Rethinking water." I wish I could have been there.
- Bethesda also has the reputation of being health-conscious with many fitness enthusiasts.
From Wikipedia: "According to the 2000 Census, Bethesda was the best-educated city in the United States of America with a population of 50,000 or more. 79% of residents 25 or older have bachelor's degrees and 49% have graduate or professional degrees." You don't have to downplay the fact that you have a degree from a good school over there. When all is said and done, I want to be able to say I gave it my all (trying to be the best I can be, pushing my limits, challenging myself, learning new things) and found what I was capable of in the process. Bethesda seems to be teeming with similarly ambitious, eager professionals.
Sadly, I can see how the past 7 1/2 years in the Lehigh Valley have affected me: I am excited to have found out about Bethesda but I'm also a bit frightened, in a good way. What if I don't measure up? (Not only was I valedictorian of both my high school and college class with grades unmatched in their memory [we don't have grade inflation as much in Europe], but I have a PhD from MIT. For years until I graduated, I faced mental challenges head on, stretched myself and made things happen. I have succeeded in far more difficult environments. This new fear alone is a hint that I have to get out of here, if only for a sabbatical.)
I feel a bit out of shape mentally because I have been able to make do without needing to give my best, and Bethesda is a whole different ball game. From Wikipedia again: "According to a 2007 estimate, the median income for a household in the CDP was $117,723, and the median income for a family was $168,385." Not the Lehigh Valley for sure.
I am amazed that this little gem was two hundred miles away from me all along but I didn't know it. It even sounds like some sort of cosmic joke, in fact, that its name is so close to the name of my current town - Bethlehem - as if some helper to the Higher Power, or whatever you want to call it, had misunderstood the instructions: "You want me to get her where?... Beth-what?... Beth-something. Well, maybe He meant Bethlehem in Pennsylvania." No! It was Bethesda.