Working in academia can take you anywhere. How wonderful is that? The possibility to go to different places, meet different people, and study different things. It is addicting! And still… it can be a lonely job. The constant changing can bring not only new adventures but also new beginnings over and over again.
Coming to a different country sounds exciting and frightening at the same time. My experience moving across the sea showed me that I have much more courage in me than I thought. Knowing no one, nothing about the culture and even less about the language can become overwhelming fast. I bet that if you are an outsider you have felt the same way… at one point, somehow.
Learning how to cope with the new cultural barriers was a first and long step. Suddenly, the things I was used to didn’t apply anymore. The way to work, what you can share, how to talk and approach someone… all new! I recently read a paper that said “researchers who work outside their home nation are disproportionately productive, at least when measured in terms of publications and patents” (Fleming, N., 2022) and I have to say… UAU.. no pressure here.
Going abroad seems like a shared dream. The thing that my parents always wanted, the thing that my friends all congratulate me for… and there it is again… the pressure! But little do they know that for a long time I didn’t share the same pride. All I wanted was to run back home, surround myself with familiar faces, eat my moms food and be able to understand what people were chatting across the table (that was a big one..I love paying attention to others conversations…yes guilty).
It may sound all depressing, but this blog post goes to everyone who can relate to the things I described so far. I can tell that things DO get better. From being a fish out of the water, I found my school of fish! I realised that my different background, my insecurities and my different way of behaving just made me more aware of myself as a person. And giiiiirl, I am proud of you!
Yes, it is still difficult sometimes. I get that underdog feeling, but God have I found some pretty awesome people around me here, too. Great and positive support from my supervisors, open collegues, similar interests, people that call me when I am sick and help me with translation when needed.
This concept of home becomes less and less about the place and more and more about the people. For me it was the moment I found a person to do nothing with. “What?!” You may ask and I can explain. For me feeling at home is when I found that group of people that I not only want to have around me for talking, drinking and going out, but to be on the sofa doing nothing…together!
I may still have a lot of big things to achieve as I dream many peoples dream, but I am happy that at least I made a new place my home. Probably not the last one, as academia is a box full of surprises. If you too have chosen to follow it….C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S! You are one hell of a courageous person and if I can not help you with your research I can at least offer you a temporary home by my side.
To all the fish out of the water… there is a school ready to be yours!
Nic Fleming, Nature 609, 425-427 (2022). doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-022-02155-3