It’s officially been over a year since I moved to Helsinki. Whew.
It has certainly been a challenging and rewarding year for this American ex-pat. It’s amazing how much can change in one year, isn’t it? I’ve met a lot of really amazing people and experienced my first real taste of loss. I’ve adjusted to life in Helsinki, gotten a job and kept on top of my studies. I’ve secured a primary AND secondary thesis supervisor, have a somewhat solid thesis topic and have structured my time in such a way that I will likely complete my thesis mid-spring. I’ve visited new countries, tried new things, made mistakes and somehow still manage to wake up each day to tackle new challenges.
I think the most striking thing to me about this past year is how much I have changed. I like to think that I am seen as a relatively organized and driven person, so the aforementioned experiences shouldn’t really be too surprising to you, my dear reader. Physically, I’ve stayed pretty much the same (as I have been since I was a junior in high school), but it’s the subtle changes that I’ve experienced that are probably the most interesting, most controversial and mostly none of your business. Since this is the digital age and I am the owner of this here blog, it’s clear that I’ve waived my right to complain about the lack of privacy since I basically broadcast my thoughts, ideas and personal life to anyone that can type my name into Google. Cool, right?
So what are these changes? Why am I making such a big deal about this? Well, for starters, these are the things that people usually don’t ask you about. People in the U.S. see you and ask “How are you?” without usually actually expecting a detailed response. After my grandfather passed away, I got a lot of these questions, to which I mostly responded that I was “fine” or “hanging in there,” but I was pretty torn up about it. Things have gotten better, but it took me a few months to really feel like myself again. Talking about the subtle changes that happen throughout the course of one’s life simply aren’t casual conversation centerpieces. Thank goodness for blogs and bloggers that are comfortable speaking candidly about their very personal experiences, right?
For starters, my speech pattern and pronunciation have changed a bit since coming here. I annunciate more purposefully and adjust my inflection so that I am better understood by those around me. I don’t really notice the changes much until I speak with someone from back home and realize that I slip back into my somewhat lazy pronunciation and very Midwestern way of speaking.
Living in Finland has allowed me to reflect upon my status as an American citizen and what it means in a larger context. I’ve been told countless times that I am not a “typical American,” whatever that means. Is this a compliment? Insult? Should I take pride in the lack of nationalistic proclamations in my daily vernacular ? I am not sure. But I do know that I’ve grown increasingly more frustrated by a lot of things in the U.S. The things happening in Ferguson regarding the shooting of Michael Brown are unacceptable, the way that the Chicago Police Department has dealt with crime and construing actual crime statistics is unacceptable, the human rights violations that continue to occur on the U.S./Mexico border and in the Middle East, among other places, are unacceptable, and I could go on and on.
As an American living abroad, there are often situations where I am expected to take the blame for my country’s shortcomings. There are also scenarios where I may not be as informed about a particular issue as other people and my Americanness is called into question. But that’s the price I pay for a luxurious European lifestyle, right? I’ve received criticism in the past for openly discussing my experiences regarding identity formation and change, but I will not apologize for them. I think that reflection is an integral part of the growth process. How else can you learn and move forward? I should clarify that I am happy to be an American citizen, but also that I find ideas of nationalism somewhat problematic. I don’t believe that being of a certain nationality makes you worth more or less than another person, though I probably wouldn’t jump at the chance to become a Canadian citizen if it meant losing my American citizenship…
I am aware that my place in the world as a white, male American is a privileged position, and it is from this position that I approach my research. I am a firm believer in the field of ethnographic research, especially as one of its main features is the reflexivity of the researcher. It is through this reflexivity that a researcher is able to remain transparent, address biases and limitations, and open the discussion to other people for future research.
I feel more confident and I am adjusting to my role as an “academic in training.” However, I don’t know that the life of an academic is necessarily the life for me. While I enjoy researching and the view from the ivory tower is quite enticing, I fear that I would eventually get bored unless I was able to set a lot of my own rules. I am still planning to apply to a few Ph.D programs anyway, but applications don’t necessarily mean admittance, admittance doesn’t necessarily mean that funding comes along with it and funding doesn’t necessarily mean that starting a Ph.D at the age is 24 is necessarily for me. I have a lot of thinking to do.
The prospect of staying in Europe is very attractive to me, even as many of my friends in Chicago get promotions and nicer apartments and go on trips. I never really thought that a traditional transition from undergrad to “real life” would be for me, but I never could have guessed that my version would take me to Finland. I may have sacrificed some of my potential professional network in coming to Finland, but my personal network continues to grow and I now have friends all over the world. I definitely wouldn’t trade that for a LinkedIn endorsement.
One of the most difficult things that I’ve had to learn in my life thus far is so accept that I wasn’t blessed with the power to see into the future, so I guess I’ll just have to hold on extra tight and enjoy the ride until I end up at my next destination.