It has been 10 months since I left to work in the US and a few since I came back to Europe. I have wanted to write a summary of these times for a while and share my photos. These things take their time, but now is good to get it underway.
I was reminded of the States again when I saw a picture of myself in the airplane, on route to Newark, taken last year’s August. It had someone that had much to look forward to, by leaving for another continent, it felt. Indeed, afterwards, I am very happy that I did. The six months – less than was intended – managed to give more new insights that would have surely transpired otherwise. It takes time to get to used to a new everyday life in another country. But it was a good experience in so doing.
Let me start with the work side. In Finland, for the last couple of years, I did my research mainly alone and my research project in the US was really the same. There was a group in Princeton around my work that met regularly, so I was certainly already integrated through that. And nothing should undermine the effect of this Ivy League had to the research work. One might admit that, back in Finland, I was a little bit struggling with my career and funding. In practice, for some two years no-one was just accepting my applications albeit I had gotten a PhD well enough. I’d thus end up, luckily not unemployed, but in the 2-4 months’ project loop, where you do what others tell you to do and that tends to lead to little continuity. Yet, a few weeks in this US University, my research funding applications were thick with ambition and tellingly, all of them were successful later. Why did this happen? At this point, I had not yet had given my papers to anyone. I had met a few people, but all in all, maybe it was also a matter of being there and absorbing the culture: like hearing people talk and observing the place. I am not even sure how that works. I would have returned to Finland with years of research funding after Princeton, if I had returned. But I did not, of course, as I am now living in the UK similarly with a longer project. So overall I was much better off when I ended my stay in the US than when it started. It was probably a risk worth taking (i.e. leaving for another continent, for just 10 months, with no future work that you know about).
Another, most tangible memory that has stayed with me from the US was just how friendly and kindly all my colleagues and new friends were, even if they hardly knew or could have known me before. This was something, somehow different than just politeness. If I’d mention to someone I was looking to travel, they’d forward me offers and send me thorough trip suggestions every week. One person popped up in my office very often to chat. We did not work together nor know each other in any other way than meeting there in the work place. You could get into some pretty personal discussions with other parents you met in a park. A student once asked me and I and he would go to the bar and movies together. And when I moved, a coworker took some of my stuff to her basement and promised she can sell it after wards. That was very kind for all I know the stuff is still sitting there.
To sum, the States was perhaps one of the first – I hope not last – my experiences of not doing one thing and being considered another thing (by someone who, for their higher position in some hierarchy, supposedly knows better). In practice, I was the postdoc who was often in his office and worked a lot and was pretty nice to people. That is what I tried to do and that is what people saw in me for all I know. New York City, close to Princeton, was something of an expression of this feeling just by walking on the street.
I am no longer in the States, for the next three years, and am enjoying another new work place in GB. But when I think about it, I wish to go back some day.
Following collects some of the pictures I took, divided to a cities near where we lived.