I literally crossed the sea to meet all of you again.
I go to work with good intent to do various things but just mainly end up printing my tickets to reach the ferry terminal in time. The lines in the ferry are long and I have brought a bit too much to read. I end up skimming through the introduction to a book related to my presentation and a thesis of the main organizer that I have promised to read. Alone in the streets of another city and checking into the hotel, I have a few hours in my hotel room. I also cross the university I am headed to on my way and consider for a while whether I would go there to read in the cafeteria.
I finally decide to walk to the university, which is just one block from my hotel, half an hour before time to be punctual. Barking into the room where the first lecture takes place, find two guys who speak English. They are however just operating the camera. Then to the university cafeteria to have a tea. Someone glances at me from the other table. As the drink ends and I am not sure if the place is still open, I eventually go to sit in the (quite magnificent) lobby of the university. Someone that looks susceptibly familiar as well as a Finn walks by and seems to recognize me but does not come to talk yet.
I go to the seminar room again and there are still the camera operators and no-one else. It is now what I believe to be 15 minutes to the start of the lecture albeit the real start is 15 past so I am actually 30 minutes early. Pick a seat pretty far back. Five minutes go and what seems to be the speaker walks in. I do not know him yet so I do not go introduce myself just now. Then one of my acquaintances from a conference over one year ago walks in. As far as I recall, we know each other from sharing a breakfast table and a talk for 10 minutes in the same hostel albeit there have been a few emails more recently because of this seminar and he interviewed me as part of the event with a web camera.
He walks to gently greet me and the result is what this conference is going to be like many times. Namely, I am talking to people I have literally almost just met as I if I already knew them very well. The person I mentioned earlier in this marking also walks in and takes a seat in front of me, asks who I am by my real first name. Turns out she was at my doctoral defence and a colleague of others I know in Helsinki. Then the rest of the seminar presenters arrive after sharing a cab. There are hugs in the front but I’m too far in the aback to join as there are quite a few people now in the audience. One of them, though, to whom I have written long emails over our common ideas leaves the room and enters again and as I wave my hand, crosses rows of chairs over to ask how I am.
The keynote speaker provides an excellent long presentation. Later we all head for a dinner. I can just repeat the experience I noted earlier: End up discussing with everyone like I know them and who knows maybe I do in a way. After all, we obviously share a lot, maybe it is just a sentiment of doing a similar thing and being networked. Based on this, I could strongly claim there are friendships within networks, there are needs of being in contact with someone, and there is clear respect (I notice I agree with one of the persons from the seminar all the time, all of her ideas are so well crafted and based on close actual reading of what academics meant.) As a result I too end up being I feel very different from what I am at home. For example, I am not that sure that I ever or at least that often compliment anyone, make public jokes, start chatting with strangers, and here I am doing all of that abroad and it works. To be clear there are also all the usual limitations and obstacles. To pick some examples I can think of: You cannot or at least should not try to dominate seminar discussions; other people may find you irritating at times; others may make light-hearted jokes about you in a company; if you make points that are not good and clear, no-one will think they are clever. But that’s fine if 90% of the time everything feels like it works. I am obviously not against the limitations of social life but am against that becoming your everyday life all the time.
All in all, the very nice experiences of this conference continue throughout the three days. I repeat just some for the sake of illustrating and maybe making a point: this is how academic socializing can and maybe should go, if everyone is just up to it. One, am feeling a bit guilty that I did not introduce myself to a PhD student during the first night’s dinner so I take the opportunity during the break in the seminar. Several times after this, during the coffee breaks, we find each other chatting, which is great because I am usually not very keen at going into conversations during such breaks (it often feels a bit forced which it should not because everyone is in the same situation as you are). Two, returning after the last day, one participant walks with me to a bus stop and ends up just during this 10 minute talk sharing experiences about job seeking that are most valuable at this point for me. That practically no-one tells me these things may be revealing.
Three, during the days I manage to tell what I think my work is like and about my uncertainties concerning a career. I always seem to get first a get a long pensive look and then valuable support. One could easily find this impressive. Namely, in effect, one could really claim that I am just complaining and not realizing “what the game is like”. However there is no arrogance nor avoidance of difficult issues anywhere here. Could not academic life be like that all the time?
I will now not go to the details of the content, suffice to say, I learn a lot. A field called “ecological anthropology” may relate very closely to what I am doing. Some also say that anthropology is a very open discipline that welcomes outsiders too and at least these three days confirmed that experience in every possible way.
Maybe what matters now for the purpose of this marking is what just happened then. The seminars ends at noon and my ship leaves at around 18:00. We consider some final get-together but the others need to work and I start to feel like I need to take a walk. (This is a choice I often find myself taking; I know what it’s like like not to be part of things so when I am more included, I try to work my best not to impose my company.) So one last time say goodbye to everyone with hugs.
I end up taking a pleasant and pensive walk around Tallinn where the seminar is. In Kalasadam I am so impressed by the buildings that I text the person I live with that we should really find a place and move there. Next to the railway station I visit a market place that is all what I remember such market places to be like. At the railway station I visit a big grocery store (that was not there before) to buy a soda and a bun. In the line there’s a baby that is shyly looking at me, very much like our daughter, then gets almost over-enthusiastic when I smile back at her. Certainly this is something I would not have noticed before having a family. I finally am back in the old part of Tallinn and recall how much I’ve been here with my family as a teenager. Maybe there’s some good in visiting more often.
I end my visit to a big record store and seem to enjoy being in one for the first time in many years. Over the sea I already miss the event and the people and know that as per motivation, my academic career has just gotten a one year extension.