It already makes one year that I’ve started my PhD here in Scotland, so in order to pay tribute to the amazing time I’ve had so far, I will first express myself on a personal note, before writing a post related to my research.
A jump in the unknown
One year ago, I arrived in Edinburgh to start my PhD at the Centre of Social Informatics within the Institute of Informatics and Digital Innovation (IIDI) at the Edinburgh Napier University. An entire year might seem to be a long time to some people, but to me, these twelve months passed at warp speed.
One year ago, my life has totally changed, since I left behind my work and my colleagues, my friends and my family, my flat and my hometown; in short, my country. It was my choice of course. However, it was also a jump in the unknown. In fact, it wasn’t completely my choice, I would rather specify that it was my decision to say ‘yes’ to what Life had unexpectedly put in front me: to start a PhD in Scotland. I’ve always had the intention to visit this beautiful land, thinking that it would make a nice destination for holidays, but never did it cross my mind that I would live here one day. I did consider to start a PhD a few years ago, but after having failed to make my wish come true in Amsterdam (for severe health issues), I pushed this idea to the back of my mind, considering that it was just a nice dream which already belonged to the past.
I was wrong.
The force of the network
A fortunate look at my LinkedIn group newsletters one morning, allowed me to come across one ad that immediately caught my attention: a full-time studentship was offered to PhD candidates by the School of Computing at Edinburgh Napier University within the Center of Social Informatics directed by the Professor Hazel Hall, in areas related to ‘knowledge management‘ and ‘information sciences‘, my professional fields…
As much as the idea of going to Scotland seemed illusory at the time, I felt deep inside that there was ‘something’ there, that couldn’t simply be dismissed. It took me two weeks to decide if I would apply, as I first needed to check if my application was likely to go through the selection process, and if those who are close to me were opened to the possibility that I would actually establish myself in the UK. Finally, I had two weeks left to submit my thesis proposal and application, (taking into account that I was working and busy during the week-ends). To my surprise, I was invited for an interview, and as I couldn’t adjust my schedule to meet the professors face-to-face in Edinburgh, I had no other choice but to do it via Skype.
I will never forget how much I was worried about the risk of not being able to understand what would be discussed (not only for the content of my thesis, but also for being able to understand the varied English accents, something I was expecting to be quite challenging, or any technical issues that could occur in the middle of the talk). It was a weird feeling to see these five professors talking to me while I was sitting in my kitchen (even more weird to discover the room where the interview actually did occur afterwards), but the funniest anecdote that I will never forget is how I tried to (hopefully) look properly dressed up on the visible and upper part of my body, while I was actually dressed in a home edition, and barefoot. Fortunately, I didn’t have to stand up during the meeting, and had the good idea to quickly remove my cookbooks just before being logged in…
The moment of choice
I was at work when I received the e-mail from the Director of IIDI, and could hardly believe what I was reading: I was being offered a full-time studentship to start my PhD in Edinburgh, starting in October 2014. Needless to say that I was feeling exhilarated by the news! Following my partner’s advice, I still allowed myself to sleep over it before confirming my will to accept the offer and move on with the expatriation process.
This moment was the most important one to my eyes, because I could still say ‘no, thanks but actually no, I rather keep on with my life…‘, but when I did put myself in the position of saying ‘yes’ (a simple but efficient Gestalt technique), I felt like a powerful life stream was going through my back, inviting me to just let go, to go with the flow. Even though I was well aware of what it meant (to leave everything behind me, and deal with all the administrative, concrete and emotional efforts it would imply in the three months to follow), even though I had no idea where I would land, even though I was scared by the unknown, I intuitively knew, that it was the right decision to take. Some may call it an act of faith, for me, it was simply saying yes to Life. And of course, I didn’t regret it…
Where the magic happens
The price to pay for the happiness I’ve gained, was to accept to be away from those I love. Not an easy choice at a first sight, but when I recall all these years where I’ve been desperately longing for a major change to happen (which implicitly meant that it had to be abroad), and when I realise that my life has indeed improved so greatly in so many levels since then, my heart is filled with gratitude.
‘Magic happens out of our comfort zone‘, to quote the famous (and anonymous?) saying. Indeed, this year has been magical, despite the inevitable ups and downs that one needs to face on a daily basis. As soon as I stepped out of the plane, I knew that I was home. A feeling quickly confirmed (if needed) by the gigantic ad that one can admire when coming out of Edinburgh airport that simply writes ‘this is home’.
I can’t emphasize enough how much my life has improved since I arrived in Edinburgh. I live in a beautiful flat (3d floor, with a view on Arthur seat, the castle and the Meadows), in the lovely area named Marchmont (feels like living in an old village, a bit like Greenwich in NYC, but without the noise), only twenty minutes walk from the university campus (no need to endlessly commute in public transports anymore); I work with such great and so friendly colleagues with whom I’m happy to share my student life, including the over-heated room and the drinks (wink).
I’m fortunate enough to be supervised by my amazing director of studies whose reputation and academic expertise are as big as her loving support and kindness, and lucky enough to benefit from a second supervisor whose wise advises and endless trust in my abilities are certainly comforting; my health has improved as I’ve discovered the unexpected joy of going to the gym (it’s amazing how many fitness one can find here in this city), and my finances, despite the rather low income we get with our studentship, is better than it has ever been, since I finally managed to get out of my financial struggles in Switzerland. Oh, and let’s not forget the proximity of nature, the beauty of landscapes, the seagulls that remind me that nope, I’m not dreaming, I really do live next to the sea (!), the kindness of Scottish people that I keep on finding disarming, and last but not least, my recent engagement with my partner who will join me here, hopefully very soon.
Of course, this new life isn’t always smooth and easy: to undertake a PhD is a challenge by itself, the topic I chose isn’t quite easy to grasp (but which one is?), moreover I have no choice but to do it in English. And even so, it is unbelievable how much I have learned in one year (more of these learning outcomes will be presented in my next post).
The future remains unknown, but I’m not afraid of it. Despite the fact that I’m not sure why I’ve landed here, I’m actually excited and curious to find it out. In such environment, in such magical city, in such a sacred land, surrounded by so many beautiful people, I suspect things are likely to go pretty well.