Wednesday, 5 November 2014

#PhD awakening: life at the #OU and in UK

After a chaotic month, where I seem to have hibernated (well, autumnated?) immersed in data collecting, my mind suddenly switched back on again. There still seems to be a lot of PhD work that needs to be done (plan interviews, analyse first data batch, dance to get my body moving), but it is time to reflect and share again.

At the end of this blog I have added a presentation for all who want to become a post-graduate student at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK. But first a brief insight in Life as a PhD student at the OU.

Switching identities 
In the past year and a half I switched from a well paid full-time, international job to a scholarship at the OU where I started as a student again. In order to study, I moved to the UK (Stony Stratford). This switch resulted in changes, some anticipated, some quite surprising. One of the surprising one's was the fact that I felt my identity was no longer straight forward. It had shifted from 'someone who knows' to 'a starting student who has a lot to learn', evidently there is a saying which I believe in (and paraphrasing heavily): the more we know the less we know... but although I knew this saying, actually experiencing a change in external and internal image resulted in profound reflections on importance, work as an identity provider, and the need to be seen as 'someone who knows' (for me that is). This realisation made me humble again, and more understanding for people who experience these shifts due to life's sudden realities: pensioners, immigrants, ... people that need to pick up a new life, away from what they felt was 'normal' and part of them.

Me, the foreigner
The fact that I moved to another country where I would be seen as a 'foreigner' as soon as I spoke in my Flemish English voice, also resulted in some new experiences. For some people it never matters where you are from, you are just you. Luckily, in the past I have encountered many of those people, mostly because they are also part of the world, and have had multiple continent experiences. For others a foreign accent tend to rouse suspicion, most of the time that suspicion would diminish as soon as I mentioned I would be a 'Belgian'. Which is also strange, as one is never as much a Belgian as in another country. The culture and social do's and don't's are of course different (like all countries these 'normal behavior guidelines' are never outspoken, yet explicitly present) and it takes a while to get used to the differences. How come the interpretation of normal is so different for all of us? And why is different so threatening to some people? We are all constantly changing, our bodies and minds are seldom similar from one day to another, yet difference is such a manipulated concept.

Family under the microscope
When you move to another country with your family, you can bet on it that your relationship will come under additional pressure. Suddenly the social security of family, friends, and even acquaintances is no longer ready and available. You need to survive in the new environment relying on your partner and child/ren. In my case that means tackling extra discussions, because all of our joint personal characteristics got gigantic! There was no way we could voice our personal complaints to others while drinking coffee/tea/beer/wine... it was just us. Frustration became a recurrent feeling, until we accepted once again what each of us stood for. We realized why we were partners, why at some point we choose for each other: "with all our qualities and defaults". This was a crucial step in our mutual family relationship: suddenly - and more then ever - we accepted who we were. We saw each other under a microscope, yelled, complained, and made up with the realization that we were indeed stronger then before.

Stagnate or go for change?
As all these experiences still boggle my mind from time to time, and life's certainties seem to be broken down on a daily basis, I often wonder: is it worth it? The change in life? Becoming a student once again? Because the future is uncertain, my age is quickly approaching 50 (WHAT!) and that gives me an additional strange feeling of doubt.

Yes, it is. Oh yes! It is so worth all the tension, the adaptations, the new reflections, the uncertainties, the feeling of doubt and the realization of the really important things in life. But, I have to add that I am in a rather luxurious position: I do have someone to come home to, I know people that I can depend on, and I have a home somewhere on this planet that I can call my own. So, I can actually make this choice, and the choice is not thrust upon me.

Get your proposal in and become a PhD student yourself

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