OK. I know that I am just doing a Masters and there are still many more hours in the library, boring speeches and black bat wing robes that stand between me and actually being called an academic but you know, let’s not get caught up in the details here people.
There are some definite advantages to being a foreign academic here in Oulu.
I can doing any weird thing and it’s almost alright EVEN if it would’ve been weird where I’m from. No one else here knows what’s “normal” behaviour where I am from. For all they know, it’s totally normal to skip through the university corridors where I am from (it isn’t, I just get very antsy with sitting all day). A lot of things I do would get put in the “Oh, she must be a foreigner” box.
You get all the advantages of being a student: half price train and bus tickets, reduced cost cafeteria food, long holidays, less tax even though every one else your age back home is out in the world with a real job paying full price for stuff. (Actually, where I am from, the students pay full price for stuff too).
The weather is TERRIBLE a lot of the time which gives me lots of reason to stay inside and read and write for my studies. Now, obviously one’s definition of TERRIBLE is a relative term. But as I am from sunny South Africa, any day that I am not able to see the sun for a minimum of two hours would be classed as TERRIBLE weather. And while Northerners are much more gracious with their definition of TERRIBLE weather, I normally am pushed to levels of academic productivity that astonish me. No sun to distract me. No beach sand to whisper becomingly to my toes. No picnics, hikes or paddles in the sea to take my mind off my readings. Focus is as focus does.
Due to an undiagnosed learning problem I really struggle with spelling, typing and some situations involving numbers. But when you are from another country and most of the people you know are from other countries, you can use the old “Oh that’s how they spell it in South Africa” And when they say “Really, you really spell ‘the’ as ‘teh’?” I just nod and walk away.
On a more serious and general note, because you do not share a history, culture, language etc with the place you are (if you are as very very very far away from your country as I am) you can be a bit more detached. You can listen to those who the society doesn’t always listen to. You can wonder about the silences. You can question the myths they tell themselves. You can see things and people who are invisible in that society. Whether that society in which you are studying wants to hear your voice and views is, however, another matter. Are you then being like an invited dinner guest who comments on the untidy kitchen while eating the food served to you? Or is it more complicated than that?