I have been in Roskilde for almost two weeks now. The initial euphoria of coming here has faded leaving me with lots of questions. I wonder whose idea it was to have visiting scholars. Why do people drive on the right side of the road? I probably could find out from Wikipedia and Google. Being away from home can be one of the most uncomfortable things to do. I hear people miss their bed, for me when it has rained I have missed the comfort of driving to wherever I want to go. Don’t get me wrong the public transport system here is great, buses are on time and so is the train but who wants to wait for a bus in the rain. Add onto that the disappointment of a 13 degree Celsius ‘summer’ which feels more like winter to this sub-Saharan human being.
Basically my life has been feeling like that 1967 Swedish morning when they switched from driving on the left to the right. Thankfully that traffic jam did not last long. I realised that I have a short time in this place and despite the discomfort of life going in the opposite direction to what I am used to, life is happening and I could miss out if I didn’t get on with the program. I also realise what is possible, Sweden decided to turn around their flow of traffic forever. I can turn around the flow of traffic in my life forever.
I find good answers to some of my questions come from the activities I have been a part of this week at Roskilde University. Monday began with a work in progress seminar (WIP). This is a space where PhDs provide writing support for each other in the form of reading and commenting on drafts of papers for conference or thesis chapters. So one person submits a paper a week before the meeting for everyone to read and during the meeting the paper is discussed, and feedback is given. I was glad that the paper we discussed on Monday was in an area I am working in, migration however from a different context. So I could relate it to my work but I also had a lot of things to learn. Also this was a conference paper that the author now wants to convert to a thesis chapter. Since I began my PhD I have written conference papers and a question in my mind as I begin to pull these together for my thesis has been what is the difference between a conference paper, journal article and a thesis chapter? So I enjoyed the discussions on the paper and especially on incorporating it into a thesis chapter. I also like this blog by Patter although it is talking about the difference between a book chapter and a thesis chapter it gives a very good idea about what a thesis chapter should look like.
So that was the great start to my week. I also enjoyed that the meeting did not drag on for long. Everyone was on point with their feedback on the paper, the discussions were all purposeful and aware of time. This was the last meeting for the semester so each person also briefly reflected on the seminars. One of the key reflections was on attendance, which dwindled as the semester progressed. A suggestion I intend to take back home with me, we have a similar set up fortnightly in my department, is for those who cannot be present to send in written comments. Another key takeaway is the commitment to keep the space as a work in progress, so that there is no pressure to submit polished work, which would also guard against the space becoming competitive.
Wednesday afternoon I attended a research meeting where I was given feedback on my work. I submitted a paper when I arrived here. It could be very intimidating to sit in a room with nine people taking apart your work but I must say that it was nothing like standing before a firing squad. I enjoyed hearing my work being read from a different standpoint. It was interesting to see how concepts have different meanings in different places. In the paper I submitted I talk about artists, participants in my study that create artworks such as music and poetry. For my readers artist meant a person formally trained in art, which is far from what the people I was referring to are. Anyway like I reflected on conferences here a while ago, the meeting was very useful and I only wish I could have more opportunities as this one. However this is the end of the semester and that was again the last meeting. So this has been a good week of meeting people and some writing although not as consistently as I would have loved.
When all is said and done being in a new place, navigating life in a foreign language has its perks. If not for the discomfort that makes you realise what great comforts your home holds for you, it has great opportunities to learn and see from a different point of view. I just have to remember to look left and then right before I cross the road. Such a small change but I keep getting it wrong because for more than three decades I have always looked right then left before I cross the road. Till next Friday then!