Wednesday, February 28, 2007

How the heck did I get here?

Ok, so I realize to date the blog has not been very informative about the whole expat experience. I could go on with pretty pictures and informational tidbits that you could get on your own by thumbing through a Lonely Planet guide. But some of you having been bugging me to know how am American living in the States managed to meet up with a French guy living in Paris, and THEN how the two of them decided not only to move in together, but in MEXICO???

Not at all planned and completely outside of all expectations for both of us.

Not a satisfying answer, eh? Especially for those of you who may be in a similar situation, but still trying to decided whether to take the plunge or not. Sorry, you'll have to bear with me.

The meeting up isn't so odd. We both work in the same field and a colleague introduced us several years ago. We hit it off, but only in the professional sense and never did any socializing apart from a couple of conferences and some research based email exchanges. However, I had an extended stay in Mexico for a dissertation writing grant, where we both do our archaeological research, and we had time to get to know each other outside of the professional setting. It was one of those things where we just knew right away. We ended up dating in Mexico until my grant was up and then I spent some time in France (thanks to another writing grant). I returned to my university in the US after for a semester, but by then we had decided that M. X would request to be transferred to Mexico for a couple of years so that we could live together. I don't speak much French and don't really have many contacts over there yet. He doesn't speak a lot of English and has a mortgage that he is still paying in France so him quitting his (dream) job in Paris with the hope that I might find a job in the US that could support the both of us seemed equally ridiculous (in my field the average minimum length for job searches is 3 years). So, Mexico seemed like a good option for us both. He would have a job that pays enough for us to live, and I would at least have opportunities to find work after finishing my PhD (and this will hopefully happen in a couple of months). The only big hanging question is what happens in two years when his job will require him to back to Paris. Do we stay here, meaning he would have to change jobs? Do we go to France, meaning I would have to start all over again professionally (assuming I find something here to begin with)?

This wasn't an easy decision to make and that's no thanks to a lot of naysayers who either fall into the camp of 1) why would you want to live in the "Wasteland" (i.e., outside of the United States)? or 2) So, you've given up on having a career then, eh?

The first group is sort of easy to ignore, I just tell them: get out a bit more! The US has its good and bad points, but so does everywhere else. It's just matter of personal choice. If living abroad isn't for you, cool. But don't assume that that holds for everyone (and I can always come back to visit).

The second group is a little trickier to deal with. I think in part its because, in my case, this perspective subtly incorporates a bit of the first group's philosophy, albeit sometimes at a level that is subconscious even to that person themself. I say this because it is only Americans who have mentioned this concern to me (and let me be clear that not all of the Americans I have talked to about this feel this way). People in Mexico (Mexicans and French expats) and France (French and Latin American expats) have been either enthusiastically supportive or at minimum at least didn't do a double take when I mentioned the plan. Probably because many of them have made similar choices in their lives. I should also mention the Latin American and European expats I've talked to in the States have also been encouraging. So maybe one's position on the "the giving up of the career" argument is in part influenced by personal experience.

This is not to say that it is not an issue I think about/worry about. I had to weigh my options carefully when I decided whether to make the move to Mexico and to be with M. X . But the fact is I am very happy with him, we want to be together, and each of us has decided to do whatever is within their ability that will help us as a couple. For the moment our best options are Mexico and then France. I agree to move. He agrees to help me make contacts and be supportive of the fact it is not an easy process for me. We both agree to remember why we are making this choice.

To me the real issue here is deciding on the balance I want between my personal and professional lives, and the issue of changing countries is really secondary. Of course this dilemma is a common one today, it is a highly personal, and I don't think anyone should feel pressured by the choices others have made. I think both are important to my happiness. However, I also personally do not believe that I can "have it all". I can't be a perfect researcher, perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect fulfilled individual wholeheartedly pursuing my personal interests. I can do some of these things, maybe a bit of each them, but not all. That would require me to be at least 400% of a person. And I can't be with M. X if we each live on separate continents.

I am a sharp person, and enjoy my research, but do not want my career to be the main driver of my life. Not everyone will feel the same way. That's ok, I don't live their life and they don't live mine. Also, the reality of the academic job search is hard. There are a lot of us who want to get paid for doing interesting but, in a practical sense, not highly useful research that is not in demand. I also want to have a family with M. X, but also don't want my life to revolve around him and our children. I want to pursue interests like photography and writing that don't earn me a dime, but simply make me happy. Yet I want the comfort of loving family and know that to get that I have to give as well. So it's really more like juggling aspects of your persona. At times, some will be more important than others. And at times some will require more of your time and effort than others. And I think that's ok. That's reality. I should admit I am a person who has always preferred that the future be open and (at least a little bit murky). I like change and I believe people have facets, not all of which are visible at the same time.

To conclude, someone once told me to think of your life as a sailboat crossing the sea. You can't control the currents or winds. What you can do is change your tack to navigate those obstacles as best you can in more or less the direction you want to go. You can only travel in a straight line that way, so to get long-distance from point A to point B you may have to change your tack, zigging and zagging back and forth many times depending on those outside forces. This means there are an infinite number of possible courses to reach the same destination. Each time you change, you're headed in a slightly different direction with new choices that may not have been apparent or available before. These may lead you to new discoveries on the way. However, if you truly know where you ultimately want to end up, and are willing to be flexible and patient, you'll get there one day. Or maybe not, but at least you'll have an interesting (and hopefully enjoyable) voyage.

(If you've made it this far, thanks for bearing with me. I realize this rant was pretty abstract. I'll try to keep things more focused in the future, but I had a few things to get off my chest)

1 comment:

kristi said...

I don't think it was a rant at all! I think you are wonderful, and of course we will all get to where it is we are supposed to be... somehow, someday. We already are, really...
love you!