Very often over the last five years, my friends from the academia have kept me informed about their changes of affiliation, towns, countries and continents. The contracts for their projects are limited to a couple of months or years (in the happiest scenario), and in-between projects they are on high alert for securing their next professional step: tensed months of job hunting, preparations and hopes for interviews, documenting and writing new projects (at times in areas of research they are not familiar with, but with high chances to benefit from proper funding). In many cases, the changes affect other members of their family that follow them, creating their own professional challenges.
The expat life could be both thrilling and extremely complicated. While learning a new language and entering into the life of a different culture are in general lifelong benefits and enviable experiences, the time required to attain a certain familiarity with your immediate environment might take longer and isn’t always smooth. The professional wanderings through the world could affect your social life significantly. And, at the end of the day, academics or not, we are social animals, aren’t we?
Beyond the daily life, there are other serious aspects at stake. For me, a symptomatic example of the consequences of the financial shortages (directly connected with decision-making processes at political level) to the academic life is the situation that occurred recently in the area of history and political science. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, a plethora of positions, chairs, foundations and academic research centers were created in Western Europe. As the process of EU and NATO integration to the East was on a good track, and the wars devastated the former Yugoslavia, the interest moved slowly to Eastern Europe. But, less than five years ago, the funding for many centers dealing with this area closed their doors one by one, or limited considerably the scale of the activities. The new names of the academic research games are now Caucasus and Middle East.
In a way, I can understand this approach: academic research, especially in the area of human sciences, should be connected to daily realities. But, at the same time, the expertise in a certain area is the result of long years of immersion in the culture and history, language learning and academic networking. There is no chance to reinvent a scholar from one day to another, as the academic training would be as easy as a crash course about almost everything. Hence, I consider plainly offensive the idea that if you are outperforming in one area the doors to performance in other areas of study are widely open. In such cases, the doors are equally open for scholars to leave the academia.
I am a fierce supporter of connecting academia with the real life and I would always pledge for a practical training of students, pushing them outside the theoretical walls. A good political analyst, for example, should have a practical knowledge of the ways in which public institutions and political parties are working on a daily basis. But, on the other hand, I can’t stop being worried about the mounting threats academia is facing from the real world (the economically unstable climate, to name one of them). Would it be a good suggestion for decision makers to spend a couple of months in academia, in order to comprehend the mechanisms of that domain?
Ana Dinescu is a regular contributor to University of Venus and a PhD candidate in history at the Faculty of History, University of Bucharest, with a background in Political Science. She has been a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.