Last November, I briefly visited Boston to give a lecture at Northeastern University, my alma mater where I got my Ph.D. degree. The last time I was there was four and a half years ago to defend my dissertation. It felt like “Homecoming” for me this time, when I visited my old university after such a long time.
Upon arrival, I realized that the University actually did not get older in a sense, but got younger with a fast-developing campus. I also knew beforehand that it was in an era of upward mobility when it came to the national university rankings. I had never thought that having an academic degree from a University was like buying shares in the stock market, and that my diploma would become more valuable over such a short time but it did. I was glad to be going back firstly to take a look at my University after four years, but also to take a look at my academic self and the road I have travelled so far since getting my Ph.D.
Observing the campus impressed me, but I was prepared for that already. I enjoyed walking through the old and unchanged areas as much as I enjoyed walking the new parts of campus, trying to go back in my mind and remember what used to be in their place when I was a student there. If there was one thing I was not quite prepared for, that was observing my academic self in the midst of that campus where I used to walk in sneakers and with a backpack, now standing as an assistant professor in my high heels.
There were also a few things I wanted to do while on campus. Firstly, I wanted to attend some graduate classes. I was longing for the state of my graduate student curious mind, and I wanted to get back in those shoes especially after the last 16 months or so where I have both taught and worked in an administrative role. Due to conflicts of schedules, I was not able to fulfill my wish, but facing the need to feel like a graduate student again made me realize my long-time overlooked need to learn instead of just to teach and thus to revive my neglected research agenda.
Then, I wanted to see as many of my old professors as I could and I was able to realize this. While I would often be in my professors’ offices during their office hours when I was a student there, asking for feedback on class assignments or reporting on my TA duties, and also often complaining about what the University did or did not do for the students, this time I was role sharing with them and talking about more professional issues. It suddenly dawned on me that it was not them but it was me who had changed and who was walking in different shoes today.
Of course I also still had friends back in Boston and at Northeastern. My quest for rejoining with them was overshadowed by one very classical trait of the American society, which I had forgotten but which was actually one of the reasons why I did not seek to stay in the US upon completion of my Ph.D. degree: not having space for spontaneity and not having time for people in the midst of crazy schedules. With a few exceptions, almost all my friends, (who are mostly academics or non-academic working people with Ph.D.s) were extra busy and unavailable for an evening out. I, who was there for such a short time had to juggle my very limited schedule to be able to meet with them and settle for a coffee break of half an hour (which by my Mediterranean cultural –specific standards is not enough to even answer the question “How have you been?”). Yet, I actually was not upset about that, as I know this is not something personal, this is how the system works there. I saw those people whom I could see and listened to their academic stories with curiosity.
At that point, I actually realized three things. One: I did not regret leaving Boston because I never wanted my life to be all consumed in a professional self. Two: Hearing difficulties faced by my academic friends in the US and drawing similarities in between made it easier for me to face the academic difficulties in my country. Three: When homecoming is a success, you can cherish your way back.
Itir is a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.