“He’s a tourist. He vacations in people’s lives, takes pictures, puts them in his scrapbook, and moves on. All he’s interested in are stories.”
-Ron Swanson, Parks & Rec.
I often catch myself counting down until we move onto our next location/postdoc/fellowship/tenure whatever it may be. I assume this is something that happens to many academics, as most, if not all, of the funding is based on a certain time frame. Recently, we met up with some friends we made when we lived in Colorado who also work in academia. Their research took them to Wisconsin, and when we saw them, the first topic of conversation was on time.
“How long will you be there for, what’s next, have you applied for more grants, do you think you’ll be able to stay, where do you want to go next?” These are all familiar questions and scenarios for people in academia, and often, it leaves their families with no roots.
No roots can lead to no connections, and a bad habit of not letting people into one’s life. A feeling of being a tourist in your own city; possibly meeting a couple people here or there, but not making an effort to build a relationship, because why bother? You’re moving in a year anyway.
The truth is, life in academia can lead to instability, especially for grad students, postdocs, and researchers. But an unstable future doesn’t mean you can’t make friends.
The challenge is to stop being a tourist, and start living.
Are you a tourist?
You might be a tourist if… You avoid getting involved.
School volunteer events, your kid’s classroom duties, birthday party socializing, etc. You go to church, but you’re not in a community group or you avoid any service projects. You know nothing about your city’s activities, festivals, silly traditions (black squirrel, anyone?)
You might be a tourist if…You don’t know your neighbor.
Alright, alright, I’ll let this one slide, but only a little bit. Everyone should know their neighbor, or at least say hi to them. Your neighbor is the best resource for information regarding your city. But more importantly, you need to make connections, and have someone who’s a local in your phone. If you get up and leave one day and no one knows, that’s a problem.
You might be a tourist if…You hold onto the past.
Comparing your current situation with your previous place, judging the city, people, housing, etc. is a dangerous mentality and can lead to feelings of depression, inadequacy and more. Every place will be different, and comparing or judging where you live will not help you adapt to your surroundings or grow roots.
You might be a tourist if…You don’t care what happens.
If you’re connected to a place, your roots grow deeper and you want to see it thrive. You’ll start seeking out local businesses and farmers markets, as a way to grow your community economically and care for your neighbors. You might even complain to the city if there’s a pothole that needs fixing (shout out to my mom!).
You might be a tourist if…You have a countdown.
Always thinking and planning for the next stage of your life is not how you live in the present. Be willing and open to new relationships regardless of how long you will be there. Stability is not an end in itself, it is present in the moment, and is always oriented to the health of your current place. If you focus on our relationships and connections to where you are right now, you can build roots and stability that will last even when you pack up and move on.
So go ahead and make your stories, but don’t forget to grow your roots too.
Speaking of roots, here’s Alice Merton, an American who grew up in Canada and now lives in Germany. Her song is called “No Roots.” Raise your hand if you can relate.🙋♀️