[This is the first part of a blog which discusses the challenges faced by research scholars from developing countries, with Indians dominating this diaspora, when they move abroad to pursue their careers and how such experiences enrich them.]
I often like to describe myself as a research nomad, without trying to romanticize the unsettled life researchers like me lead. Moving abroad for a postdoctoral experience seemed to be the next logical step after completing my PhD in India. With a very limited view of the world, mostly through the media and cinema, getting a fellowship to conduct postdoctoral research in Germany meant the immediate utopia of living in a developed country. I was excited and not bothered about the challenges I may have to face. Though this naivety may have helped me overcome the initial anxiety of change, preparing a little in advance for the challenges may have given a smoother start to my journey. But in all fairness, when I retrospectively contemplate my journey so far, I have more positives to look back at than negatives. I now not only have a sense of satisfaction on the professional front, but I also experienced a huge shift of perspective from my narrow-rimmed glasses.
Transition out of any comfort zone no doubt throws curve balls. However, challenges faced upon transiting from the third world into the developed countries of Europe, North America and Australia are quite different, and more in number, than crossing over amongst the northern Atlantic and the Down Under. Recognizing them is not only paramount for scholars like me, but also allows others to comprehend the world in a manner suited for today’s cultural assimilation. Postdoctoral fellows are more vulnerable to challenges as they already begin to experience the ill effects of an unsure future. Advanced age and more responsibilities puts them more out of their comfort zone when moving abroad for a research position. Some of the common challenges faced by international scholars from a developing country include, but are not limited to:
- Initial financial setback: Completing a PhD in India and other developing countries is not very monetarily rewarding. The initial expenses of visa fee, air tickets and housing down payments also taxes scholars. With no support well in place, many have to depend on their families and friends to loan them money, which again is not a solution for many others.
- Cultural shock: Foreign researchers from the developing world have to meander a way around in new lands, adapting and accepting cultures of stark contrast. This becomes tougher in places where similar diaspora is sparse. This is not to imply that cultures of the West are not welcoming, rather they are more assimilating than envisaged. Language barriers are nearly always an issue, especially in the European Union. Even if one is well-versed with English back home, landing in an English speaking country can becoming tricky with different accents and even sarcasm at times!
- Professional differences: Working abroad means a different code of professional conduct and laboratory management. Administration and professional relations function differently on both the sides of the world. Conversing strictly through emails only and adapting to a 9 to 5, 5 days a week schedule means getting used to extensive planning ahead. This can be especially challenging to scholars who have had an experience of much more casual and flexible work ethics.
- Homesickness: New culture, eating habits and no family around is a perfect recipe for homesickness. Owing to financial debts and restraints, many researchers find it difficult to bring families or get married. A fear of adjustment by the family or the partner unable to find a job in the same city adds to the stress. Personal discomfort can then spill over one’s professional life, creating further issue.
- Climate acclimatization: Most of the third world doesn’t face the extreme winters in like Europe or of North America. The harsh winters, limited sunlight, short days can get depressive for many scholars. The sudden changes in climate can also send the body’s immune response for a spin.
While difficulties are part of settling in, some of the challenges eventually turn into cherished experiences and the last 3-years of my stay in Europe has positive implications on my professional and personal life. I discuss this in the next part of the blog.