This is the first of a series of posts by Gina Maffey on the challenges, opportunities and difficulties faced by an academic couple moving abroad.
Contributor Gina Maffey
It had been two months since I’d finished the PhD, and the wind was coming straight off the sea up on to the dunes. My husband and I were sat huddled in the frosty dune grass watching sanderlings scoot along the shoreline below, while we listened to the curlews in the fields behind.
Aberdeenshire had become our home. We loved the landscape, the people, our work and our lifestyle. Yet, once again one of us turned to the other and asked:
“Do you think we should move?”
We’d been discussing it for years; pie in the sky dreaming of where we could go once my PhD was finished. We were at a point where moving would be relatively easy, we had no mortgage, no children and a lot of energy. But, all the while we’d been settling into a comfortable rhythm of normality.
We’d weighed it up. On the one hand we were perfectly happy where we were. We could pursue funding for projects in our area, continue to build on the research we’d started in Aberdeen and nurture the networks that were beginning to grow. Or, we could look for something completely different, geographically speaking, and indulge our pie-in-the-sky dreams. We convinced ourselves that if we didn’t act now it might not happen, and agreed that whoever found something first would take the lead.
Shortly after our discussion on the beach my husband went for coffee with a colleague, who asked:
“Would you be interested in working in Brazil?”
I laughed when he mentioned it. I know we’d talked about working abroad, but Brazil… I didn’t know anything about Brazil. Our colleague had suggested putting in a proposal to the National Counsel of Technological and Scientific Development to undertake a project with a group at the Pantanal Research Centre.
It was my husband who would be putting the application in, but as always he asked for my input. Our research interests are very similar, we’re both passionate about the natural environment and we often read over or edit each other’s work. So by the time the application was submitted, it was once again a team effort.
For the coming months we’d occasionally refer to Brazil, smile, and put it to the back of our minds. I continued to pursue ventures in the UK, thinking it best that we not get too involved before we knew the outcome.
The approval for funding was due to be announced just before the beginning of the World Cup, and after hearing nothing we just assumed that it wasn’t going to happen. Unfortunately on 8th July, Brazil was rather brutally beaten by Germany in a semi-final match, and shortly afterwards my husband received an email. The project had been approved and he had 30 days to decide on whether or not he would accept the funding. This was our first insight into the Brazilian mind-set: nothing comes before football.
It was at this point that we really had to make the decision. The magnitude of what we would be leaving behind began to dawn on us, and we got cold feet. We were both pursuing academic careers, and concerns of what the move would mean for each of us were raised. Essentially, for me, it boiled down to the question of: if my husband has funding, were there going to be opportunities for me? We discussed it openly with our colleague; he talked through the potential for my own academic development, the skills I could pick up and the opportunities the move would bring. With the possibilities laid out in front of us we began to get excited.
Just like our initial decision, our second was one that grew over time. We noticed it on a walk searching for an otter family along the mouth of the river Don. As the sun began to dip on the horizon we realised that we had stopped saying, “if we go to Brazil…” and had begun to say, “when we go to Brazil… we might see a family of giant otters in the Pantanal”.
Dr Gina Maffey is an environmental researcher interested in how individuals communicate ideas and values on the natural world. Currently this interest is focused on the use of digital applications and their impact on human-nature relationships. She can be found on twitter @ginazoo.