Living between three professions
I have just read that an average PhD takes about 8.2 years to complete. Keeping that in mind, I should feel rather good with myself that it took me almost 8 years, considering that I had to work all these years and undertake extensive, self-funded fieldwork in Latin America, and make a film as a fruit of that. Somehow, I also managed to have several photography exhibitions and present at multiple academic conferences. And I visited an impressive count of over 50 countries. But this is where the good news end and the confusion starts.
Having participated in an exciting debate at my last conference, I realised that I live a triple life. Not even a double, like a protagonist of cheap detective stories, but triple. The conversation which inspired this realisation was focused on the analysis of the relation between art and research. Since I have a solid background in film and photography, and I actively use both methods for my research, I felt compelled to contribute to the conversation. As I analysed my efforts to remain loyal to my passions, it became evident that I did not manage to merge them into one, and they keep separate, with me clinging to one at the time, frantically trying for the other two not to get forgotten. I am a filmmaker and photographer, who often exhibits her work, but who has no time in her daily life to even look at my cameras. I am a researcher who publishes and presents her work internationally, but I make a living travelling the world as a global trainer, which has nothing to do with my photography or research. True, it lets me see the world and I spend more time on a plane than on my sofa, but there is a price to pay, which is time and stability to plan my research, art projects, and anything related to that.
The results of that talk stayed with me days and weeks after the conference. I realised that depending on who asks, I introduce myself as a photographer, researcher or a global trainer. I have three different personalities with three separate agendas, but at the same time, I cannot be any of them fully.
That leads me back to my PhD effort – I came to me that I achieved many relatively difficult things, just not to do anything with them as soon as I have them in my hand. I collect skills and achievements just to feel like I am starting again. And it never ends. Endless pages have been written about the insatiability of human nature, and even if you realise that, you are never set free.
Living between three languages
But my triple life is also reflected in the languages I use. Between the 8 of them which I know to some degree, I am fluent in 3. My mother tongue, sadly, is the one I am the least fluent it! Outrageous and absurd is it might sound when I speak Polish, it takes an effort to remember the word I want to use, and sometimes even the construction of the phrase! That only proves that your daily habits really shape who you are, a valuable lesson to remember. To justify this embarrassing situation, I have to admit that my use of Polish is limited to calls and texts with my family and very few Polish friends I still have.
I also think in Spanish, the language of my research. Over the past decade or more, I travelled to Latin America multiple times, and this is where I REALLY gained fluency in that beautiful and by far my favourite of languages. At some point I even lived in Colombia, working on the last stage of my research. I don’t even begin to imagine what accent I had when speaking Spanish (a mix of all the languages I pretend to speak?), but it is enough to say that I managed to confuse some people by playing a prank that I am in fact half-Colombian. My biggest success was when I managed to convince a local cab driver in Bogotá that although I look like my (Polish) mum, I learnt to speak from my (supposedly Colombian) dad. Anyone who ever met me knows that my origin could not be less diverse, considering that my both grandfathers went to the same primary school…
Finally English, my work and everyday language. There is no need to elaborate on the fact that although I might never be able to imitate a real British accent and I will sometimes excel with some nonsense expressions translated literary from Polish or Spanish, I dream in English, I think in English, and this is the language I feel most comfortable about.
And this is where I come to a similar conclusion as with my professions: being fluent in three languages, I cannot feel FULLY fluent in any of them! As if when you divert your attention from one subject, you can barely touch the surface of any of them and never be the real master. Does it prove that multitasking is an illusion?
Living between three continents
There will be no surprise when I tell that my national identity is equally confused. Considering that I have new even considered or dreamt about living abroad, it is somewhat astounding that I have lived on three different continents and I am emotionally linked to all three of them. Being born in Europe, I grew up surrounded by history and diversity, good food and certain European charm which became visible only from the outside. Moving from Poland to the UK at the age of 23 or so, I thought I settled for life. And when I did my research in Colombia after visiting the continent for over a decade, I wouldn’t even dream about living in Asia, which at the time was of no interest to me, maybe apart from Japan. Now, writing this post from South Korea, having just came back from Malaysia, Japan, and Indonesia, I totally consider this part of the world home. Just imagine how difficult the question ‘Where are you from?’ is for me these days… ‘Well, where do I begin…?’
Autumn is an excellent time to reflect on things. Who am I, where do I belong, and in which language do I express it? Perhaps the lesson is that it does not really matter, as long as you feel comfortable and well-balanced like I do right now.