Time is flying by, and I now find myself settled into my current position.
I’m enjoying my research, working with the UGent group, and living in Ghent (the beer is truly excellent). In short, these days I really cannot complain about anything significant.
However, there is one issue I am starting to notice after now living abroad for over three years. Prior to leaving the UK to pursue a career in research astronomy, I had many good friendships and relationships not just with fellow astronomers and students, but also those with whom I attended primary and high school. Moving to China, I naturally accepted that due to distance and the cost of travel, meeting up with friends and family would be a sacrifice and, though I obviously missed them, this sacrifice was easily rationalized by both my desire to continue in astronomy and the idea that the fellowship was only short-term in the grand scheme of things.
Moving back to Europe, I envisaged I could continue all these friendships from where we left them. After all, the Eurostar is just around the corner and my hometown is now a mere 5 hour / €60 journey rather than the 14 hour / £700 flight from Beijing. Such ideas have turned out to be very naive, on one hand because I am busier than ever whilst, on the other hand, peoples lives back home have moved on without me. Via Facebook, I see old friends getting married, buying houses, having babies and, although of course I am more than happy to see them getting on well with life, I still feel a great sadness that I am no longer a part of their lives.
One can argue that this isn’t just a problem of living abroad, that life is naturally made of meetings and partings as people make their futures, and that so-called social media gives an artificial window into others lives. None-the-less, I imagine the decision to live abroad undoubtedly accelerates the process, as I can no longer easily attend parties, weddings or reunions.
There is, of course, an advantage in all this. I’ve just returned from spending a long weekend in the UK, going to a stag party and meeting up with a couple of old friends. All those missed events make those few opportunities to spend time with friends and family all the more special, and the effort to seize those opportunities all the more worthwhile.
So, as I start considering where the next postdoc position may take me, I hope that the long term goal of the building an international career will be worth the necessary short-term sacrifices.