Being a post-doc in a foreign country, the view of a “professional foreigner”
As a child you spend years mastering your language or grasping your culture. It is not surprising that the younger you move to a new country, the easier you can adapt. Children absorb new ideas or new ways of doing things with enthusiasm. They are open to learning. Grown-ups are more reluctant to change their habits and certainties, or learn a new language. Scientists can be even more reluctant. A foreign post-doc has to adapt at the same time to a new country, to a new institute, and to new colleagues. Sometime the entire family has to move with the post-doc. Sometime in a two-body problem, the couple would be at different places and even in different countries. The choice of a place for the post-doc is mainly motivated by the science but there are other criteria such as living in a new country.
Although I am not a child anymore I have years of training in integration. I am perhaps a “professional foreigner”, a term coined by an astronomer friend of mine a few years ago. I have been adapting myself to different countries since I was six. Coming from Hong-Kong, France and the French people were and sometime still are for me sources of wonders and questionings. This does not prevent me to like to live in this country, on the contrary. I love France and it has been my homeland for years now. The flatness and the unpredictable weather of the Netherlands did not restrain me from living in there for many years. And the harsh dark winter in Scotland did not discourage me from enjoying my life there.
We collaborate a lot with people from different countries. Let’s use this great opportunity to also learn more about them and their culture. Everyone from graduate students to the Professors at institutes should always welcome the newcomers and especially those from a foreign country. I am curious about science but I am even more curious about people. New people always mean new ideas and potential new collaborations. They can enrich your life in several aspects and not only in science as well as you can enrich them.