Turning a New Leaf

Autumn is always a peculiar time for me, however the ending of bright sunny weather can be a damper on anyone’s mood, especially since freedom and baseball is curtailed by school starting. I guess this is why corporations have picked up on this and started enthusiastically marketing pumpkin-themed everything and discounted getaways to warmer destinations. I think here in London, the weather changes starting earlier does not improve this, but nonetheless the shortie boots, capes, shawls, and even puffy jackets have signalled this. And if it weren’t clear before, the massive migration of students returning to campuses where libraries and computer labs were plentiful and I had my pick of the most coveted and comfortable chaise to hunker down for a seven -hour typing marathon. Soon I will be lucky to just find a computer.

In 2017 I didn’t experience snow or ice or any kind winter in Sub-Saharan Africa, where I regularly visited beaches and sometimes found it too hot to do anything. It is definitely not the case here and while I am not complaining, I am reminiscent about my extended trip, the relationships I had, and how friendly, warm, and inviting people are – and I miss that.

Back to Business

keep calm, s.c. rhyne, the reporter and the girl

Part of my frustration may have more to do with being back in school rather than wishing I was on the beach eating freshly caught fish (instead of the frozen cod I heated last night). I am at the point of my PhD project where I will be “upgraded” and almost to completion. I still remember coming onto WordPress to announce that I’m making this unbelievable change and moving to Europe, #movingforward #startingover and whatever tags I used then and now that the dream is almost realized, I still ask, “What am I doing here?”

Many postgraduate students always question their work, their capabilities… everything with their project. We are obsessed about this for 3-4 years while working on it, so, it is natural to have doubts or even to withdraw. I don’t feel like stopping but I am wondering if I made the right choice about the program I am in and my topic, it currently feels like there is a lack of expertise in my department to give me guidance.

My second issue is career path. So, I have always been career-minded, but now I need to really put myself out there and find jobs or fellowships related to my work. As much as I enjoyed the quiet atmosphere of working in the library, I need to look into teaching and research opportunities. I feel better about this, because once you start working in your field and networking, it makes the struggle feel more worthwhile. Ideally, once the semester starts I can get into the swing of things, however I did get a new job and just applied for mentorship. The last feat is publishing.

Publish or Perish

This is a common phrase in academia, some of the most top scientists that have made life-changing contributions to science or technology have a long list of publications. Publishing adds credibility because the top journals are peer-reviewed (related experts read and provide feedback) and usually only accept a tiny percentage of the thousands of submissions they receive each year. And that publication comes after the peers/editors give feedback and you need to revise and redraft, which can take months. Your publishing record can be a deciding factor for offering tenure at a college or university. Usually a newbie will be given a time period to produce this (maybe 2 or 3 years) during his or her probationary period. If he or she publishes and meet other requirements, then a position (assistant/associate professor) is guaranteed. If not, then she or he can be cut loose at any time. And even after one is tenured, it is still expected that you keep publishing to stay relevant in the field. For now, it would be amazing to publish once, even though I’m not seeking tenureship. So, now where do I go?

Life in London

So, as you may remember I don’t have any ties to London. It is a nice city and if I am offered a position I would stay here, but I am a leaf in the wind. For the right offer, I would go to continental Europe, Africa, or even back to America. However, I was thinking about buying property in the U.K., off-plan housing in particular, but I need to conduct more research on it and I’m hoping to find someone who has invested this way before. I asked a few folks who are my age range and surprisingly no one is thinking about buying property. I know it is expensive, but that’s why there are mortgaging options! I was talking with a friend who had been living in the U.K. for ten years and he didn’t know anything about buying property and had always assumed that one needed most of the money upfront (like 75%). Maybe, I’m just tired of renting but I cannot see myself living here and paying rent, utilities, and council tax on a property that is not mine. At least in the states, it’s common for the landlord to cover some utilities and pay the property taxes. And if I leave– rent it or sell it, that’s the point of being a homeowner, it is called wealth building!


So, like stages in the year, here I am again thinking about the next stage in life. If anyone is in London or knows what I need to do to survive here, then I would love to hear your advice. Even if you don’t know anything about London in particular, I still love to engage!

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Do you remember me?

It has been a couple months since I posted and so much has happened that I’m not too sure where to start. I came back to London a week and a half ago, but feel different about returning back. First, my laptop was stolen coming from Liberia. At the airport, the airline agent for Royal Air Maroc told me that there was a laptop ban on flights going to the States. I heard about this ban, but was surprised since I was originating from Liberia and not one of the handful of cities on the White House’s watch list. However, I didn’t have a choice and that was the last time I saw my electronic companion. So, not to make excuses for being MIA, but I needed to settle down a bit first.

After spending most of the year in a sunny, warm, and cheery region, coming back to London was a little depressing. Not only had I lost my first apartment (I couldn’t sublet), so I didn’t have anything “mine” to return to, but I also didn’t have anyone to return to. Fortunately, there seems to be a little bit of summer left, as the past few days have been warm and sunny, so maybe someone is looking out for me after all. After meeting up for a drink with a friend, he strongly encouraged me to explore Tinder, I guess it’s the app that all the hip, young, cool Millennials are raving about, right? Although he has met a few guys on it and I know another friend who used it once and now lives with her boyfriend, I’m not convinced. I’m wishy-washy over online dating since I have used it plenty of times before, without any success. It also doesn’t seem to be any more reliable than offline dating.

My trip to Africa was amazing. If I could save some money I would return there for an extended stay; preferably Sierra Leone as I felt the culture was more friendly and inviting (they are world-renown for their hospitality) and the cost of living is lower than Liberia. I think both countries have opportunities available if you are someone with an entrepreneurial spirit as it is hard to get a job, but not necessarily as hard to start a business there. My field work and data collection went well even though my laptop was stolen, most of my work was backed up on a secured cloud system. It was more of a personal loss (my photos and music) and the violation that someone had done this.

Now I am back in London and the semester will not start until the end of September, but as a postgraduate student I am at work year-round and I have an important deadline on October 1st: my second annual review. This will be like a mini-defense as I present all the research I have done over the last 22 months and an oral assessment. I will receive a recommendation to pass and become a PhD candidate or just finish with an MPhil degree. In the U.S. our system is different, what would happen at this stage would be a pass to ABD (All But Dissertation) or a recommendation that the person only has enough for a Master’s degree. There’s remediation and things like that before it gets to that point, but nonetheless I have been making an effort to visit the libraries on campus and squeeze out another draft chapter.

However, that is a little difficult because of another change. Apparently while I was away, the U.K.’s Prime Minister also did a silly little policy thing and enacted Article 50 to officially start Brexit, which is the United Kingdom’s withdrawal of membership to the European Union (EU). Many U.K. universities, including my own, receive a lot of funding from the E.U. for research, as well as admission from E.U. students. When I returned, I reached out to my old supervisor at the campus library about working there again, but was told that my position had been cut. Well, I’m still going to patronize the library, however my visits are shorter as the libraries close at 5pm and the computer labs close at 9pm. Now, it is still summer break so I understand the hours may be different, but trust me when I say that this is very different from last year when I could have stayed in the building until 11pm during the summer.

Apparently the E.U. has halted its funding, according to a source from the grapevines. It hasn’t been cut, but it has halted and so that is why some student jobs are gone. However, the real hurt has come from the drop in admissions—E.U. as well as international students are not applying to the university here and this negatively impacts the institution’s bottom-line. According to my source, the budget broke even this year and so there is a big push to recruit students.

The good news for me is that they may not kick me out this year, even if my annual review is less than stellar!! I kid, but seriously, it is an unfortunate situation as the U.K. is still a great place to study and earn a degree, but maybe the rhetoric from the Prime Minister and her party regarding immigration and specifically that international students were “the worse prone to overstaying visas” may have deterred some prospective students. Especially those from poorer countries who do want to have a long-term life in the U.K. or other European countries, however not by fraudulent means because the rate of overstaying is miniscule. Many do return, or go someplace else, or are granted “legal documents” to stay in the country longer.

It is interesting having this conversation with my colleagues, because (surprise!) I am an international student even though I’m not sure if they see me that way because I’m American. They normally refer to those coming from poor countries, even though those students are just as talented and hard-working as I am. And while I sometimes forget that I am a foreigner here, I have been detached from the Brexit debate. One, I didn’t see it impacting my immigration or future here as the immigration rules for Americans are different than for E.U. citizens, so I think it should stay the same. And two, a lot of the racism and hate were not overtly directed at me, even by people who bluntly told me that they had it with foreigners coming here.

So, this is weird for me because as an American-born Black woman I’m used to bias and discrimination portrayed in a certain way, and the Brits do things differently, for a lack of better words. I’ve notice that I have become the invisible minority. I don’t know the full scope of Black British history, but I was surprised to learn that people of Black descent are only 3% of the population, which compares to 12% in the United States. While still a minority, at least in the States Blacks were the majority-minority and that holds considerable political, cultural, and economic influence. So, here in the U.K., is it possible that outside of London and Manchester that there are places where no one has ever interacted with a Black person? Wow. I know there are places like that in the States, but we are geographically much larger and more sparse out than England, and plus we have a history of segregation that prevented integrated neighborhoods.

Those are a few things that I’m noticing being back in the U.K. for a second time, it all connects to how I feel about my place here and future being in Britain. I thought I would have a life here, really living and working and maybe buying an apartment, but now I’m thinking about where the hot new places are, Denmark or Germany? One of the things I prized last year was that I had no responsibilities and could pick up and leave at any time. While this is still true, starting over again in a new place gets a little tiring, especially after settling somewhere before. Now when it is time to return home, I ask myself, “return to who and to what?” And sometimes even, “Why?”

So, I would love to hear your thoughts, I hope you guys will still listen to me!

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