Some changes happen as if in an instant. The end of a contract, the replacement of the name on the office door, the arrival in Edinburgh on the last, late flight and realizing that this time one was not going back. Yet traces of what was, persist. Only in the past few weeks have I finally – almost 18 months after leaving – brought my official connection with Denmark to an end by getting the final tax return in and closing the bank account. It really is over, and a plastic sheet of NemID codes for accessing online portals is, I realized, the sole tangible link left.
Hindsight is dangerous, albeit educative. I would doubtless see those years very differently had my last engagement with the academic job market not ended in a pointless, miserable – and, yes, hindsight, entirely predictable – interview experience in the north-east of England. A more positive outcome would have answered that question, ‘was it worth it?’, that clings on with a small army of other mental demons.
An answer of a different nature could be found in the financial cost of the move to Odense and back: over £5,000, all paid out of personal savings or parental help. It is a disgrace that the Marie Curie programme neither offers any contribution to such costs nor mandates institutional assistance with them. But even that doesn’t really settle it, for it is more than anything else a personal matter.
What I do know is that I became attached to Denmark and – however critically – Danishness, whatever that means; and that I developed a fondness for Odense beyond the unimaginative stereotype of constant wind and general not-Copenhagen-ness. There was the fascination of the language beyond the anaemic state-sponsored courses, the exploration of landscape and history in constant nearness to the sea, and the extraordinary variety of them all. And there are the friendships that developed.
I suspect it is no coincidence that this opening coincided with the end both of a long process of disillusionment with the profession and of my place in it. It is no more an answer than the little bounce at the bottom of the concrete stairs on 31 August 2017 was an answer. But I am very glad, after all the denial and silence that academia uses to keep those without a secure job in check, that I know the question is there to be asked.
One could look at that question in so many other ways. One of the most obvious is the intellectual aspect, and I may do a separate post on that sooner or later.