Saturday, December 22, 2012

At the End of the Day

The view from my window
It's amazing that I've avoided posting for three months, thinking I'd have nothing interesting to say, considering how much has happened in this time. This is probably the most appropriate time to break my silence - I'm sitting in a cramped hotel room in London's West End listening to the noises of the city* on the last night of my two week trip to England before coming home for Christmas, and seeing out what has very probably been the most eventful year of my life so far.

I'm here because I was lucky enough to be awarded the Southwood Prize, one of the British Ecological Society's prizes for young scientists publishing in their journals. The very pretty but no less heavy piece of perspex is ensconced in my backpack, along with numerous trinkets, awaiting the trip back home. I've met a lot of wonderful people, and been amazed at just how approachable, friendly and above all human the people occupying the dizzying heights of the academic world are. It's wonderful to know that so many people who, just a few days ago, were strangers in a strange country are now my friends and colleagues.

I've also fallen a little in love with Europe, and England in particular. After a couple of days in London and Paris, I joked about seeing "yet another bloody arch"**, but there's something that never gets old about seeing avenues full of grand old buildings full of character and history everywhere I look. And though while walking around I've seen plenty of homelessness and disenchantment on the streets in Birmingham, London and Paris, I've also experienced a little of the friendly, self-effacing nature of the average Briton***. Staying in Oxford with my friend Steve gave me a taste of a slightly more laid-back, less stressful life that made me wish that I could have discovered more of the UK, particularly the smaller towns in which I feel so much more at home.

And like any good travelling experience, I've learned a little about myself. Mostly I've learned (more than I already knew) that I'm a contrarian, self-contradictory bastard. After a couple of weeks away I long to be home, but at the same time I wish I could stay and explore a little bit more. The most difficult times of the trip have been when I've been alone, wishing I could share the experience with people I care about and for that extra confidence that comes with travelling with others. But when I have had company, I've often been withdrawn and grumpy, and snappy whenever things haven't been done my way (sorry, Steve!). I've chatted confidently for hours with interesting people who have also, helpfully, been very interested in me and what I do - but even now, I'm terrified of being the first to put myself forward and introduce myself (being a prize-winner certainly worked in my favour here!). Possibly most importantly, I've learned once again that I need to let things go and accept my own decisions - maybe I could have seen and done more things, and talked to more people than I did, but at the end of the day I'm richer**** for the experience and life goes on. And tomorrow I'm coming home.

* But hey, at least there's reliable free wi-fi.
** I admit that after seeing the Arc de Triomphe, the Marble Arch looked very small indeed.
*** I'd have learned more about the average Frenchperson if I spoke French.
**** Not so much in the bank account, however.

1 comment:

  1. "studying nonlinear dynamics in biomedical ultrasound...studying photonic crystals in a butterfly wing, modelling magnetic fields in the solar corona, and helping to design terahertz-frequency detectors..."

    Sounds like your average kind of guy... :)

    Congrats on the award!