When I was approached to write about my experiences living and studying in different countries, I honestly did not know where to begin.
Should I start with having to adjust my ear to different accents? Trying to build a new social circle from the ground up time and again? The awkward phase of adapting to a new culture? Or the cumbersome process of visa applications?
Coming from Nepal, my passport does not allow the luxury of freedom most European and US citizens have to just pack the bags and travel. Far less so to go study abroad. To begin with, we have to work extra hard to get selected, as the educational institutions must believe that you are worth the extra cost and hassle of filing paperwork to the immigration office.
After receiving the life changing news of being granted a Marie Curie PhD fellowship under the Horizon 2020 programme, the first thing I did - after a tiny happy dance - was to look up visa processing times for both Denmark and Ireland, as I would be studying in the former and attending mandatory training in the latter, all in a matter of weeks.
Having completed my Bachelor’s in the US and Master’s at University of Edinburgh, I was not new to the visa process. I just hadn’t applied for two countries simultaneously with such a short turnaround time!
Managing the two visa applications so that I could get my passport back on time to submit it to the next embassy, and then somehow get the passport to travel in the middle to attend training, was the most challenging immigration-related logistical juggle I’ve had to do. So much so that once I made it to Dublin, my supervisor joked that I should get extra credit for managing both the “visa stuff” and making it on time (I wouldn’t have minded if he was actually serious!).
Apart from the visa logistics of getting to the place of study, arranging things like taxes and healthcare is also not straightforward for non-EU researchers. There is a misconception that the NHS is free for everyone in the UK - but it is not for international citizens. For both my recent move to the Northern Ireland as part of the CONTEXT PhD and for my MSc, I had to pay an additional health surcharge while applying for the visa, the cost of which depends on one’s age and the number of months one will be spending in the UK.
Of course having lived in four different countries, on three different continents, I have learned that the need to change and adapt according to cultures is quite integral, especially habits around work culture. I was 18 when I first moved to the US, where the first thing I learnt was to value time. Nothing was as laid back as in Nepal anymore.
My first job after college was at an international human rights organization in DC and was where I developed a strong work ethic. Then, moving back home to do on-the-ground human rights work, I had to tone down my fast-paced work habits, as things took time in Nepal. No one showed up at meeting set at 9 am, not even the meeting organizers themselves!
Then, going back to school, changing disciplines to psychology and now studying in a different western country, Scotland, I had to dial up my punctuality antennas yet again. Fluctuating work paces can be maddening, but one has to get a sense of the norm and adapt accordingly, while trying not to stick out like a sore thumb in the process.
The best part about living in various countries is that you get this incredible opportunity to incorporate the best ways of life each culture has to offer. The resilience of the Nepalese in the face of adversity, the strong work ethics of the US, the friendliness of the Scots and the Irish, and the marvelous Danish concept of “hygge”, of finding happiness in the smaller things in life, are all amazing qualities if one manages to soak it all in.
With each move, I seem to learn more, and would gladly go through another visa hassle to continue learning.
Trina Tamrakar is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie PhD Fellow as part of the CONTEXT programme at the University of Southern Denmark researching on secondary work-related trauma of emergency personnel.
Her background before this is in human rights, where she managed projects rehabilitating former child soldiers in Nepal, which led to a gradual career change into psychotraumatology.
She received her conversion degree in psychology of mental health from the University of Edinburgh, a BPS accredited course.