Where next ?

My 6-month work stint in Europe has come to an end. Today I have flown back to what I have been calling home for the past seven years. I am supposed to write that “it seems like yesterday I arrived in Innsbruck”, and that these six months “have just flown by” but… that is not really how it feels. If anything, it seems like I have been gone for years. These have been six intense months, not only professionally.

I have been traveling a lot, not only to attend conferences and present seminars, but also to see family and friends. It has been exhausting, I feel tired and I have been missing home. It was great seeing my wife at the airport in Edmonton, a couple hours ago, and it does feel great to be home. I have to say, though, that I have enjoyed more than I expected the time spent in Innsbruck and Lyon, two cities very different from each other, each with its own individual flavor. Being in Europe in many respects just “felt right”.

I have lived on the west side of the pond for almost half of my life (practically all my adult one), am now a Canadian citizen, find Canada and Alberta great places to live, and frankly believe that it would take me a while to become re-adjusted to life in a place like my country of birth, for instance.
At the same time, I have to admit to feeling melancholic. There are things about Europe that I miss, and these six months have reminded me of them. But there are also things about the United States, where I spent perhaps the most important fifteen years of my life, that I miss.

I shall be turning forty-six at the end of this year. That makes me neither young nor old, I guess — it does make me old enough that maybe some long-term planning is in order. I have lived in five different cities over the past two decades. It has been interesting and fun, but at this point I really need to settle down in a place where I shall enjoy living as a retiree, whenever that happens, for I would not want to relocate again when I retire.
There are two questions that come to mind: where and when. I honestly do not know where I would want to relocate, if I were to move one more time (the last one). I am not sure if a place with a climate as harsh as where I live now is what I want for my silver years, even though, as I said, it is objectively a fine place to live; nor am I dead set on moving back to Europe or to the United States, even though both options are appealing in their own right.

But it is mostly the when that concerns me. I am not the type of person who, at sixty-five or around that age, would move to a new place, buy a new house, try to establish (essentially from scratch) new friendship ties, create a support group whose importance becomes significant as one ages, settle into a new daily routine, learn to live in a new place.
A few lucky ones get to live at a young age in their “perfect” place, which offer all that they need both professionally as well as personally. But life forces most of us to compromise, spending extended periods of time in locations that on balance work for us, but are not quite what we would regard as our “dream” locations. Also, the perfect spot at thirty may not be quite so perfect at fifty, for a number of different reasons.

So, when is it too late to make another “final” move ? How many of us have a “deadline” in mind, past which they simply end up regarding ourselves as “stuck” wherever they are, with all its pros and cons ? How many simply keep moving as long as new opportunities arise, not thinking about settling any place ever ?

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11 Responses to “Where next ?”

  1. R Says:

    You can live (I am guessing) in Europe and Canada no problem, but you mentioned the US, say you want to go there (or any other country where you need to go through immigration processes again). You would need a job or something like that to be able to live there, am I right? If that’s the case, then you can’t wait too long to decide (who knows if they’ll hire a 50-some old professor, 46 maybe, 50 might be too old, just kidding).

    My dad went through something like that, he wanted to leave our country when he retired but then he took action too late, and now he is “stuck” there because he couldn’t find any way to legally move.

    • Massimo Says:

      R, in my case moving back to the US would not be a problem because my wife is a US citizen, but in general the issue that you mention, namely finding an academic job elsewhere as a full professor, is surely a major one — not just in the US but everywhere, including Europe and Canada.
      But the question that I raise in my post is, assuming that I want to go through the trouble of trying to relocate, at what age should I regard myself as too old for yet another move, even if the concrete possibility exists ? Where would you put your own cutoff ?

  2. Schlupp Says:

    If you can’t go to the warm weather, wait for the warm weather to come to you: Climate change is your friend!

  3. pablo Says:

    “I have lived in five different cities over the past two decades.” > I’m 10 years younger than you are. I have lived in 7 different cities over the past 12 years (but made 10 moves in total since I came back several times in the same city and did some intra-city move). My kids know the school systems of 4 countries, in 3 different languages.
    E viva academia 🙂

    And -at some point- we felt tired.
    So the last move was the last one, at least for… let’s say the next 10 years. And we chose the city before finding jobs.

    That was for the “when”.

    A friend of mine, at the age of retirement, visited all his retired friends. The conclusion of his tour was that all his friends who picked up a “nice” place where they enjoyed spending holidays were just getting bored once relocated. All his friends retiring in a place where they got ties (family, friends) were much happier.

    That’s for the “where”.

  4. Schlupp Says:

    I’ve been thinking about any more substantial answer to your questions, and I have to conclude that for once, even I see that I do not have anything to say to this topic. Ok, right, that might happen for a number of topics, but most of them I’d consider uninteresting to me, while this one is interesting. Only, it seems so far from my life so far that I cannot even guess at what my answer might be some years ahead.

  5. Massimo Says:

    Pablo, ty. So it seems to me that in your case at some point you simply said ‘OK, enough’. Maybe that will happen to me too. I do not have kids, and that will definitely change things for me. As for the ‘where’, I am also thinking that the presence of existing friends will be a huge factor. I cannot see myself going out and making new friends at the age of 70.
    Schlupp, ten years ago this topic was not even on my radar. It has been for a few years only. Just give it time, or as in Pablo’s case, have a family, and you will start thinking about it too.

  6. Schlupp Says:

    Sorry, I must have been unclear: Pablo’s situation I can relate to. Like him, I am thinking that 10 years feels almost like forever. You, on the other hand think in decades, which is a different order of magnitude.

  7. Schlupp Says:

    Also, Pablo and I felt (are feeling) we had (have) to move because of career reasons, while you do not have to, but want to, and are afraid your careeer will keep you from doin it. I theoretically know about the phase transition from extremely itinerant postdoc to fairly localized tenured professor, only practiacally this other phase seems so impossibly far away that I cannot imagine what I would think in your situation.

  8. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

    Ah, the “grass is always greener” issue… I occasionally get moments of this feeling when I’m back in Europe, but it passes once I come home.

    I’m afraid I have no advice, as I am one of those annoying people who found the right place at the right time to put down roots. It would be extremely difficult for my husband to move – he’s well known and respected within his own local industry, but has zero qualifications on paper – and anyway we’re both happy here. We have occasionally entertained ideas of moving to a smaller community, but it would be in the same general region.

    Once you’re retired, it may become possible to live in two different places. Lots of people do this, if they can possibly afford it, just think of all those Canadian Snow Birds! Substitute Italy for Florida and you may have a good mix, with friends in both locations, if you are the kind of person who could be happy with (and afford) such an arrangement.

    The short to medium term is, as you say, a much harder question. If you are looking for a very specialised job, your choice of locations may be quite restricted. And the timing… I just don’t know. Sorry dude :-/

    p.s. what was the story with Air Canada?

    • Massimo Says:

      Cath, the problem that I have is that, no matter what I see myself doing at 65+, I am worried about starting to do it when I am 65+. I would prefer to get an earlier start, e.g., if I end up living six months here and six months somewhere else I would rather start doing it now (obviously it has to be possible but let’s assume it is, for the sake of argument), so that by the time I am 65+ it is not a change.

  9. anon Says:

    Hah! I understand what you are saying Massimo. I would like to settle down closeish to family in my own country and put down some roots, but that day is at best a long way away. As a woman scientist who took a number of years out of the system to raise children etc, I am now a postdoc in my early forties, and about to move again with my family for a 3 year postdoc contract. Someone pointed out in a discussion the other day that scientists (and especially early career scientists) often move around, with corresponding social problems of joining communities for short periods of time, or perhaps involving cultural change. So one of the issues that I think you are alluding to is that we may not have the opportunity to build up a sense of history and belonging within a community. Perhaps the length of time this takes depends on the person, but I am like you and would prefer to ‘settle’ in my forties rather than sixties.

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