Thursday, 23 May 2013

Quiet please! We're moving.

Quiet please! But I find this sign too loud!

Waiting books

Vertiginous reading

Imparting knowledge

Low profile

Background reading

These photos were taken at the University of Bielefeld Library in Germany. We moved to Bielefeld, a small town in the North of Germany, over four years ago because my partner got a job at the university. Academic contracts tend to be limited so a great deal of flexibility is called on the family. Having moved once from Berlin to Bielefeld, now that my partner's contract is up we are facing the challenge of relocation again.

In academia, you are expected to move around at the drop of a hat, indeed it is a requirement of a good CV in today's academic market. This is not something that goes together with having a stable family life. As a trailing spouse of an academic you may have to make sacrifices in your career, or build your career around a highly mobile lifestyle. For children, it means sacrificing long term friendships, and a familiarity brought about by putting down roots . Sometimes families in these situation face very hard decisions. Should the family be temporarily separated, while the academic partner takes up 1 year contracts abroad which have no guarantee of extension? Or should the family move and ride the course of uncertainty together. There is no way of knowing quite when a permanent contract or a professorship will finally arrive. Should the child's environmental/cultural stability take precedence over daily contact with the academic parent?

"Pendeln" in Germany is not uncommon, and describes the act travelling  back and forth from your family home to your place of work, usually over long distances. I know of an academic family in Germany where one partner is an professor and works during the week in Berlin and the other partner, also a professor, is based in Munich with the children. This involves "Pendeln" every weekend, a journey of around 6 hours each way by train. As Germany is a more federal country than the UK, i.e. centres of industries, media, banks are more evenly distributed amongst its cities, it means that people here are more used to the idea of "Pendeln". In Frankfurt, for example, there is the banking industry, in Hamburg the media industry. Everyone wants to live in Berlin, but there are not so many jobs available there. I know of many other examples of people living this lifestyle of "Pendeln".

Of course these are personal decisions and also depend on the individual child. Financially though, these short term contracts, like the one we have just been offered, are not automatically offered relocation support from the universities. These, rather, are awarded to Professorial or longer term posts, which doesn't mean that there isn't a spouse and children to consider and all the costs involved as in any other major move.

At the moment, I am negotiating this situation our family is facing step by step. We still haven't reached a decision. I found a moment of peace in the university library, despite the very loud "Quiet Please" sign. There are 2.2 million books in this library but I am afraid none of them can help with the decisions academic families like us are facing at the moment.

I am indebted to The Trailing Spouses Art group that Piia Rossi founded here in Bielefeld a few years ago. These meetings continue to inspire me in dealing with the ongoing challenges of being a trailing spouse in questions such as identity, language and career,  but in a supportive and creative environment.

Here you can see on youtube a Pechakucha presentation of the Trailing Spouses Art group by Piia and myself in English and German.

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