Everything went more or less in the most perfect way possible. Yiftach stayed and worked from home on the morning of my departure, so we had some more quality time together. It was really calming to have someone else there help with cooking lunch etc. while I was attempting to finish packing my suitcase for a month-and-a-half-long trip. An hour before we had to go out we ate the pasta with tomato sauce and chestnuts Yiftach prepared and watched John Oliver wax poetic about Brexit and odd British politics (have you ever seen the political candidate Lord Buckethead? No? Well, look here).
For once in my life I have packed the bulk of my suitcase the day before, and this saved me a lot of anxiety on the day of the flight, and instead I could devote myself to more important matters – such as washing my hair, and deciding which books I would like to buy for my Kindle.
We drove to the airport and stood together in what I think was the longest check-in line I’ve ever been in – at least an hour and a half long. But the wait was made sweeter by having Yiftach with me, and gave us plenty of opportunities to hug, kiss, and say goodbye languorously, and not in a short, traumatic gesture. I was a bit worried of there being insane lines at the security and passport control – but I sailed through both in five minutes flat, and before I knew it I was on my way to my gate. It was exhilarating. Until now I’ve only ever flew abroad on my own once, when I was 19, and even then it was simply to meet my family in New York. I have never been out of the country on my own, and it has been quite a few years since that solitary flight. Everything felt new and exciting, being the Mistress of my own self, and I smiled as I settled down on the chairs besides the gate, pulled my kindle out of my handbag, and started reading ‘The Professor is In’ by Karen Kelsky.
I was extremely lucky in that on a chock-full plane, in the middle of July, I somehow found myself sitting next to an empty seat. It was a daytime flight, so I didn’t use it to curl up and sleep, but it did make the flight much more comfy since it gave me more space and wiggle-room, and allowed me to sit in all the odd (and quite flexible) ways I usually prefer. I spent the flight nearly finishing the aforementioned book, which is a sort of guide to PhD students on how to transition from the PhD to full-fledged academia. Those of my readers who are not familiar with the academic world are perhaps not aware that the job-situation is pretty dire – in the humanities many hundreds of qualified PhDs compete for every single opening. Unlike the 20th century, tenure isn’t at all a given, and many people spend years adjuncting in several places at once, while being paid a measly pittance. This book was written by an anthropology professor who decided to quit academia, and instead became a coach and adviser to academics. Her background as an anthropologist gives her a unique outlook at academia – she explores it as one explores a foreign culture and shows how things work beneath the surface. Although it will be years before I am on the market, I think this kind of knowledge is essential and powerful, and will perhaps help me plan the rest of my journey throughout academia. A lot of the knowledge about the inner workings of academia is nebulous, unwritten, and mostly you happen upon it by chance, or collect it painstakingly through conversations with mentors and those above you in the academic food-chain. It is quite unusual to get it all organised in a printed book.
The flight passed fairly quickly and comfortably, and even the food was great. I ordered the vegan lunch and it was surprisingly delicious! Lots of yummy tender tofu on rice, with sweet potatoes and sun-dried tomatoes, and beside it a tub of hummus and a small pita-bread.
I’ve been a little apprehensive regarding passport control when entering the UK, worried that perhaps Brexit brought about more ill feelings towards foreigners, and stricter questioning. In fact there were signs all the way up the line warning of the new and harsher methods of interrogation, and asking passengers to be patient. I shouldn’t have worried. I filled my immigration card properly on the airplane, and when it was my turn and I stood nervously in front of the man examining my passport, he asked me what I was researching and suddenly I lighted up, and told him about my female entomologists with shining eyes, throwing words into the air such as ‘gender’, ‘imperialism’, and ‘social networks’. He smiled earnestly back, and waved me right on through.
From there I caught a train on the Piccadilly line, and spent my ride to Gloucester station reading ‘Strange the Dreamer’ by Laini Taylor. The train was hot and stuffy and smelled of stale sweat. It was a mercy every time it stopped and the doors opened, letting in a waft of fresh air. I had a short moment of elation when I made my way out of the station – all of a sudden I was out on the street, a very obviously London-y street. I walked for about 12 minutes to my hotel, which is actually one building of dormitories at Imperial College which is run as a hotel during the summers. By the time I entered my room it was nearly midnight, I was bone tired, and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I saw the room. It had no shower nor toilet, and the window was stuck.
It was stifling. I went down to the desk, where I was told that there was nothing they could do about it until morning. I went back up, turned the fan on, and curled into bed with my book. Once upon a time I would have probably cried, or at least felt completely hopeless. But now, although I was slightly worried, and very annoyed, I knew that tomorrow would be another day, and that I will take care of this situation, one way or another. It felt very powerful to have that certainty, that things will be ok.
I fell asleep pretty quickly, and dreamt of libraries and blue gods.