Copenhagen, Expat life, Personal

New job, new country: Life in Copenhagen 1 month update

So, in lieu of my Sunday Musings (abstract overthinking?) series this week, I’ve decided to do a little update on how things are going in my life given that it’s been exactly a month since I moved to Copenhagen.

Where to begin? Hard to believe it’s already a month since I arrived, though it actually feels like a lot longer. At this stage, I’ve just about opened up a Danish bank account, in good time for my much anticipated, much needed first paycheck. I haven’t minded dropping basically all my savings on this move to Denmark, but all the spending I’ve done in terms of upfront costs have barely been sustainable for the month (plus I’m trying to live that good life over here, ha). I did get extremely lucky to not have any “gaps” between pay checks, but I genuinely could not live in Copenhagen making what I was making on my old paycheck, that’s for sure. I’ve also only just got round to getting a Danish number, after having the same number in the UK for 10 years. I bought a bike, though I’m riding very precariously at the moment and embarrass myself on the daily with my clumsiness. I mean I haven’t really cycled in a good decade – and especially not when I was living in Bristol, which is full of the most hellish hills.

I’m already a few weeks into my job now. Even though in some ways I have a lot more to accomplish in this job, I don’t feel like I’m tripping over myself to do my job properly – I don’t feel like a headless chicken. The work culture actually does make me feel like I’m doing “enough” for once, or at least that being the most productive as humanly possible really just isn’t everything. Even though I’m the first one in my office and the last to leave, I feel like I spend a very reasonable time at my desk. I still probably work a bit more than what I’m supposed to (oh, the joys of academia), but an actual 40 hour workweek is a welcome change from the ungodly amount of unpaid extra hours I was putting in my previous job.

I’m interested to see how my latent imposters syndrome develops, if at all, in this new role. Ever since I started my PhD, I felt like I had no idea what was going on, that I was being policed by my peers about how much I work (PhD competition is real – I really don’t miss that), and that anything I did accomplish was a fluke I didn’t deserve. All those feelings stayed with my even when I finished my PhD. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty realistic about myself and I can definitely say all three of the aforementioned were and are true at points. It definitely feels like everyone else around me has done “more” than me, and I’m sure that feeling is not baseless. And it’s not like I suddenly “know” what I’m doing now, one year post-PhD (in fact, my new role involves research in a field that I did not specialise in). Moreover, there’s a very quiet but nagging voice in my head that tells me I objectively probably do not deserve the job I have now, even though I worked so hard to get it. But, well, who cares? I’m here, aren’t I? The difference now seems to be that it doesn’t feel like the end of the world even if it were true that I “could be better.” It’s just not a cause for despair anymore. My “incompetence” and “flaws” are part of a learning curve, which I get to experience in a tolerant and supportive environment, as far as I can tell. Talk about work-life balance and emotional well-being! I’m sure part of this newfound confidence is down to actually starting a new job and being really excited about it, but I’m definitely experiencing a trend towards having a little more faith and just trusting myself a bit more.

Collegiality seems to be a big thing in the working environment here, which is another positive. You don’t notice much of a hierarchy between the different “rankings” of academics. The difference between a PhD and a postdoc (that’s what I am) seems rather minimal, even in terms of pay grade, which is a good thing. In the UK I would say the difference between a PhD and a postdoc is basically a doubling of salary (with PhDs being underpaid, that is). That much should be explanatory of some of the differences in British and Danish academia. So yeah, when I got this job offer I already knew it was my dream job offer, but now that I’m living it, I can only confirm how happy to have this job, beyond all expectation.

The frustrating stuff about settling in? Not knowing the language. I mean it’s so easy to get away with only speaking English in Denmark, and sometimes you actually forget you’re in a non-English speaking country (well, bi-lingual at least). But for me personally, I’m not used to being in a situation where I cannot communicate or comprehend something perfectly. So when I go into a Danish supermarket or receive bank letters in Danish I’m reminded that I’m sort of helpless in that aspect, and that I need to be a lot more proactive about learning the basics. I mean, I’ve even avoided using my work desktop because it came with a Danish keyboard that I just could not get used to, ha.

Weirdly, though, I’ve been kind of enjoying the fact that most people I’ve met here assume I speak Danish (maybe because borders are still closed to most tourists) and will speak Danish to me first (before I respond in English, ha) rather than assume I am too foreign to speak the language. So all that’s left for me to do is to actually live up to those expectations and try to integrate a bit more.

I guess I’ll be back in another month with any progress 🙂

Standard
Personal, Sunday Musings

Anger is a rational response to injustice

When we think of an angry person we probably think of someone who holds onto negative energy. We associate anger with aggression or violence. Someone who sputters; someone without any patience; someone who just can’t deal with things. Normally, we would not treat this as a productive thing to feel because it seems to worsen our general experience of life and seems to be bad both for ourselves and the people around us. It’s not a pleasant thing – it is something we feel burdened by, something we would rather not embody.

But that’s not all that anger has to be about. We can both ask ourselves why we are angry in the first place, and assess whether our expression of that anger is proportionate to our reasons for feeling angry. Much of the time they won’t match up – but in other cases, our anger might be entirely appropriate.

Anger can be coherent. Anger can be productive. And I think people do have a sense of how it can be so, once we get past the most “negative” aspects of anger.

I’m not saying anger in itself is very useful. However, in many manifestations it can be an expression of giving a damn in a world that gives us a lot to be angry about. The advocacy that motivates anger may be an empathic demand for change. In a world where racism – for example – is rampant, anger is a rational response. It is a righteous response. And we should be angry about the things it is justified for us to be angry about. That’s not to say we don’t often get it wrong about what we get angry about – the point is that we can be angry about the right things. We should most definitely take caution in what we get angry about, but it’s not always a bad thing to allow what is otherwise a negative feeling to be part of our moral compass. That we feel bad is sometimes an indication that something has gone very wrong – not merely within us but around us.

And there are plenty of things that should make us angry. The racialization of rights, moral treatment, medical access, social status, etc. And it’s not just racialization of course – that’s just the topic which has most recently been dominating the news. The fact that we each of us live in a world where huge disparities and inequalities exist between how people are treated, often to do with reasons that are beyond anyone’s control in the first place (like the colour of skin you were born with) – that is a situation we should recognise as a problem with urgency.

And when these issues of utmost urgency continue to be perpetuated in the most ugly ways, when there is no progress, it’s important not to be too cool-headed about them. Would you be cool-headed if you found out the world was going to become an inhospitable habitat within yours or your children’s lifetime? One should think not; that’s why people are “angry” about things like inaction over climate change.

Wouldn’t we all love to be peaceful, “zen” people who can actually sleep at night without a bother in the world? I sure would. But the world right now actually isn’t the kind of place to which one can easily close one’s eyes and turn over to slumber until the fire has died down.

Because the fire is now. The fire is going. It’s a wildfire.

Do you have to be some grumpy, negative person to feel justified anger at the injustices of the world? No. I should think feeling this way about particular things (of the right kind!) makes you someone with a sense of empathy and compassion. You can be angry because you want the world to be a better place. You can be angry because you know it can. You can be angry because it isn’t. And though many people use the “anger argument” as a way to knock down legitimate positions in heated debates – invalidating “angry feminists” merely by emphasising the emotion or tone in their voice, for example – if you think about it, it would be really weird if we had “cool” debates about things like racism, sexism, climate change, and what have you. I mean, how on earth can you be cool about the world’s most serious problems? And what do you think should actually motivate things like protest if not something akin to anger?

I’m not going to engage someone with harmful views in a tolerant manner merely in the interest of keeping up some social etiquette. To me, that is equivalent to capitulating to an injustice. Words, attitudes, behaviours, and structures alike can be bad; bad not just for me but for groups of people, and consequently for the welfare of the world. We all inhabit this globe together and so there’s no being picky about who gets to have a decent life. It just wouldn’t be fair. So “being zen” need not apply to those instances. If someone tells me something racist, I’m not going to be like “Good for you – I understand where you’re coming from” or “Fine, I respect your opinion”. I’m not going to be “cool” just to be seen as the person who is “not the type to get overly offended or sensitive”. Life is too short for that. I’m going to be honest, because it’s always easier to be honest than to pretend otherwise; and that honesty may involve anger.

It might suck to lose friends over problems that are pretty much beyond anyone’s individual control, but at the same time I’m starting to get tired of smiling my way through people’s horrendous attitudes and pretending it’s fine for people to be bigots. I’m tired of having to fulfil someone else’s privileged idea of what it means to be nice; my idea of being a decent human being involves being angry at the right things – problems that need addressing – while of course maintaining the humility necessary to realise anger that is actually proportionate to the battle. There’s a scene in the Korean movie ‘Parasite’ (you should watch it if you haven’t already) where the family talks about how easy it would be to be nice if they were well-to-do and with no problems in life to speak of. And I think that’s right. Being “nice” in the way incompatible with anger is a privilege afforded to those who either have no “reason” to be angry because they are not a target of injustice, or because they can buy their way out of having to confront the world’s most pressing problems. Ignorance as bliss is a luxury good indeed.

Standard
Personal, Sunday Musings, Uncategorized

What are we worth?

I have to confess I struggled a bit – maybe a lot – with my body image when gyms closed and lockdown was implemented a few months ago. I don’t want to dwell on things too negatively in this blog space. Let’s just say disruption to routine, which for me would have included a fitness regimen, was upsetting, to say the least.

I’m all about the idea of being kind to myself. But I also felt pretty bad – at one point, I didn’t even want to go out for my daily quarantine walk, because I felt uncomfortable in my own skin and the idea of going out in public (even a deserted public environment) seemed like the worst thing I could do.

Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you that it’s fine because “everyone is beautiful”. Hear me out. Beauty is a standard, an ideal; so it’s impossible for everybody to be beautiful. If nobody deviated from the ideal beauty, beauty wouldn’t be of interest to anyone. It would certainly not be the subject of desire or envy. It is the fact that each of us have an awareness of the elusiveness, rarity, and transience of beauty, and its high aesthetic value, that we can talk about – and care about – beauty at all.

And I’m not going to tell you that “everyone is beautiful on the inside“, either, because that is also plainly false. It’s certainly possible for somebody to not meet the outward conventions of beauty and also be a bad person! It’s not like deviating from standards of visible beauty would suddenly make you a saint. So saying people are beautiful “on the inside” should not be used as some kind of replacement for “everyone is beautiful” either. It seems to me talking about beauty on the “inside” is a type of consolation, rather than a concept which captures and fully recognises the complexity and diversity of people’s inner qualities.

I think what we are really getting at when we try to reconcile the concept of beauty with universal possibility is something rather more serious. What these longings of beauty capture is, I think, some kind of inherent desire we have as human beings to value positively and be valued positively. It seems bad or cruel to not positively value someone for something, which is why we all seem to be in the habit of trying to find redeeming qualities in people that we can pick out as the thing which determines their positive value. And we could be valued positively for all kinds of things – the quality of our work, how kind we are to others, how well we play an instrument, and so on and so forth. For some reason, it seems being beautiful is one way of being valued that seems to matter quite a lot in our world (especially for women).

Now being valued positively may seem like a good thing in general, but there are negative aspects to it that are unavoidable. If I specially designate “productivity” as the ability I value positively in a person, then it already imposes on that person an expectation that they be productive in order to be valued positively by me. Doesn’t seem so bad if they are productive without exception, but if they are human like everybody else, chances are they will not always be productive. When they are not being productive, they obviously cannot be valued positively in terms of their productivity. If you know your boss values you positively for being productive, it’s probably hard to localise the feeling of failure you might get if you had an unproductive day. Suddenly you are in a bad mood and you feel like a failure, full stop. You think it’s a character flaw that you need to change about yourself to be worth something to the world again. To be able to “show your face” again. It becomes a big deal.

I think this is how adherence to beauty works too. There’s beauty, the thing that is valued positively, which seems fine to the extent that it’s just one of many ways to be valued at all. But, like the other things, it can suddenly become a big deal because we want to maintain that positive valuation, yet, like many other qualities we possess, it’s not the type of quality everybody can have all of the time without exception. And so beauty becomes this thing you want to fix in yourself all of the time because you want to keep the way you are valued positively stable, even though your embodied existence is by nature unstable.

And beauty is a loaded concept. Innocuous comments like “That person is in good shape” or “They look like they take care of themselves” are all compliments of someone’s beauty, but it has implications to do with not only how they look in terms of their physical fitness, but also their fitness in terms of their character and spirit. When we appraise someone’s beauty, we are often combining the image we appreciate visually about them with some assumption about an excellence of their character – that they work hard, they aren’t lazy, they groom themselves well, they have the ability to follow conventions of society, they care about making a good impression, etc. This is probably also part of why it can feel devastating to fall short – not only do I not look the part of society’s standards, the fact that I don’t is like a mistake I made – or so it seems.

Now being valued in any direction, positive or negative, is inevitable and unavoidable. And it’s clear that while being valued positively seems desirable, falling short means that we can fall into heavy doubt about our value. But if the claim that “everybody” is beautiful is false, how do we make it feel ok to not be perfect? How do we accept the human fact that we are all prone to fall short of some impossible ideal like Beauty?

There are a couple of things I can think of, and feel free to let me know if you have any other ideas.

The first thing is to remember is that there aren’t many things which we can or should actually aspire to attain all of the time without exception. You feel bad about having a “bad hair day” – but why? Maybe you had to attend to more important things. It’s not like everyone else is having a perfect hair day! You feel bad about not exercising for an entire week, but it really isn’t the end of the world, either. You feel bad for eating “junk food”; but again, eating itself is supposed to be good for you, it’s just that you feel guilty that you didn’t have the most nutritionally complete meal. The good news is that none of us are “special” in not being perfect. It is a perfectly common fact that human beings are fallible – none of us are alone in that.

To give you a more personal example: I have been having issues with dermatitis for a while, which has largely just been a cosmetic bother for me. When I’m around others, particularly those I perceive to have “better” skin than me, I notice that I’ll literally apologise to people for “having terrible skin”. How bad is that? We seem to each care about lots and lots of “flaws” like these. It’s understandable to an extent – as I’ve mentioned, we are after all striving for a ‘positive value’ (and often we enforce and police our own standards!). We want to try and improve and become better in whatever way.

Striving to improve is not necessarily problematic. It’s the attitude we take on when we fall short of improvement which is often the detrimental thing to us. The big deal about falling short of some ideal is not about falling short, but rather the accompanying perception that we are each irrevocably and uniquely flawed. It’s the getting down on ourselves in a way that is disproportionate to the “flaw” we’ve committed – me apologising to other people for an involuntary skin condition being a case in point.

We may not be in control of whatever we think our flaws to be, but we can certainly have better attitudes towards ourselves about those flaws.

The next thing to remember, I think, is to treat our value and worth as not being contingent on any one standard or quality – including things like beauty. Instead of claiming everyone is beautiful, which already perpetuates an overemphasis on the importance of beauty, we need to remember that the qualities the world appears to value us for, such as beauty, is simply not all that we are worth. So it’s not that we should pretend everyone is beautiful – it’s that we need to recognise that everyone has a value besides the value that is conferred on them based on their success in fulfilling some socially inherited ideal.

Our general value and worth is also independent of any one valuer. This means my worth is not fully determined by either you, nor me, nor anything or anyone else. We all have a worth and a value just by being the kinds of creatures that we are. Sure, there are differences between people – like how some people are bigots, and others are not. This is fine – all this means is that we have practical norms and conventions of value against which we may, for whatever purpose, subject people to different judgments and evaluations. So I’m not saying everyone should be judged in the same way, or that we don’t have legitimate reasons to differentially judge people sometimes. And we should certainly be permitted to hold one another accountable for a great many things. But this is a slightly different point. All I am trying to say is this: the fact that we just are the kinds of beings that have worth and value means that our worth on the whole cannot just get outright subtracted or erased in accordance with how much we screw up or fall short of some ideal.

So what exactly is that worth and value? Well, I don’t think it’s the kind of thing anyone can even begin to describe in simple terms.

But I suspect that worth and value is the thing that makes us talk about universal human rights (like access to clean water, shelter, and so on) like it should apply to everyone. It’s the thing that makes it difficult for people to defend the idea criminals deserve to be sentenced to imprisonment (or even death…) without a due process and fair trial. It’s the thing that makes our heart ache when we see other people – including strangers – suffering. It’s the thing that makes deaths a tragedy. It’s the thing that gives us an interest in the welfare of people with whom we have no contact or relation whatsoever. It’s the thing that makes our caring emotions and empathetic faculties make any sense.

This means we can have bad days or make mistakes and still be worth something; everything.

This means others can bully us or put us down and we’d still be worth something; everything.

This means others can treat us as invisible and we’d still be worth something; everything.

And this means, most of all, that no matter how much I decide to hate myself, I’d still be worth something; everything.

Our value and worth is not something anyone – not even yourself – can change. You can’t help but be the kind of being that has this value. So perhaps part of changing our attitude about our flaws is to positively acknowledge that we all have value in a way that isn’t up to us, and in a way that is independent of any one of our individual qualities or characteristics.

Being dissatisfied with how we fulfil particular domains of social expectation and abstract ideals is one way to respond to our personal anxieties about our value. But let the value you have, which persists regardless (though thick and thin, for better or worse), become a source of awe, strength, and humility.

Standard
Expat life, Personal, Sunday Musings

What is Home?

What is home? On the surface, this seems like a simple enough question with a simple enough answer. Aphorisms like “Home is where the heart is” indicate to us this much: home is warmth, home is love, home is belonging. Home is the place you go back to after a long day. Home is always there.

Once issues about nationality, citizenship, race, and migration are added to the mix, however, home becomes a contentious concept. If you’ve ever been a “foreigner” or a “minority” it doesn’t take much imagination to interpret comments like “Go home” as a “We don’t want you here“. The meaning of “home” in this context can be fraught with hostility and resentment. The assumption underlying such comments are that because you look and sound like you’re from somewhere else, somewhere else is where you must go back. It’s where you belong. You aren’t invited into the club of people who are meant to be here.

It’s impossible to avoid comments like these sometimes, even from the most well-meaning people. When I was desperately looking for a job to continue my stay in the UK (before I took this Denmark gig), many were puzzled. “Why don’t you just find a job back home? In Korea?”

The answer is complicated.

For a lot of people, “home” is just the place of their permanent residence. Of course, permanent residence is often the place in which they also happen to have full citizenship. In other cases, “home” confers a personal identity: many friends I’ve talked to will reference “home” as the place that makes them identify as “Spanish” or “Vietnamese” (despite, for instance, having citizenship elsewhere). Whatever the case, there is “home”, and for many people these links between place, identity, and legality are never in conflict. Home is not questioned.

I’m not sure how I would tie down the concept of “home” in my case, as it’s not quite as easy for me to match “home” with any of the aforementioned. In the UK, I didn’t technically have “strong ties”: no ancestors or family members living there, no spouse, no big investments, etc. Yet I lived there continuously and law-abidingly for almost 10 years, speak the language at native level proficiency (sorry, I refuse to accept that I am merely “good for a foreigner”), been educated extensively at the tertiary level there, became a Doctor (PhD) there, worked my first jobs there, and have most of my friends based there. All this, and I didn’t yet qualify for permanent residency in the UK. I most certainly didn’t qualify for citizenship. So what is “home”? The place I was born (South Korea), but don’t really remember growing up in? The place I did grow up in as a child (Austria) and would have qualified for citizenship if my parents had applied for it on my behalf? Yes, that’s right – in an alternate universe, I may well be a European citizen by now. Or does home have to do with the places I’ve resided the longest (in that case, “Europe” is the clear winner – I’ve been in Europe close to 20 years)? Is home the place in which I am currently making my livelihood (Denmark)? Is it where the people I truly love and care about are (in that case, the entire world may as well be home – many of my close friends are just as nomadic and ‘International’ as me if not more so)? If home is about what I “feel” I am, or what I identify as, I can’t say I feel particularly British, or Austrian, or Korean. And needless to say, having only just arrived in Denmark, it’s not even a question that I don’t “identify” with the Danish way of being – and I wouldn’t even know what that is (yet).

So none of it seems satisfactory, if only because my situation does not meet the substantive concept of “home” (which I’ve assumed is residence, citizenship, and identity – at least in this context of migration). Of course, if “home” was a more thin concept, like places I’ve lived or something, then all of the places I mentioned above could become plausible candidates for “home”. But this is clearly not what people mean when they talk about “home” in the substantive sense or ask me what I consider my home to be – the point of home is that it’s somehow constant, special, and unique. It’s not merely about the house you live in or the people you know.

Sure, I could have just “gone back home” to find a job. It’s clear that people think I should go back to the place I look like I’m from, as if opportunities for me will be more abundant just by virtue of that connection. It’s just that I’m not sure I did want to “go back home”, or to frame my next steps in life by reference to “home”, which as you’ve just seen is a pretty complicated concept for me. I was more interested, I suppose, in moving to the next workable adventure that made most sense to me. I would have been willing to go anywhere that would give me what I want out of life. I have, after all, been trained in my field abroad, I’ve had an upbringing in a culture away from my place of birth and citizenship, and I’ve only ever attended international schools. Perhaps not so shockingly, I identify more with cosmopolitan attitudes than country-specific ones.

Much of what it took for me to be me, then, is crucially bound up with an absence of a strong concept of “home”. As such, “home” is a demand I struggle to meet. I like where I’ve ended up. I cherish the experiences I’ve had in all the places I’ve lived. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without all that I’ve experienced. And isn’t that enough? Do I really have to designate a home?

One might still protest that there is a practical consideration I am underplaying here: the reason to “go home” is not so much an existential question as it is a legal one. But here, too, I resist the idea that there is a default place I’m supposed to be simply because I was conferred a legal citizenship at birth. It might seem like the obvious thing to do, but I don’t think it’s that obvious. People move “abroad” for all sorts of reasons, all the time. No matter how valid my reasons for wanting to stay in Europe, I suspect my status as an outsider (and a racialized one at that) would always have worked against me in terms of people’s attitudes towards my wanting to settle here. This is despite me being more advantaged than many other nationals due to being South Korean, thanks to the relationship South Korea has with countries like the UK for example. So I believe there is a strong intuition (prejudice?) that is masked by a language of legality – the intuition some people have that it makes most sense for “foreigners” to “go back to where they came from”, if no obvious reason for their being “away from home” emerges.

I am of course very much aware that I’m lucky to move abroad for “nice” reasons, like studying abroad and working abroad (many people have told me I’m ‘spoiled’ because of this) – not reasons that have to do with civil instability and persecution and so on. The advantages I had in that respect are very similar to advantages that UK citizens have to move to other parts of the world. But you know what, no matter what reasons people have to migrate, resettle, vie for dual citizenship, etc., the very obvious thing that is being overlooked is that “home” can become ambiguous to an individual just by virtue of going through the experience of moving around. My official immigration status is besides the point. Something as common sense as “home”, then, can be a huge question mark for people like me who are still trying to figure out how to connect the dots between the where, the why, and the who I am.

Standard
Personal, Sunday Musings

Getting rejected is harsh. But it’s also not all bad.

I’ve been rejected in all manner of ways. Here are some recent ways:

-Jobs I’d applied to rejecting me after months and months of radio silence. (I was rejected by a good 15-20 jobs before even getting shortlisted for interviews this year)
-Papers I’d been working on for months on end getting rejected by the only journals I wanted to publish in. (May not seem like a big deal to most people, but publishing is essential in my chosen career)
-Visa issues that felt a lot like being rejected or shunned by the state for being an outsider.

I won’t even get into the more personal stuff. I’m sure you’ll have plenty examples of your own. It stings, right?

But why is rejection so upsetting, humiliating, demoralising? Is it because we didn’t get what we wanted? Is it because we focused all our time and energy into something only to get ‘nothing’ in return? Is it because rejection tells us something about our flaws? That we just aren’t up to standard?

Perhaps. But there’s a couple of things I’ve taken from the experience of rejection which I suppose have allowed me to not see it as the most terrible possible thing to happen to me.

First thing to get out of the way – it’s important to remember that whether you did or did not do something to warrant rejection, rejection is in a way not up to us in the first place. Call it a case of bad luck or undesired luck if you will. The negative aspect of this is that no matter how hard you work, difficult circumstances beyond your control can render the fruits of your labour moot (hello, Covid-19). Even the most competent person is not immune to bad luck, which may seem to us like something of an injustice. The nasty side of this is that it can make us bitter – if our hard work doesn’t pay off because of some seemingly arbitrary thing, why bother? And this resignation self-perpetuates – it seems to us we are stuck in a cycle of bad luck, so we are stuck in it.

But the possible bright side to this, and the thing we tend to forget, is that nobody is immune to good luck either. We probably tend to underplay this latter fact for a couple of reasons: firstly, because we like to think we are always responsible, rather than merely lucky, for the good things that happen to us; secondly, because success that is mostly a result of good luck doesn’t seem praiseworthy or anything to boast about – it may seem distasteful, for example, to be proud of something you achieved not because of a special talent but rather due to a fortuitous series of events. But look – I think a good thing just is a good thing first of all, and we have a sense of what that means to us, and whether the good thing is good in a morally praiseworthy fashion is something further we can think about.

The thing is, we make our choices, but we are partially just vehicles of Fortune. This means that if we are at risk of getting the bad end of a deal, we are often not to blame at all for it. And it means that even when we get the good end of a deal, it might not seem praiseworthy that we get it. I must say I am personally guilty of reading my good and bad luck in extreme ways – if something bad happens I tend to blame myself entirely for it, and when something good happens I tend to dismiss it as a fluke or a freak accident (I often narrativise my successes as “miracles”, for instance).

But we needn’t dwell on these implications too much. We are partially responsible for some things, and partially not responsible for others. What we should take away from this is that we are at the very least not fully to blame for the bad (or good!) things that come our way, so our tendencies to obsess over our own competence or lack thereof is just that – a kind of obsession. Luck will laugh in everyone’s face – both at the person who lacks the confidence to trust that rejection is not entirely their fault, and at the person who is so arrogant they believe they deserved not to get rejected. Luck can align with us when we least expect it, and be nowhere to be found when we need it the most. So I think it’s sensible to take up the spirit of luck, so to speak, when reflecting on things like rejection, which can seem so visceral and personal to us.

Having said all this, I want to go through how I would manage rejection. The first thing is that, well, rejection is just a rejection. It’s not The Rejection. The latter is just what it feels like sometimes. But we ought to resist the idea that it’s the final word. The world we live in is finite, but not static – nothing is forever, and neither is whatever “bad thing” you think gets compounded, sealed, and locked into fate by rejection. This is because either you, or the world, can and will change. And that change can happen in surprising and unexpected ways. Moreover, we just can’t anticipate all the ways that we, or the world, might change – that mystery is the beauty and hope of it!

For every time we see a lost opportunity as a “failure”, we could also narrativise it as a different kind of opportunity – an opportunity to learn, adjust, practice, become open to alternatives, and also redirect what we value and how we value things. It really sucks not to get the thing you thought your heart was set on. But your value as a person, and your future outcomes, don’t necessarily hinge on that one opportunity on which you psychologically staked your entire life’s worth – they rarely do.

The glamour associated with not being rejected is actually overstated as well. There’s a lot we can gain from rejection if we can get past the pain. We can, for example, find out where we are going ‘wrong’, by taking feedback seriously. This can be a good thing – there’s something humble and unselfish about the act of taking other people’s opinion’s into account and really caring about it (regardless of whether they are right or wrong). So if a rejection can help cultivate opportunities for us to exercise that kind of humility, all the better for our sensitivity and attentiveness to our effect on others, and others’ perception of us. I mean, we are probably more impervious to other people’s opinions and too stubborn about our own than we’d like to admit. I know it seems sexy to embody a persona that is immune to other people’s opinions and to be able to say that you got where you are today despite all the naysayers. And I understand that the world is full of bullshit and that it’s hard to filter out the fluff. But maybe if five, ten different people are giving you similar feedback, which form the basis of some kind of ‘rejection’, perhaps we should really start thinking about what we might do differently the next time, and that it’s a good thing somebody pointed it out to us. I actually have a personal example of a teacher who was honest enough to tell me why my work wasn’t up to par, but at the time I just didn’t want to hear it and only took away the feeling of resentment towards them. Looking back, I can see that they were totally right, and that if I could only get past the injury to my ego, their criticisms would actually have helped better prepare me for future projects important to me.

We can also learn about the gap between our skills and abilities and what the world wants from them. Often a rejection tells us something about that gap, rather than anything about our qualities. For example, if I can’t find a job as an English teacher in an English-speaking country, what that tells me is that the particular environment in which I am looking to exercise my skills is not particularly accommodating for what I have to offer, not that there is something actually wrong with my skills. There is just a gap between what I can do vs. what the world wants from what I can do. Perhaps that gap between what I have to offer and what the world is like will change if I move to a locality that isn’t saturated with English-speakers. How our abilities get valued is variable and relative to particularised contexts – we don’t live in a vacuum where our abilities have exactly X value. Covid-19 makes that point salient: because the world right now is focused on getting a newly spreading virus under control, how different industries and people’s skills get valued has shifted radically in the meantime. And it will continue to change as the states of affairs in the world evolves further.

As a person with an “arts and humanities” background, I get that it’s scary. I was already living in a world where what I do is maybe not considered universally valuable, and I’d been prepared for the worst. When I finished my PhD, I knew that I had a mountain of obstacles ahead of me and that I’d have to accept the countless ‘No’s coming my way. The point is, while we should be diligent and reasonable in our own expectations about closing this gap, there’s no particular reason to think that our skills couldn’t have great use elsewhere, at a later time, or that they could not be transferrable/repurposed. And if that doesn’t seem possible, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that you’ve committed yourself to something, which seems to me pretty important in itself as an experience to have in life. And so it’s not the worst thing if rejection can give us real-time, real-world insight into how receptive the world is to the things we can offer it. With that insight, we can plan better, we can plan differently, we can try again.

Rejection is also a way to discern and discriminate between things we should and shouldn’t be invested in for our mental and emotional well-being. If a person keeps rejecting you, for example, it’s a pretty good indicator that you’ll get more out of other people, and that it’s not a relationship that will develop further right this moment. Sounds pretty obvious, but being filtered out even when it’s against our own wishes is actually better than being strung along under false pretences, no? Again, I realise this is not a very sexy idea – perhaps some of us entertain the fantasy that we’ll get the thing we covet if only we tried hard enough! But sometimes, it’s just not worth it. It’s ok to get tired of trying and trying to get the thing that you really want, not get it, still want it, but give it up nonetheless – if only just to keep your sanity intact. Rejection can act as a boundary in this sense – it can indicate to us that we have done all that we can, but also that we have done just about enough, and that enough is where our pursuit should come to an end. Rejection can make us take stock of our health; a ‘No’ does not have to be a condemnation of who you are, but rather a ‘This is neither a healthy nor productive target of your time’.

I’m really not one to ‘see the positive’ in everything – I am actively against the idea that relentless or uncritical positivity is actually helpful to anybody. But I do hope that in these trying and exceptional times we can forgive ourselves and understand that we are tangled in a complex web of forces – some within, and some beyond our control – when the world says ‘No’ to us.

Standard
Copenhagen, Denmark, Expat life, Personal, Travel, Uncategorized

My (very emotional) experience flying from the UK and into Denmark during Covid-19 restrictions

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been trying to fly to Copenhagen both because of my new job offer there and because my visa in the UK is about to expire. After several canceled flights with British Airways, I managed to book a route with Lufthansa which would take me from LHR (Heathrow) to FRA (Frankfurt) and finally to CPH (Copenhagen). I got up real early the morning of the 20th May – around 4.00 am – to catch my flight at London Heathrow.

As I was getting ready and gathering all my luggage I had a moment of dizziness – like of an existential kind. It suddenly hit me that I’m doing this all alone and that nobody was about to hold my hand and tell me everything will be ok. I’m about to self deport from a country I’ve lived in for almost 10 years and fly straight into a country I’ve never lived in before (and one with ongoing border closures no less). I’m leaving all my friends in the UK behind, and they wouldn’t even be able to visit me (for a good while anyway). My family are on the other side of the world and it will be a while until we reunite too. All this in the middle of a global pandemic. What if something goes wrong? What if I get stranded? It’s a lot of uncertainty. Obviously these were thoughts I had all along, but I guess in the lockdown state coronavirus has a way of making everything seem as if its on hold indefinitely, suspended in time, and really far away somehow. So I hadn’t quite grasped that what I was about to do, and had been meticulously planning for months to do (that is, to leave the UK and open a completely new chapter in life in Denmark), would actually happen. Like right now.

I’ve probably had two comparable moments of existential dizziness in my life – the first time was when I moved to Vienna as a child, with absolutely no knowledge of German or English. I was enrolled in an international school, and on the first day of school I begged my mom not to leave me in that strange environment – full of people speaking a strange language I didn’t understand (English, haha). I felt completely vulnerable, completely helpless, completely alone, and unable to communicate with either my peers or my teachers. Of course, after the terror of being dropped off on my first day of school in Vienna I never looked back. I made friends from every corner of the planet. I also didn’t just get good at English. I practically became a native English speaker within the same year. The person I became as a result of all those experiences led then to the second dizziness – the day I moved to the UK to study by myself at the age of 18 with nothing but a suitcase and a head full of dreams. I wasn’t sure what would actually come out of it in the end – only that I was going ahead with with the move regardless.

And here I am now, three degrees later and a lifetime’s worth of ups and downs to remember the years by. Needless to say, a lot really has happened in my life in the UK. Hell, I was set on getting permanent residency in the UK for the longest time, a ‘dream’ that I only recently gave up. The decision to go to Denmark only entered the picture, well, around the time I got the job in Copenhagen – right as coronavirus started rapidly spreading around Europe. It’s surreal to be uprooted and thrust back into the nebulosity of potentials.

Anyway – I sat quietly for a few minutes to compose my thoughts and emotions. Then I was off to the airport. A generous friend of mine drove me there, which was a lovely send off. I can’t imagine how people who need to do essential international travel actually get around these days without help – coach services to the airport are still not running and trains are a nightmare, not to mention expensive!

[The most beautiful sunrise ever keeps me awake for the journey.]

When I arrive at Heathrow airport, it’s very quiet. Everything seems a bit muffled. Facemasks are handed out at the entrance and there are signs everywhere reminding people to keep a minimum 2m distance from each other. Check-in was easy. I got asked if I live in Copenhagen. I said I “will” live there. I mean, my will to live there after all has been the one the thing that has dominated my life for the past couple of months.

[Quiet morning at Heathrow airport.]

I’m somehow surprised that my flight is still running and on time. Like, I’m so shocked about it that I feel like I’m in a dream or movie. Could it really all be going ahead this smoothly?

[Um…]

I can’t say I felt particularly comfortable on the flight leg from LHR to FRA. It was a fully booked flight and we were packed in like sardines. No social distancing measures whatsoever. I was surrounded by passengers on all sides. It felt more or less like a “normal” flight, except for the requirement that everybody wear a facemask for the duration of the journey.

We land in FRA even earlier than anticipated. I pass German border control (again dealing with the awkward “So do you or do you not live in Denmark?” questions) and even manage to do an hour or so of work.

[Waiting in Frankfurt – limited seating due to social distancing protocols.]

Then, finally, boarding for the FRA to CPH leg of the trip is announced. I still can’t quite believe it’s not cancelled or delayed.

[Pretty sure that’s the bridge between Copenhagen and Malmö.]

The pilot announces our imminent arrival in CPH. I look out the window. Sunny and blue. I think I start crying uncontrollably at this point – actual tears of joy. I didn’t dare to look at the passenger sat next to me and their reaction to my apparently random burst of tears.

I really bent over backwards to make this happen, after many sleepless nights wondering if my job offer was at risk due to Covid-19, what would happen to me if I overstayed my UK visa, ad infinitum. And in the end, I made it!

[It was a particularly sunny day :)]

The rest of my journey went really smoothly – no delays picking up my luggage. I had a folder full of official documents to show the immigration officers, but passing border control barely took a minute. They asked me why I’m entering Denmark. They then quickly checked over my work permit, work contract, and housing contract before waving me through. All in all, everything went as well as it possibly could!

[Copenhagen Central Station]

The train from the airport to the central station barely took 20 minutes and there was plenty of space in the carriages. When I arrived at the station I was greeted by fresh air, sunlight, and happy vibes all around – it was only a couple of days ago that Denmark opened up shops and started coming out of lockdown. Of course I had to try my best to avoid people and hurry straight to my new apartment, but even that short walk to my place was lovely!

And so begins my life in Copenhagen 🙂

Standard
Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark, Expat life, Personal

Alive and quarantined…in Denmark

(featured photo is the last sunset I saw in Bristol – beautiful isn’t it?)

After 13 hours of transit from Bristol, to London, to Frankfurt, and finally to Copenhagen Airport – getting around by car, plane, train, and foot – I’ve now made it to my new apartment in Copenhagen. Lugging around two bulky suitcases and a backpack while dodging pedestrians like an awkward tourist in a sunny, beautiful city just coming out of lockdown was not a glamorous look. But I’m just so grateful my moving here to Copenhagen went so smoothly – it’s exactly what I’ve been trying to make happen for the past couple of months.

Since the Danish government asks incoming travellers to self-isolate for a couple of weeks, I’ll use that time to catch up on work that I’ve neglected in all the stress of moving. I’ve already got my work desk set up. Maybe I’ll even get some rest here and there, ha. I will also be posting some content here, starting with the story of my trip from the UK to Denmark (which will be up after this post)! I’ve got some past travel memories that I would love to share with you as well, so make sure you stick around and follow the blog 🙂

Standard
Bristol, Bristol, Personal

So long, Bristol…

After almost six years of living in Bristol, I got so accustomed to the place I even stopped taking photos of the city. But I dusted off my old DSLR the other week – heaven knows the last time I took my camera on a day out – to capture some of my favourite spots on my Harbourside walk. Bristol is only really nice for like three months in a year (if that…ha) but I could spend every single day on the Harbourside when it’s warm and sunny like this. I mean just look at these views…

The iconic colourful houses of Bristol.
Dare I say hyggelig? (Spot the sheep on the blue house to the right)
On a normal summer day there would be skaters everywhere by the amphitheatre at the back.
Banksy’s Girl with a Pierced Eardrum, Covid-19 edition.

Standard
Denmark, Expat life, Personal, Travel

Why I’m moving to Denmark from the UK in the middle of a worldwide pandemic

Days before Denmark became one of the first countries in Europe to close its borders and go on coronavirus lockdown back in March 2020, I received a job offer from Copenhagen for June 2020. I was delighted, of course – I accepted the job offer. My hope originally was to visit Copenhagen during Easter, scope out a place to live, move in the beginning of May, and be settled and ready to start by June.

But then, chaos.

Since the lockdown, questions from others that would otherwise be easy to answer (like if I’m going to travel by land or air) have, in this pandemic time, implicated sheer panic-inducing uncertainty for me. My most frequently used phrase in the past couple of months must have been ‘I don’t know’.

Last week I would have told you I’d be in Denmark by now, but my flight got cancelled last minute. I spent a small fortune booking another flight to Denmark (I’m supposed to fly in a couple of days, heavens willing) but who knows if this one will fly. So – I still don’t know. All I can do is wait and see.

Ok, back up. Can I not start my new job contract remotely? Why not just wait until travel restrictions are relaxed further before traveling/moving?

Believe you me, it’s no fun making travel plans during a global pandemic, let alone plans to up and move my entire life to a country I’ve never lived before under these exceptional conditions. I’m about a grand short due to travel and moving related expenditures at this point and don’t think I would have been able to sort everything out without savings. I’m also still juggling my current job (my contract in the UK expires the day before my new job in Denmark is set to start).

Here’s the reason it is imperative that I travel and move now (aside from the fact that I would like to start my job on time): my visa in the UK is about to expire. The UK Home Office is still only offering to extend people’s imminently expiring visas due to coronavirus (to those who are self-isolating due to illness or cannot book flights back home) until the 31st May 2020 – as if normal flight routes will be back up and running by then (?!)

Given the Home Office’s position I must make haste. 31st May 2020 is the absolute limit; after this date I would become an overstayer. It is on us ‘foreigners’ to travel out of the country, if we are able to so, by the end of this month, if we don’t want to risk repercussions related to our immigration status. There is no luxury of sitting back and waiting out the virus. It’s surreal to think about – despite getting my PhD in the UK, and having lived, studied and worked here for 9.5 years continuously, I am effectively forced out in the middle of a pandemic despite ongoing travel restrictions/disruptions because of my visa expiry.

Many people have incredulously indicated to me that, surely, the Home Office could not be that draconian – they wouldn’t actually punish overstayers and so on, given the pandemic. Hopefully not. But who actually knows? As a ‘foreigner’ with a precarious immigration status in the UK I find this kind of incredulity naive and frustrating. It’s easy for people to sit back and speculate about what they think human decency amounts to at the policy-level when they aren’t the targets of exclusion. I would love to believe that everyone gets treated in a reasonable way in the end, in whatever country they reside – but I’m wise enough to worry! Mind you, I’m speaking from a position of relative privilege. I’ve never made trouble in the UK, I can afford to live on my own abroad, my passport gives me international mobility, I don’t have dependants to worry about, I’m not stranded, I’m not fleeing a terrible situation in my home country, and so forth. Even so, I’ve had my fair share of Kafkaesque nightmares regarding immigration matters in the UK, and the psychological centrality of my insecure immigration status as a ‘foreigner’ is largely what makes me so eager to leave to a place where my permission to be there is not under threat.

But hey – I’ve made peace with the injustice of my relationship with the UK. I certainly don’t want to stick around to find out what happens to me if I stay here. My one beacon of hope throughout the uncertainty of lockdown has been the great competence and clarity I’ve received from Denmark. My experience applying for my work permit, enrolling my biometrics, and receiving the documents necessary to pass border restrictions in Denmark, has been unbelievably smooth, relatively unbureaucratic, and incredibly fast (I got my visa in 7 days). This has made a hugely positive impact on me during such an uncertain time. I will never forget it.

See you soon, Denmark, and thank you.

Standard
Denmark, Personal, Uncategorized

Hej.

Welcome to my blog. You can call me Jiji. I am a professional philosopher (which is to say…I have a PhD in Philosophy and am somehow forging a career out of it).

I’m Korean, but I’ve lived in Europe for close to 20 years cumulatively.

For the past 9.5 years, I’ve been in the UK. I am imminently due to move to Copenhagen, Denmark, for work, which will be a huge life change for me.

I’ve always wanted a blog, and I figure now is as good a time as any to start one. It will probably be a space taken up by posts on my personal experiences regarding the whole process of moving and adjusting to my new life in Copenhagen. I’m also keen to share some travel-related posts and maybe even PhD or career-related stuff (if anyone is interested in that kind of thing), though probably nothing too formal! Do get in touch if you have any ideas for things I could share with you.

Standard