Saturday, January 16, 2010

Peopled days and quiet nights

introvert-extrovertI tend to see myself as an extrovert.  I enjoy a good conversation, look forward to seeing friends, have learned to make the most of networking events, and will walk a mile (in British weather) to give a pitch or hear a good lecture.

The psychologic literature characterizes traits like extroversion using axes, a +/- scale with an associated inventory of questions to determine where you fall along the continuum.   Jung defines extroversion as being energized by other people, while introverted people are energized by being alone.  I have always tended a bit towards introversion in Myers-Briggs tests, and shrugged it off as simply inaccurate.

The past two days have been a whirl of meetings and presentations.  My lectures at Cambridge went really well, a couple of hours in the morning and two more in the afternoon that generated good questions and discussion and helped me to see what I do more clearly.  Meetings with colleagues and friends flowed one after the other for the next day and a half as I bounced from stop to stop, topic to topic, for a day and a half.

And, at the end, I’m exhausted.

Driving across the rolling countryside to Norwich this afternoon, I really valued the quiet and the space.  Partly it was just having time to absorb and think about everything I’d heard.  Partly it was a feeling that I was ‘talked out’ and needed a day off to recharge.  Partly it came from hearing some hard truths along the way that mirrored some questions I’d been mulling about the shape of the business and where I should settle down.

I feel much more myself today after a good night’s sleep, renewal came from having a bit of time away from people.  It’s the very definition of introverted.

Intro-Extro I believe, as Piaget suggested, that we are always maintaining an active equilibrium between our inner states and the outer world.  Our interpretations balance between assimilation and accommodation of observed facts, between understanding them and adapting to them, respectively.  Similarly, I wonder whether we really are, by nature, simply introverted or extroverted?  I suspect that we are, rather, in a dynamic equilibrium between the two, shifting balance back and forth in response to stress.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sliding across England (not)

I was expecting the worst during my trip to England: we’ve been seeing pictures of deep snow, snarled traffic, and sub-freezing temperatures all month.  With a decimeter of snow on the ground in Maastricht, things promised to be bad across the Channel.  I packed gloves, coats, heavy sweaters, and layers of sweatshirts and headed for the NorfolkLine Ferry.

It actually hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I expected.  The fields are full of snow but the highways are clear and temperatures have been warm enough to keep the ice off the roads.  The intermittent snow changed to steady rain on the second day, melting much of the snow in cities and villages.  People are driving sensibly and the weather people are not predicting any big change in the weather over the next few days.

The birds are suffering during the cold, huddled on perches outside of their birdhouses.  ‘Being smarter than the average pigeon, I’ve found a nice manor house with rooms at reasonable rates to hole up in while I finish preparing lectures and catch up on background reading.

Unfortunately, Internet connections are few and slow, so it’s going to be an intermittent week.

Monday, January 11, 2010

How long can you stay an expat?

DSC09749 The Economist had an interesting article about living as a foreigner that concluded:

"The funny thing is, with the passage of time, something does happen to long-term foreigners which makes them more like real exiles, and they do not like it at all. The homeland which they left behind changes. The culture, the politics and their old friends all change, die, forget them. They come to feel that they are foreigners even when visiting “home”.

"Beware, then, however well you carry it off, however much you enjoy it, there is a dangerous undertow to being a foreigner, even a genteel foreigner. Somewhere at the back of it all lurks homesickness, which metastasises over time into its incurable variant, nostalgia. And nostalgia has much in common with the Freudian idea of melancholia—a continuing, debilitating sense of loss, somewhere within which lies anger at the thing lost. It is not the possibility of returning home which feeds nostalgia, but the impossibility of it. "

True, false, somewhere in between?

The conventional wisdom among friends in the US was that five years was the threshold.  I’ve known folks who hit these rocks in less than a year, others that remain connected and content for decades.

For myself (approaching five years), I have kept my connections with close friends and colleagues; I still feel more like an expat than an emmigrant or exile.  But the article did give me lots to think about, and it echoes the broader academic literature on expat experiences.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why is it…

… that the snow can continue to fall, covering the fields, the footpaths, and the fietsen --

  --yet the bike paths, themselves, remain stubbornly free of snow throughout the city?