Reasons to move 5,000 miles from home

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Ok, I’ll admit I don’t have the definitive answer to this, but it did seem like a more compelling or at least relatable title than stealing Fiddler on the Roof’s “Far from the home I love.” I think my dad is the only person who might have understood that one, but I was totally prepared to sing it over the phone to him yesterday when I told him that I have decided to live in Sao Paulo this fall—I mean, there are many clear parallels between Hodel’s choice to move to Siberia to be with her husband, the revolutionary, and my decision to go to a tropical country to learn about a new culture and language.

Given the parents I have, I shouldn’t have been surprised that both of them were extremely supportive and nonjudgmental about my plan, even though it came, as my dad put it, not from left field but rather from “a different ballpark entirely.” I am extremely lucky that I have the kind of parents that have always supported and trusted me to make my own life decisions. It is certainly true that, having lived away from home for more than ten years now, I’m probably old enough to make my own decisions at this point, but it never hurts to have the blessing of the people that matter most. I was going to say the people who have your best interests in mind, but it turns out my dad’s biggest concern was not me being mugged, or hurt, or heck, not finding a job. No. My dad’s biggest concern was that I might end up in jail. Well, Dad. All I can say is that I will try, but I make no promises.

To back up a bit, the idea of living in Sao Paulo seemed pretty crazy at first. In fact, when a friend first mentioned the possibility a few months ago, I told her I would never do something like that. At the time, even though I was struggling mightily to maintain my mental health in my immunology PhD program, it sounded too much like giving up and running away. Once I realized though that, given my situation, leaving my program was not only the smartest but also by far the strongest thing to do, I was able to gain a whole new perspective on the matter.

I’ve always wanted to be a teacher—although in fifth grade I also wanted to be the first woman in the men’s NBA, and my mom apparently didn’t have the heart to tell me I probably wasn’t quite good enough at basketball. The reason I started my PhD program was so that I could one day be a mentor and guide undergrads through the active, breathing, living world of science in my lab, just as my wonderful mentors did at William & Mary. In leaving the program, I’ve had the rare opportunity to pause and reevaluate what I really want in a job and what is important to me in general. And it’s not that I no longer want to mentor or get kids excited about science. I’ve just realized that I have other interests that I had put on hold indefinitely.

As I near my 30th birthday (I hear they throw good festas in Brasil…), I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and that’s ok. Going to a different country, really learning how to communicate in a second language, building a community within a totally different culture—these are all things that I would love to do in life. In college, I was lucky enough to study abroad in Sevilla for a semester, but in the ten years since then, my Spanish is all but forgotten, and these goals have been set aside. It seemed like at the end of the day (the day of life?), if I really wanted to be a scientist, there just wouldn’t be time to return to them. But now, I can take this strange, unintentionally transitional period of my life that has come from leaving my PhD program and become a totally different kind of student. My hope in starting this blog is that I might take my friends and family with me!

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