On a mission from god?

I have heard a wide variety of responses to my decision to emigrate to South Africa.  Most people have been very supportive, and I thank you for it!  Many of your responses, though, have left me wrestling with your ideas.  I would like to explore some of those in this post.

Is this a mission, like for your church?
If you know me personally, you probably know that I grew up heavily involved in my church community. While my beliefs have changed, my sense of mission remains intact. I believe that people who have skills or money or position must remember that others have not had the same advantages. This move to South Africa will put me in direct contact with people who have never had the educational opportunities I have enjoyed; I get to hold the door open for them! If I get to be part of creating a new vaccine for tuberculosis or a breakthrough in understanding the bug’s biology, I may have an indirect impact on millions.
They’re so lucky to get you!
While I appreciate the sentiment, I feel like the lucky one to get this opportunity. South Africa is home to some of the best tuberculosis researchers in the world. My new colleagues have invested significant effort to assemble the funding that will pay my way to Cape Town, and I feel I owe them quite a debt. I am going because I feel that Stellenbosch University has the right combination of disease focus, biotechnology, and researcher skill to maximize the impact of my work.
Who is going with you?
It’s just me. The two staff programmers I worked with have each taken positions with other laboratories at my prior institution. The graduate student for my team has begun working in systems modeling for his Ph.D. I will miss my friends in Nashville profoundly, from the “Nashville in Harmony” chorus to my department in the med school to the group with whom I played Dungeons and Dragons. I have enjoyed some very close friendships in Nashville, and I ache to think of leaving them behind.
What about your family?
My parents and my brother’s family all live in Missouri. I plan to visit them at least once a year, around the time of the ASMS conference. I am proud that my parents have learned to use Skype; I think we will make good use of it, at least weekly! It’s going to be difficult seeing my family less often.
You must be really brave.
Is that why I’m so nervous about the reality of this move? I don’t feel brave; I think “resolute” might be a bit closer. As I see it, I had a problem. My career in U.S. biomedical research made me feel exhausted and perpetually stressed. I wanted to continue using my skills, but spending a sizable fraction of my time writing grants felt like an awful drudgery. This move to South Africa is intended to reduce that pressure, as I will be operating within a smaller network of responsibilities. I will still write some grants, but funds go a lot farther in Cape Town. If I have been “brave” at all, it was that I realized that even if this move was daunting, I could complete it. All the pieces that are currently up in the air will come down again, and they will settle into new places.
I wish I could go on an adventure like that.
You can. I am writing this blog for you! I hope that these posts have shown the steps one can take toward life in a new country. I am sure South Africa is not everyone’s cup of tea, but how about New Zealand, Chile, or Belgium? If you have never left the United States, there’s a first time for everything. Our world is too diverse and too beautiful for a person to pass a lifetime without seeing another part of it in person.
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2 thoughts on “On a mission from god?

  1. Pingback: An extraordinary journey in three universities | Picking Up The Tabb

  2. Pingback: Johnny Clegg: the Spirit of the Great Heart | Picking Up The Tabb

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