It’s been a while since I last wrote and quite a lot has happened in that time. For the sake of brevity, here’s a quick highlight reel: I finished up my project in Chile around the end of April, after which my mom came to visit me and we took a short trip around the country for two weeks. This trip was a seriously needed break from the Watson year. Just seeing a familiar face, and slipping out of my identity as a Watson fellow for a quick second, was tremendously beneficial to my mental health. I realized that in the past when I’ve taken time away from my project to regroup, I’ve still felt firmly rooted in my identity as a Watson fellow. It’s been my anchor; my defining characteristic throughout the year. This means that EVERY decision I’ve made (from where I sleep to what part of the country I go to) has been focused through the lens of the Watson fellowship; even when I’m not technically working on the proejct. I’m not complaining at all, it has been a great experience so far. But after 9 months, it was nice to really, truly take a break and give myself unrestrained permission to just be a tourist with my mom.
These two weeks also gave me the opportunity to process my experiences in Chile. My two months there were perhaps the most stable and the most stationary of my Watson year: I’d found a decent room to rent in the same town as my primary contact and had settled into a visiting student position at a salmon feed research facility. On paper this was exactly what I’d wanted out of my Watson year. For a good chunk of this journey I’ve maintained that staying one place for a long time gives you a more nuanced perspective and opens the way for deeper understanding of a place than what you would achieve in a 2-day visit. Ironically it was during these two months, when I was the most stable, that I felt the most “stuck” in my project. Don’t get me wrong, I still learned a great deal and I stand by the idea that being stable in Chile gave me insights I probably couldn’t have gotten any other way. But there was definitely a point where I felt that I was no longer benefiting as much as I wanted from the stability I’d found. And the frustration of feeling “stuck” without enough time to really change course hammered home one of the most important lessons I’ve learned of this Watson year: stability and predictability do not always guarantee deeper learning or interesting experiences. In fact the stability that I’d found weakened my motivation to continually search for new and interesting experiences. I realized that committing to something purely out of a desire for stability was not always the best decision and that some of the most unstable times of my Watson year gave way to my most exciting moments.
So with two months remaining and an entirely blank slate in a new country, I’ve committed myself to remaining non-committal. That is, not hunkering down in the first place where I might learn something, but remaining open to the discomfort of instability in the hopes that it will give way to unexpected experiences. I arrived in Norway with my first two weeks loosely planned: I decided to head to the town of Ås, about 35 km south of Oslo where Norwegian salmon farming was born. Here, I ended up conducting a ton of interviews with various researchers and students working on aquaculture research. From here, I ended up in another small town (Sunndalsøra) where I am now and have been helping collect samples at one of Nofima’s field stations. Over the next few weeks, I’ll head to northern Norway (catching a glimpse of the midnight sun in the process) as well as Bergen where I’ll visit with more researchers, fish feed companies, and salmon farms. In a first for my Watson year, remaining completely open and completely committed to exploring widely, my two months have essentially fallen into place on their own.
While I expect there will be major roadbumps along the way (I’ve already made tough decisions to skip out on potential opportunities due to timing), I’ve been overwhelmingly encouraged by how well things are unfolding. I think this is in no small part due to how wildly varied and challenging this year has been. Ten months ago, I’m not sure I could’ve approached my project in Norway the same way. But the accumulation of challenges and experiences that have shaped the past ten months have brought these last two into a new kind of focus. It’s not that I feel particularly prepared for any specific challenge that will arise, but I do feel quite prepared to acknowledge there will be challenges and to deal with them rather than feel frustrated that things are perfect from the get-go. Although the Watson year is winding down (I just bought my plane ticket home) I’m feeling energized and ready to make the most out of what remains.
p.s. I know, walls of text are boring. I actually have tons of amazing pics from both Chile and Norway, but my computer’s memory is currently maxed out and until I can find a way to make more room I have no way to process or upload pics to the blog. This will have to do for now, but I’ll try and get photos to everyone somehow.