Going to China: first reflections

This May I was hired by Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University to teach in Suzhou, China for three years. I am thrilled for three reasons: first, because the Lecturer position within the British system is the equivalent of an Assistant Professor in the U.S. system. Second, I am aiming to use this “scheduled shake-up” of my life to shift back into intensive writing and (I truly hope) publishing. Third: as an urbanist, this is one of the great moments to be in eastern China. Not only will I be able to observe the largest-scale process of urbanization ever undertaken by humans–but even better: I will participate in it. This fall I am scheduled to co-teach urban design to third-year students at XJTLU. Since I am deeply committed to participant-observation as a research method, this is an ideal way for me to learn about urbanization and urbanism in China.

What makes me sad is that my family is staying here in California.

Lizzie is getting a lot of auditions, and Sophia is really looking forward to starting Berkeley High. That was also our aim for our children. There are very few school districts in the United States as diverse as Berkeley, and we wanted our children to experience an integrated environment. Even though our children are young, this is a moment when we need to think of family-logistics with all four of us as individuals with discrete paths. Before I accepted the offer, I asked my kids about this.  They said they will be sad to be apart, but they are really glad that I will be able to do the work that I love to do. I don’t know how we will all handle this in practice, but at least I know that the kids understand how important meaningful work is to me and Lizzie.

I know I am not processing all of this emotionally yet. I acquired a habit of ’emotional firewalling’ while I was doing my PhD, just to handle the stress of that process. However, I still get indirect indicators from my subconscious about how massive a shift this will be. I have started going through my paperwork, storing things I may want to keep for years from now. But it is really eerie to be packing to move, when the rest of my family is not.

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