In 1996 Ulrich Teichler wrote an analysis of Academic Mobility, pointing out that not enough attention was paid to ’the dark side of mobility’. Two decades later little has changed. Instead of understanding the damage caused by ignorance of complexities facing students and professionals, we see the same stories every year. Instead of 20 years of experiential learning many have one year of experience, repeated 20 times.
Academic mobility can be a good idea. We could both write about the ways we have benefited from mobility. Our research and personal experiences, however causes us to be cautious with positive generalisations. The difference between ‘people who get this’ versus ‘people who don’t’ are unquestioned assumptions that mobility issues only to apply to people who migrate or go on exchange. It’s very easy to locate people who think mobility issues are irrelevant – right up to the moment they fall in love with a person from a different country, are offered an international scholarship, are recruited by a company for the job of their dreams on a different continent. While many ‘tell their story’ as ‘planned’, listening reveals what ‘actually happened’ was uncertain and ambiguous.
‘Professionals’ and ‘Advice’: Consider the source
When it comes to advice there are people who are very knowledgeable about and/or experienced with mobility. However, there are plenty who know very little about complex mobilities and/or who have no experience. This is dangerous, if these persons are ’giving you advice’ or making decisions that affect you.
When it comes to thinking of your ‘destination’, like a company or a university, there are three types of settings in organisations across Europe and the globe: Settings well-prepared for 21st century migration and mobilities, settings facing many challenges, as their practices have not adapted to 21st century realities, and settings that might not be prepared for these challenges for a decade – or more – because of issues personnel are unaware of, resisting, or refuse to tackle. These three types of settings often overlap and exist within the same company, organisation or university.
‘Decision-makers who get this’ rely on solid experiential learning, augmented by critical thinking, knowledge and data. In settings you want to avoid, you’ll mainly find the opposite, the toxic trinity of stories, anecdotes, and opinions. There’s nothing wrong with a good story, we use them to illustrate research findings. That said, many ’professionals’ eager to give you ’advice’ may have only stories and opinions irrelevant to your background, profession, or situation. It’s not uncommon to meet ’professionals’ giving ’advice’ on issues they have no knowledge about, based on something that ‘happened to them’ or ’their friend’– often in an incomparable situation, organisation, culture, or country. We mainly rely on a combination of experiential learning and testing our assumptions with colleagues who have different backgrounds and approaches than ours, which explain a wide range of outcomes and patterns: positive, negative, and everything in between.
When it comes to your future, you can either leave things to chance, trust that everything will work out or that someone qualified will help you regarding mobilities. Or you can ignore what is actually known about the growing knowledge and understanding about the ways in which mobilities and migration actually bear on your life and the lives of the people you care about. Finally, you can choose to better understand the ’big picture’: what shapes opportunities and constraints in today’s Europe. Understanding mobility advantages and trade-offs of becomes easier all the time as more is learned, through research, programs, policy, practices or ’lessons learned the hard way’. Solid decisions draw on all of these.
Some of the boldest moves we’ve seen regarding mobility have resulted in incredible success stories. That said, for every one of those, it’s not difficult to locate professionals who feel loss, ‘dead-ends’ and betrayal about their careers, the place they live, or in their personal relationships. What is still in short supply are policy makers, scholars, and leaders who can offer convincing explanations that explain the relationship between these extremes – and what this means to you – now or in the future. The reason we recommend a cautious approach to mobilities and migration is because this shortage will not end soon. However, your ability to critically assess ’conventional wisdom’, ’stories’ and simple interpretations of a very complex world can begin today. Good luck!
David M. Hoffman & Melina Aarnikoivu