Thoughts on life after the PhD
As a child and a teenager, whenever I saw news reporting a catastrophe in a distant country–war, hurricanes, earthquakes, mass unrest–my immediate response was, “Why don’t those people just get out?!! Pack up and leave and never look back! That’s what I’d do!”
Leaving home, of course, is not so easily done. It wasn’t until now, when a catastrophe hit so close to my “second home” of Japan, that I really began to realize that. Psychologically and logistically, it’s difficult to just pack your bags and leave for an indefinite period of time. You may have work obligations and limited money. You may feel conflicted about leaving friends behind, even if your safety is compromised. You may simply fear the unknown and cling to the familiarity of your home, even when the situation becomes desperate.
The situation in Tokyo is, of course, not desperate at all–it’s just a bit out of whack. But plenty of people have still decided to leave, if only temporarily. Sadly, a bit of tension seems to have developed between the “stayers” and the “goers” here in Tokyo. Long-term residents are mostly choosing to stay, though many (myself included) are taking impromptu vacations outside the city. Some have moved planned vacations forward. Some have chosen to leave the country at least temporarily for a variety of reasons. Though most people have been respectful and supportive of others’ decisions, some of the “stayers” have hinted that the “goers” are abandoning their community, getting out when the going gets tough. Some of the “goers” have spread unnecessary panic by announcing their departures with “get out now, it’s not safe!”-type messages.
Everyone has the right to stay or leave for whatever reason, Japanese or non-Japanese, long-term or short-term resident. I’ve chosen to stay, but I would never presume to tell other people what to do–I just do my best to spread facts rather than fear and encourage people not to leave in a panic. I would urge those who do leave, though, not to insinuate that those who choose to stay behind are in grave danger, even with posts that jokingly say things like “everyone get out before it’s too late!” In a world dominated by social media, casually voiced feelings of panic can spread like wildfire.
At the same time, I understand that fear and panic can be sources of bonding. People who talk about being scared in public forums aren’t trying to spread panic–they’re just getting some catharsis by sharing their feelings with others. While I’ve been frustrated more than a few times over the past few days with the level of misinformation that’s spreading (iodine pills? really?), I’m also trying to be patient with people’s need to vent and express their concerns.
So let’s all try to get along, shall we? The “goers” can continue to benefit their community by being a source of emotional support for their friends in Japan and by giving money and time to the relief efforts. The “stayers” can continue to provide on-the-ground information and counter the misinformation being spread. It may be a while before things feel normal again, but we can all support each other, inside Japan or out.
A particularly eloquent “Why I’m Not Leaving” statement here, from the Washington Post.
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