Crossing borders
PhD Laura Hirvi

When I started studying Ethnology about ten years ago in Germany, the Professor who held the welcome lecture for new students at that time announced in a matter of fact voice that after graduation the majority of us would end up working as taxi-drivers. This sentence still rings in my head, and I keep wondering how many of my fellow students actually ended up working in this profession. Or is the taxi-driving ethnologist just a figure that fuels an urban legend, which ethnologists as well as others keep on telling, and telling, and …telling?

Implicit in this urban legend seems to be the assumption that with a degree in ethnology it will be hard to gain a successful position in the job market. As a side note, we may ask here, of course, what success means in relation to ‘work’? Is success measured in money or the amount of material goods we store in our homes? Is it measured in the content of our work, the kicks we get out of it? Or does work-related success materialize itself in the amount of free time we have at hands outside of our working lives? The answer to this question depends on whom we ask and in what stage of their lives, but for all of us, I argue, it is an appropriate and important question to keep in mind while walking through a life in which work takes up a great amount of our time.

When I started studying ethnology, I dreamed of working in far-distant lands, and cherished the thought of frequent international travels. Now, being some ten years older, with a couple of long-term trips abroad as well as two kids on my back, my preferences have slightly changed. I still get thrilled about the idea of work as well as leisure travel. Travelling – the act of moving from one place to another – is for me a fruitful way of putting myself outside of the usual comfort zone and it provides a useful means for breaking the routine. Being immersed in an initially unfamiliar cultural context has always challenged me to look anew at what I have taken for granted so far. Those kinds of experiences have taught me to acknowledge that there are different ways of being in this world and that there are also various options for how we look at life and how we act in it.

Since I have been little, I have been amazed and mesmerized by the diversity that you can find in human kind. Ethnology gave me the excuse to turn this interest into a profession. It also taught me the skill of critical and analytical thinking as well as the competence to act in international settings. In addition, my studies, and in particular writing the MA as well as PhD thesis, taught me to pull of complex, long-term projects. My impatience served in those regards not as a stumbling block, but constituted a force that pushed me to go ahead and finish my undertaking in time. Studying ethnology also made me sensitive to look carefully at the impact of context when trying to understand any socio-cultural phenomena whatsoever. Further, it taught me the art of self-reflection, and encouraged me to engage wholeheartedly in creative thinking.

Creativity is considered today as a vital human force that is necessarily in order to solve problems in unique and innovative ways. Some also see creativity as an essential engine that drives the economic growth of cities and societies at large. In academia, creativity is perceived as a desirable disposition needed for producing cutting-edge research that will be of meaning also in tomorrow’s world. For me, creativity is also characterized by what could be called ‘border crossing practices’. As I see it, it is though the act of crossing borders that people get inspired to craft something new by moving beyond the things, thoughts and images that already exist.

Yet, in order to cross imaginary as well as real borders to be able to think outside, or perhaps rather ‘beyond’, the box, we first need to be aware of what the box we are trying to shake up actually contains. Further, we need to be clear about our motives: Why do we want to challenge the content of the box? What do we hope to achieve by this? What are the expected outcomes? In other words, we need to have a strategy at hand. This strategy, I suggest, shall be planned with the head as much as with the heart. Experience and knowledge may serve as guiding lights as much as dreams and desire shall help the (re-) searcher to draft new things, images and thoughts. Challenging urban legends is part of that game. An excellent example of the practice of border crossing can be found in the blog entry written by Suvi Lamminmäki, who challenged me to write this blog. Border crossing practices are also bubbling in the undercurrent of the next blog entry to which I invite ethnologist Eerika Koskinen-Koivisto, who is currently residing as a visiting researcher in the United States. Finally, I wish all of us happy (re-) searching in the years ahead!

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