From Berkeley, with love

My research visit to UC Berkeley has come to an end. Needless to say, time has gone by so fast, but above all, this time has been filled with unforgettable memories with family and (new) friends, interesting research insights, and positive energy.

Throughout the Spring I participated in biweekly paper development meetings at the sociology department. It was directed mainly at doctoral students to help them develop their thesis manuscripts to publishable articles. I learned about many fascinating and societally relevant research topics: how private universities operate as tax havens, how big political struggles end up producing small fish, how cultural taste matters in reprocing inequality.

The most insightful thing for me was, however, to observe how everyone including both professors and doctoral students committed to this seminar, read everyone’s paper, and provided very constructive feedback. I learned how important it is to be interested in other people’s research in order to think together and help people to develop, and how this can be encouraged within a research community.

It was great to experience such an intelligent and super encouraging atmosphere!

I will miss conversations with some very nice people I met at ISSI. They would always ask how I was doing, how the family was, and whether we were enjoying our time in Berkeley. They would be willing to help with any question I had. I learned about research being done in the fields of political history, labor studies, linguistics, and bioethics.

I will miss jogging in the hills, hanging out with the friends we made, exploring new lunch places, going to numerous playgrounds, taking my kids to school and daycare, talking with random people in grocery strores, and many many more things.

Saying goodbye to people and places we became attached to hasn’t been easy. But before we leave America, we have one more thing to experience. We will drive thru the country.

You can follow us on Instagram with hastags #roadtripusa #drivethruamerica2017

Four hours of US health care

On the next day we arrived to California, I got an eye infection. Thus, I got to test my health insurance immediately. The insurance worked perfectly, Urgent Care not so urgently.

It took me four hours of waiting in order to se e a doctor for five minutes. My trip to see a doctor taught me something about how the local medical system works. I learned that most of the health care centres are basically owned by private sector. Despite this fact, many of the organizations called ‘urgent care’ operate just like the public health care in Finland.

I learned that in order for you to make an appointment directly with a doctor, you need to book a double time, if you a first time patient. So if you are a first timer, and want to visit a doctor in urgent matters, it is almost impossible to book a direct appointment with a doctor (this due to the fact that there are no double times available for the same day). This means that you need to check yourself into the queue in a counter for ‘urgent care’, and wait for your turn.

In my case, there were seven patients before me, and only one doctor to treat them. Emergency patients – there happened to be two of them during my waiting time – were treated without queuing.

What surprised me most was that before I got to meet a doctor, I was called in by a nurse. She measured my weight and hight, and took me into a room. She took my blood pressure, and asked me a few personal questions (of which some seemed quite irrelevant), and then she asked me to explain why did I come to see a doctor. (At this point I still thought she was the doctor). Then the nurse told me that the doctor will be attending to me in just 5 to 10 minutes and left me sitting in the room.

The doctor came, and asked me exactly the same questions as the nurse had asked ten minutes ago. Then she took a look at my eye and wrote me a prescription to an ointment, which I needed to fetch from an assigned pharmacy. Everything was over in five minutes.

I hopped in an Uber, had a chat with the driver, who had many opinions about the US health care, about medical insurance, about doctors’ salaries and their expertise.

After visiting Target, where you put your shopping cart in a separate escalator designed specifically to take the carts up, and after buying bagels and Philadelphia cheese for breakfast I felt like I had experienced much of America in one day.

Let the journey begin.

On my way to Trumpland

“It feels like when it was 9/11. Oh wait, but it is 9/11” – Facebook post of a colleague

I did not expect to be waking up to the news that I encountered that morning. Disbelief, sadness, anxiety. For the first time in a while the kids did not watch their morning cartoons, but we, the parents, watched the morning TV program. It was an early morning, and still dark outside. Snowstorm didn’t show signs of calming down. Even my kids felt that something exceptional was going on – they didn’t fight with each other, shout, or protest for dressing up to be taken to day care and pre-school.

“Mummy, what are you watching?”, asked my older son.

“We’re watching this broadcasting on who is going to be the next president of America (as we say here in Finland when referring to the USA)”, I answered.

“Oh my god, it’s going to be Trump!”, I called my husband.

“Mommy, why is this Trump man chosen to be the next President of America?”, my older son asked. “Is he a bad man? What’s going to happen now?”, he continued, before I had a chance to reply.

“I don’t know what is going to happen, honey, but you don’t have to worry, ok?”, I said and felt this huge responsibility as a shadow hanging somewhere over me that I could not explain.

Now, only three weeks after the election day, it seems that “Trump’s normalisation”, as Zoe Williams put it in the Guardian, is indeed something that has been happening. While there have been – and it would be fare to say, still are – many reasons to worry about the result of the elections, it seems that at the same time the ’softened’ and evidently more diplomatic approach of the new president leaves much interpretations to be made by the media and the general public about what was said before the elections and how much of this was merely a strategy without a real content for implementation.

Trump’s victory (though I’m not sure whether this can be called a victory in the sense that the fairness of the democratic practice based on the electoral vote is debated about, and moreover, the popular vote was some two million more for Hillary Clinton) has brought some interesting topics into a broader discussion, which I think is not bad at all.

In this sense, I think it is as interesting to ask, why Donald Trump won than to ask, why Hillary Clinton didn’t win – and I do believe these are different types of questions that require separate attention. At the moment I do not, however, feel having enough expertise to start answering these questions properly. I wish that my stay in the US, will give me some perspective to start addressing them in a meaningful way.

“It’s not a surprise that Trump won. And, anyway, you’re not going to notice anything. It’s not like it’s going to influence your everyday life, or anything”, commented a professor to me right after the results were clear. These words have stuck in my mind. What he said felt so definitive, and yet, I felt he could not be more wrong.

The elections have already influenced me, and many other people – who can be considered as outsiders by not living in the US – and continue to do so. Maybe the influence is not so concrete in a way of me not being banned a J1 visa to the country, but  the effect can be felt in a very profound way. These elections have made me and millions of other people not only start finding answers to the questions of why the final votes were as they were, but also, the elections may have opened up a path to start questioning the prevailing ideology of neoliberal and capitalist market order, and the clash between liberal and conservative values, which have been taken for granted without really stopping to think about their meanings – maybe for too long time.

Today, there remains less than two weeks left before our departure. My family and I will be spending the next eight months in California, where I will be working as a visiting scholar at the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues in UC, Berkeley.

I could not be more excited about this opportunity that I have been given. This blog will be a forum for sharing my experiences and thoughts during our stay in the US.

How will America be made great again?