Chronicles of a search: Finding my calling

As the year approaches its end, I am travelling around in Europe by train. The apparent pointlessness of my everyday life is pretty obvious from the distance. The usual vocabulary - revenue, valuation, strategy etc. - appears lame from this vantage point. Walking through cathedrals and works of art that stood for centuries, one can see the boardroom pretentions are empty, just speculators speaking to one another. I don't know how I got ensnared in this game, but it was surely a mistake. I never intended to be a 'founder' because I find the idea of founding something for the sake of exiting utterly contradictory and ridiculous. I have more respect for the shopkeeper who toils away her days to keep food on the table than the humbug to fuel a bubble economy with lies and bluster. 

Fortunately for me, this party is coming to an end. It was never meant to be serious in this particular case: I didn't think anyone really believed in what we were trying to do and therefore, we never seriously got started. From the beginning, the enterprise was quixotic, informed by chivalry rather than rationality in my case, and sustained by attachment rather than any serious hope of getting anywhere. One year on, my energy is fraying, and I am questioning myself if I should accept what is really on offer, or try afresh.

There were some very interesting learning along the way. I am now completely disillusioned with what one calls 'international education'. I have learnt, first hand, that this is a neo-colonial enterprise which has nothing to do with education. It is sustained by an ecosystem of greedy and unscrupulous players on one side and academic manageralism (which combines the worst of each, bureaucratic inaction with soulless box-ticking) on the other. It does more harm than good for higher education. Because the curators of international education bring in the easy money, they dictate the agenda with the higher education institutions. Once an institution lets its agents and partners dictate the strategy, they are as good as tourist shops selling knick-knacks, certificates being their chief ware. Lowering of standards, for everyone, comes first, but this is usually followed by a whole sequence of compromises, ultimately destroying the host institution. Indeed, the medical analogy is apt: Quick cell growth eventually killing the host system! I was naive to fall for it. Perhaps my immigrant background brought me to it, but I was not thinking. As I see now, there is nothing good in international education - not for the country sending the students nor for the country receiving them, and nothing for the students or the educators (apart from some trips to exotic destinations). I never saw it this way until recently, blinded as I was by education's redemptive potential. I never fully understood why innovation has no space within this ecosystem: This was meant to be a simple game of matching and making money. What we were trying to do, create value for the institutions, was completely at odds with the ambitions of international education.  Yet I thought I could perhaps find a way to attract better students, create a better learning environment and achieve better outcomes for the institutions and the students. But no one was really interested. It was a good story, but nothing more than that.

The practical significance of this is that after 14 years now, I know international education is not my calling. It would never be. I may have to keep going, to put food on the table, but I must stop seeing any more value in it. This is a more honest position than the illusion of changing the world, and I am happy to arrive here. The ambition of doing anything greater must be dispensed with, and a more strictly instrumental life has to be lived on. If all that I did earned me this trip,  it is a good outcome. I shouldn't aspire for more. 

Therefore, 2024 will be a time of ending for me. But also beginnings, as those two go hand in hand. I am always driven by a sense of purpose and it is hard to live without. One thing that has happened to me in the last three years is that I have learnt my strengths, and what I like to do. So I go underground from now on: I shall disappear from the world if I could, but short of that, I shall return to my private life of reading. I need bibliotherapy to heal my broken heart, and only in imagination I can find a way to live with the failure. Hence, a quieter, lonelier life of writing is what I aspire for now. My big city days are perhaps over and I am dreaming of somewhere unknown. I have been speaking about starting an independent publishing house and a bookshop (somewhere on the Spanish coast) for a long time and perhaps its time has come. 

Whether or not that materialises, I am committed to change myself. The usual arc of the years - a commitment to change at the beginning giving in to the bored passing of time - can not be endured any more. I shall no longer be regular, obedient and average, as I have always been. I don't know the right course of action at every turn and I shall abandon the pretence: Please, I want to make my mistakes now, over and over! 

I shall keep writing. 


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