The academic climbs of the past few months, even the past two weeks, have been outstanding. I have spoken with people whom I could only have dreamt of meeting. Professors have contacted me through various channels offering all sorts of help.
Yet this seems permanently overshadowed by problems in Switzerland, not least as time here nears its end. As wonderful as the English Department is, this place is a recurrent nightmare. There are four separate forms to be filled in to leave the country, all of which need delivering to different places. A charge is levied for a leaving certificate: freedom from prison.
I had to go to our admin building, Uni Dufour, last week to try and sort out the messy business of matriculation, 12 months after I was reprimanded about my French there. There had been a misunderstanding, and the stern headmistress was even less impressed this morning.
Why had I not appeared at her summons last year? Because my registration file should have been complete. But no, she is not satisfied that she has seen original documents, even though I went through the painstaking process of getting them here, taking them last year, and she herself offering to copy them. At that, everything stalled indefinitely.
As a member of staff at the university, I should not have let myself be intimidated, but could do no more than utter ‘Je les ai apporté’ without assertiveness. I was left to shiver through coat and scarf through the shakings of the head from the other side of the desk. The positive upshot of this – and there is one – is that I should be guaranteed at least student status at Geneva in absentia.
The process of leaving this country is remarkably testing. How sorely tempting it must be just to forget it all and casually disappear. I headed back to face the stern headmistress today in Dufour, to find that she wasn’t in. A covering gentleman, without saying a word, glanced at my certificates and ripped up the conditions sheet. There is an ugly ruthlessness to this office.
That, unfortunately, was the highlight. My newly acquired student card could not recoup what I was entitled to at the bank. Alas, the tax reimbursement that had been suggested is not possible either. In fact, rather than leaving here with an extra few thousand, I expect to owe money in due course.
That really is a microcosm of the experience: so much promise of gain only to actually lose instead. There is a gruelling start to the final week too. The majority of English students sit exams on Monday. Papers have to be delivered at 8:00am, and then it’s a trip to the Service des Paies (personnel and finance), either at the dreaded Dufour or the State office (or both), as certain documents are only printed on the 26th of the month, and then a dash back for invigilation.
What am I getting at here? I thought academia allowed all types of character, but I think I’m too timid to be proactive in the necessary ways. I have a complex about using the libraries here because of my track record of setting off the alarms.
When my colleague returned from a six-month period of leave and came back to the office last week, my self-motivational quotes were gone from the whiteboard, replaced by some vile mess left for fun, and I soon felt that my place was back under the table.
I started this post determined to find optimism. Instead, I question where the fire I had during long train journeys to Edinburgh, when a PhD seemed a far-distant option, has gone. Now, I hope that I will cherish the solitude until all these doubts seem hasty and foolish.
Perhaps this period will evaporate once I am free and back in the UK. It would serve well to remind me just why I’ve needed to sacrifice a treasured role. Perhaps it is something that every vain wannabe goes through. But perhaps I write this because every day of this final spell seems to reinforce the sentiments all the more. This place has broken me.
I’ll sign off a 12-hour day with the words of Jack Bauer: ‘I want my life back, and I want it now’. I’m not footnoting.