It is nights like this where I am glad for another space to turn to. The academic climbs of the past few months, even the past two weeks, have been outstanding. I have spoken with people, who, before this period, I would only have dreamt of meeting; Professors contacting me through various channels discovered on the internet and offering all sorts of help – unimaginable.
Yet this seems permanently overshadowed by neverending problems in Switzerland, not least as time here nears its end. As much as the people in the English Department are wonderful, this place is a recurrent and desperate 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 the admin building, Uni Dufour, last week to try and sort out the extremely 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 to the bone like that, but could do no more than utter ‘Je les ai apporté’ without assertiveness. I was left to shiver through coat and scarf through the various 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 student status at Geneva in absentia with Lukas’ supervision.
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 a grim and decidedly 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 mentioned is not possible either. In fact, rather than leaving here with an extra few thousand, I expect to be owing them money in due course.
That really is a microcosm of the experience here: the promise of gaining so much, 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 pro-active 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, even titled this post, determined to fight back a grim optimism. Instead, I am guilty of recognizing, acknowledging, lamenting and questioning just how some of the fire I had even in long train journeys to Edinburgh and back, on grim and bitterly cold days, when a PhD seemed a far-ambitious option, has gone. Now, I am hoping that I will somehow cherish the permanent solitude, and come back thinking that all these doubts are hasty and foolish. Perhaps this hollow period is strictly due to Geneva, and will evaporate when I am free of the vainer ties dissevered. 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…