I am delighted to say that as from today 1st April, I am taking up a new position as a Lecturer in Cultural Geography at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. In many ways this feels like the closing of a circle for me and the family. Then again, it might just be the closing of one circle and the opening of a new circle as in the making of a figure of 8 – but I digress. It is good to be back in the Netherlands after being away for 7 years – 6 of those wonderful years spent in the Steel City of Sheffield. I will always have fond memories of the years in Sheffield (and the UK more generally) where I gained my baptismal academic experience of being first a Lecturer and then Senior Lecturer in Tourism Management at the University of Lincoln and Sheffield Hallam University respectively, over the past 3 years. I learned and developed a lot as a researcher and a teacher during this time (more on this in a later post). Leaving Sheffield did not come easy but the cliché is that change is the only constant in life.
I am relishing this latest change and fresh start – a ‘new’ country, a new city, a new house, a new job at a new department in a new university, new colleagues, new friends to be made and importantly, new football mates to be found quickly. There is newness everywhere I look except perhaps in the familiarity of Wageningen University and my old pal – ‘Geo-gra-phy’!
There is this aged joke in Ghana about that Geography student who pulled a fast one on his unsuspecting parent. The story goes that a Geography textbook was set at say GHS 100 but this mischievous student requested triple the amount by claiming that s/he was required to buy the following textbooks; ‘Geo’ = GHS 100; ‘Gra’ = GHS 100 and then ‘Phy’ = GHS 100. Thus ‘Geo-Gra-Phy’ became 3 subjects in the eyes of the swindled parents who had to break open their savings pot to hand over GHS 300 to their grinning child. But there is some underlying and perhaps foreshadowing truth in this old joke given the number of specialisations in Geography.
I studied Geography in Senior High School and loved it so much that I started my undergraduate degree on a combined Geography-Sociology programme at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST, Ghana). Back then in the mid-2000s, I remember one of my Human Geography lecturers (alias – “When I was in Tokyo”) mention that there were over 230 specialisms in Geography. Basically, you could become anything you want and just add the suffix ‘Geographer’ to it, and you are good to go – Marketing Geographer, Car Sales Geographer, Sleeping Geographer, and anything- and-everything else Geographer. As it turned out, I ended up majoring in Sociology and Social Work for my BA degree after being captivated by the ‘Queen of the Social Sciences’ (à la Auguste Comte). I thought I had given the many promises of Geography the miss, but it will not let me go so easily.
When looking to do my first MSc, I applied to and gained admission to many programmes and places in the area of (International) Development Studies/Development Management and its many variants. Indeed, Wageningen University (my new institution) and its MSc International Development Studies programme was one of those places I got admission into. In the end though, it was in the Geography Department at King’s College London that I ended up studying for an MSc Tourism, Environment and Development degree. It appeared I could run but never get away from the long reaching tentacles of Geography. But I did try to run again, going on to study 2 other MA degrees in Development Studies and International Relations and then a PhD in Urban Studies and Planning. Now I recognise that Geography always had me under its watchful eyes and made such I circle back to here – starting a new phase of my academic career in Cultural Geography.
The questions have already started coming with friends asking me, “What is Cultural Geography?” “What are you going to teach in Cultural Geography?” or “What is the difference between Cultural Geography and Human Geography?”. In response, I just smile grin (like the Geography student in the joke above) and say, “Cultural Geography encompasses everything about our ways of life as it happens over space and place, and for which I research and teach about in order to help make somethings a bit better”. I am excited to get back to my Geographic roots and be able to bring together my diverse academic background in one place. I have found my academic identity to be fluid but perhaps this fluidity is best captured in developing a new identity as a Cultural Geographer – with principal research interest betwixt tourism, urban studies, international development studies/planning.
This is a closing-opening of a new circle for me and I look forward to dancing while making this new turn in life’s continuous making of the figure of 8. I am excited and curious to experience academic life in the Netherlands with all the new learning and adaptations that come with it. There remains some familiarity amidst all the newness as the Cultural Geography group at Wageningen University is the same place I had wanted to do my PhD, but it didn’t work out with funding. So now, I am delighted to be able to say, “Hello Wageningen University, Hello Cultural Geography…it’s great to meet again”