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What's Next?

as you read this, please imagine the cheerful voice of a man with a lust for life.

I have just found today that I am spending waaaaaayyyyy too much time working on this thesis thing, or at least I don't have to beat myself up for times when I slack off. Doing an informal survey of some fellow students, I find a wide range of hours per week. From over forty, all the way down to an hour a day. The point of mentioning this is not to say that some people should work harder, but rather, because I realized that I have somehow fallen prey to a preconceived notion that I have to somehow feel guilty about choosing to have a personal life, and follow personal hobbies, even if they don't contribute anything special to society. Whoever said that we have to "contribute"?

As you may have guessed, with my year here coming to a close, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what's next.

For now, I have a lot of ideas, but there are a few which seem a little easier to imagine. When I am able to construct a story or vision of what my life might be like (usually very inaccurate visions) should I follow a certain course, I tend to focus on those. The very fact that my brain is working over-time to imagine is a sign that it is meaningful to me.

The short term future is pretty clear. After the program is finished, I will spend a few weeks here in Karlskrona finishing up some web work which has taken a back seat to my thesis. It is far from full-time, so it will be peppered with copious amounts of kayaking, bike riding, camping, hiking, and maybe a mini-trip to Norway again. Anyway, the web work requires an Internet connection, so I will keep my apartment until the end of June. Then, in July, I hop in the kayak and go off-line for a month as I paddle (sail) north to Finland. Depending on how long it takes me, I may even have time to paddle south along the Finnish coast, then ferry back to Karlskrona.

I had been toying with the idea of returning to Japan by land, taking the trans-siberian railway across russia, then ferry over to Hokkaido, and train down to Tokyo. This would be the "more sustainable" way to get back, and would certainly be interesting.

If I choose to fly back (Unfortunately, my flight to get here was a round-trip ticket, so I have already supported the airline industry when I purchased the seat last year. If I give it up now, they will just sell it to someone else and profit even more.) I have a layover in Malaysia. When I purchased the ticket I thought I may take the opportunity to visit Thailand again for a few weeks. That was before I met a classmate here from Malaysia, and suddenly a week in Malaysia looks very appealing. Unfortunately, although the classmate works for the government timber industry, she wont be able to get me a free VIP tour of the rain-forest, but I can still pay to see it.

So, once I get back, I will be living in Tokyo again. Tomoe has found a beautiful, sunny sounding apartment in Nakano, a few minutes away from Shinjyuku. Apparently it's not as nice as our old place, which came with it's own flower laden river, but it is closer to her work, and is on a smaller side street, so no loud cars passing by.

I have not lined up any work for once I get back to Tokyo, thinking that I would rather spend some time getting the lay of the sustainability land since I will be trying to get into a new field (no more web stuff?). I would rather work on some of my own projects, including some volunteer work. Although it would not pay in the short term, it would be a convenient way to make connections and build relationships that will turn into something later, when I have a clearer view of what's what. Of course, I have not ruled out "real" work, but I am really wary about taking a job right away that requires so much effort and dedication that I do not have time to explore my full range of options.

Although I have several Tokyo or near-Tokyo personal projects in mind, I am not comfortable enough with them to talk about them here. I have, however, been imagining some other things I could do which would once again take me away form Tokyo.

Part of "sustainability" (the biggest part in my mind) is the social aspect. I have realized that I am not here to learn to sustain the earth. The earth will still be around no matter what happens to us. Nor am I here to sustain only the plants and animals, or the polar ice-caps. If that was the goal I would focus on eliminating the human race.

No, it would appear that the goal is to make our planet livable and tolerable for all of us. This of course includes ensuring that we have viable, working eco-systems, but it also requires some serious thought about how to make life better for the majority of the people in the world, those who live lives so different from the "developed" minority, lives that I can't even imagine.

How then can I, after spending a year in cozy, unpopulated Sweden, even pretend to know anything about "sustainability"? How could I make a responsible argument or decision that will effect people I don't know anything about?

This is the thinking that has led me to research options, paid or volunteer, in developing countries. Even if it is volunteer, I would rationalize it as the second year of my masters degree, and as such, another year without pay would not be bad at all. The only question then is about where to go, how to get there, and how I can help and learn?

I don't know why, but somehow saying this makes me feel ashamed. I feel that somehow our culture has been perverted to look down on people who volunteer. For example, I have never had a good impression of the Peace Corps. (although I never even researched them until recently). The impression I got from TV and movies was that it was for rebelling rich kids, who, once they grow more mature, realize the selfishness of their ways... that the only reason they joined was to shirk their really duty, being contributing to the betterment of the world economy thorough a real, paying job, rather than just trying to appease their concience.

From what I read, the Peace Corps does not appear half-bad. Sitll thoguht, I find it difficult to shake that image. In the mean time I am looking for other, similar opportunities as well, pay or not, so any suggestions would be helpful. (As would any thoughts on peace corps, either substantiating my prejudice, or dispelling it.)


Go to Malaysia. And Singapore, if you get the chance. The train would be "interesting", but you wouldn't get to go to Malaysia.

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