Guest author: Oliver Fink, University of Basel

Back in Israel since a couple of weeks, we were initially mainly busy with the mundane setup that life abroad brings when you move house and buy a car in a foreign country. The kids had to get used again to their friends and school and the parents to expat life in a yet again different location. Our beautiful bakery behind the house is replaced by a grim “Israel in the 70s”-style makollet (village shop).

As gratifying as it is to reconnect again with friends and acquaintances, our constant juggle between the Israeli- and Palestinian culture can be intense. Coming from a typical Palestinian invite yesterday enjoying Arab hospitality at its best, we bumped into Jewish friends running last errands before Rosh Hashanah whishing us Shana Tova for the Jewish New Year. The day before it was the contrast between the quiet Shabbat in Israel, bringing our kids to their Palestinian school, breakfast in a café in Bethlehem with my wife, a bit of sightseeing in Jerusalem around Gallicantu Church and visiting Palestinian friends again before picking up the kids from school.

In all this, I stumbled again upon Lynda Gratton’s fascinating book “The 100-Year Life”, especially her chapter about “Explorers” reminds me about the privilege of my current status but also shines a light on a certain tiredness I have been experiencing recently:

Exploration works best when it is not simple observation in the sense that a tourist would observe a new city. It is a process of engagement… Some explorers will be searchers, setting out on a journey to explicitly answer a question. For other explorers there is no single question that guides them. They are adventurers with no goal other than the everyday joy of discovery… Exploring works best when it is a period of genuine experimentation, with as much variety as possible.

Our life here seems to entail both aspects: in my research I am driven by a single question whereas the day to day life in both cultures is like an everyday joy and sometimes – admittedly – stressful journey of discovery. Gratton continues:

The psychology of the explorer stage is interesting. Explorers are pushing the boundaries of their existence, taking themselves out of the norm, confronting themselves with how others behave. They are standing at… the “edge of the system”, and by doing so they are shining a light on their own assumptions and values.

Constantly examining one’s own values and assumptions is not always the most convenient way of life, so my occasional tiredness is explainable. Like the difference between information and interest: I was told that in the Orient one rather hears interests, not information if one inquires about any given subject. Is Western Europe really different in this respect? Will I give indeed objective information or not also argue in light of my own interests and values? How reflective and objective are we really in what we say and argue about?

In social science there is a research approach called “Participatory Action Research” – and while I definitely don’t want to label our lifestyle in such an ambitious way, let’s at least hope that the challenges as well as the excitement that we experience will eventually serve a higher purpose.