199 Letter from Jane Widtfeldt Meged
In 2016 at the tender age of 56 years, I become Associate Professor in tourism at Roskilde University, which ties my professional life into a beautiful bow. My story is intricately linked to my working-class background, to the optimistic upturn in the 1960s, the feminist movement in the 1970s and the globalization that made the world accessible for my generation. All this presented opportunity of emancipation, but also obstacles as I paved my way crossing several borders physically, emotionally, socially, and economically.
It was not written in the cards that I should pursue a university career, when I grew up at Nørrebro a working-class area in Copenhagen, together with my mother then a part-time cleaning lady, my father a black smith and my 2 years younger brother. I could write at length about the long and winding road, instead I will give some selected flash backs.
1972 Mallorca – 12 years old
WAUV first time abroad in my life. A charter tour, to the two star Hotel Bencost in Palma de Mallorca. What an adventure. The warm smell of the vegetation in the streets, the dry wheat buns in the breakfast restaurant, the flirtatious waiters on the leather and liquor excursion, the small pool, the laughing and staying up late as the grown-ups were partying.
This week I can account for in details compared to the other weeks that year. The first glimpse of the excitement of meeting another culture, how it elicits new and unknown sensations and creates detailed memories that stay with you for the rest of your life.
1980 Backpacking in Asia & Australia – 20 years old
Finally, I finish high school – I am the second in the extended family to put on the cap. I have no clear idea of where education eventually will take me, and I only long for travelling and break free. I opt for Asia – a complete explosion of colors, tastes, and cultural diversity – it puts my whole life in context, and I feel empowered. Later onwards to Australia – by plane, by bus, hitch hiking, meeting loads of new people, climbing every sight, conquering new territories. The world is my oyster – but back home then what?
1982 Studying in Perugia, Italy – 22 years old
I still have an urge to travel, but this time vertically. My soul feels at home in Italy. I simply must learn this beautiful language and immerse myself in their unique culture. I save up money and inscribe myself at the University for Foreigner in Perugia, Umbria. I still have no clear idea of what I want to do “for real”, but I feel good where I am. Back home in Denmark a good friend suggests I become certified guide in Italian and English. At the age of 24 I start working with tourists, just as a temporary thing until I make up my mind of what to become “when I really grow up”. Meanwhile this is fun, challenging and allows me travel while earning money – what is not to like?
1990 Back into university – 30 years old
UPS what happened? One job led to the next and now I have worked with tourists for six years – Danes, Italians, Americans, Taiwanese etc. – home and abroad – summer and winter. Always on the move and time passes. Until now I have not been able to focus and cross the borders to the academic world in a serious fashion. It is time I make up my mind, and I decide to enter Copenhagen Business School – the pragmatic choice. I have entertained ideas of other directions such as sociology, journalism, art history, political science. However, an all-round business education seems best to wrap my free-lance working life and promise a safer future – I long to settle, but I also long to study.
2000 Camping in Denmark – 40 years old
I am camping with my three small boys aged 0-5 years together with my parents. The boys absolutely enjoy having their grown-ups within reach, while they move freely around making new friends. Happy children – happy mother. My husband is working around the clock in his restaurant. I have finished my master thesis in between pregnancies, maternity leaves, and breast feeding. I rely on my mother, on daycare offers, and I learn to be structured. I only read and write during daytime when the boys are away from home. I never feel tempted to clean, or otherwise procrastinate with domestic endeavors. We have a cleaning lady and I take in all the help I can get and afford, because in the afternoon and evening I am dedicated to the children and I go to sleep early – exhausted. Even if I wanted, I cannot work at night.
In 1999 I get my first job after graduation as Hotel manager in Copenhagen, and I am fiercely proud. However, shortly after I get pregnant with my third child, and I choose to give up my job and stay home for 2 ½ years. A career in the private sector along with three small children and a busy husband is incompatible. I am angry with my husband, and the situation, however he is a foreigner in Denmark, with much fewer job options, and he is fighting fiercely to succeed as well. All my children are wanted if not equally planned, and now structural patriarchy sets me up against the wall career wise– for a while.
2010 Ph.D. in tourism – 50 years old
How lucky I have been to enter university as lecturer at the Tourist Guide Diploma Program. There is a reason why women opt for the public sector, no matter what, it is less stressful than pursuing a career in the private sector to my experience.
They ask me to conduct a Ph.D. in tourism, and this is exactly the challenge I long for. It is not easy, but I apply my usual pragmatic approach, and I only work during working hours. I take in all the help I can get, and I must close my eyes when it comes to cleaning standards. Not too many homemade cakes either – I buy them instead. I also must fight at work to make management understand that I cannot do everything at one time, as I am supposed to conduct my Ph.D. in a part time position doing teaching and administration alongside. After two years they decide to give me a full-time Ph.D. scholarship. I can lower my shoulders and I finish in due time. Again, I am somewhat exhausted – but also happy. I never really get to celebrate myself, because there is always a big celebration for the boys coming up, and they have priority.
2019 Garden party – 60 years old
A tent full of family, friends, and good colleagues. There finally I get to celebrate all myself, and the fact that I am now associate professor heading a Grand Solution Innovation Fund project on Urban Ecotourism. In the tent are the people, who supported me on the road, and the ones I enjoy working with. I have worked with my passions, and I have eventually reached many of my goals. My boys have grown up, freedom is lurking in the horizon along with a pension. What I love the most is to be on the road, to be in process, to move things, change views, challenge myself. If my work gives me this, I get energy, and I am always on the outlook for new adventures.
There are countless tales to tell about the same life, mine could focus more on hardship, jealousy, fatigue, anger, fighting, feeling out place, or reverse happiness, accomplishments, insights, growth, network and beautiful people. To me things have come together with age and if I should sum up my strategy it is to focus on who and what give me energy, and then try to avoid the opposite as much as possible.
Jane Widtfeldt Meged
Roskilde University, Denmark