The current main cause of my performance anxiety is this upcoming conference. To be honest, I didn’t know anything about Finland going into this. I’ve only met one Finnish person ever, a friend’s housemate when we were studying in Bath. She was nice, and we shared a mutual interest in Colin Firth, but we really didn’t get to know each other. My knowledge of Finland doesn’t go much beyond its geography—it’s between Russia & Sweden, it has forests & lakes, and looks a bit like Minnesota, where lots of Scandinavians have settled in the US. That’s really about it. My grandmother was Swedish—close, but no cigar.
Since I heard that there was going to be a conference there in my field, with some big name keynotes, I’ve been learning more than I ever wanted to know about Finland. Did you know its public education system is the best in the world? And it’s been rated as the least corrupt country? And Finnish doesn’t use genders for its nouns, but it does have fifteen cases? Amazing facts, all of which are useless when it comes to my actual conference paper and presentation.
My paper was a struggle--I seriously don't think I've worked that hard on writing since my undergrad days. It's very difficult to write about something completely unfamiliar to you. In writing this paper, I went against the classic "write what you know" advice. I went to sections of the library that I'd never used--the Scandinavian section of Modern History for a better understanding of Cold War neutrality, for instance, and Geography for a look at Finnish culture. It was a bit like my undergrad research paper on television in Uzbekistan (fascinating stuff, and even more obscure than this topic).
As a PhD student, you really have it easy when it comes to writing. You get three years to research, write and rehash the same topic over and over again. It's really luxurious, actually, and I've never appreciated it until now. Still, this conference paper has been a good challenge, and it's nice to know I can still blag my way through writing a research paper on something completely unknown...