The power of the unknown

Jorge Ricardo Cunha deliberately chose to do his PhD abroad rather than in Portugal. ‘I’m a curious person. I can’t really relax until I leave my comfort zone and experience the unknown.’
Jorge Ricardo Cunha received his PhD on 30 November for his research on recovering phosphorous from wastewater.

Proposition: You become relaxed when you leave your comfort zone

‘I had a great social life, friends and family in Portugal. But I was also very curious about experiencing something else: a new country and a new life abroad. So I went for it and chose to do my PhD in the Netherlands. This meant I went to a country where I didn’t know the culture or the language.

In the beginning this was quite stressful and I needed to adapt to these cultural differences. For example, Dutch people are very direct. Only two months after my arrival I received an email from my supervisor about the report I had written and I was a bit shocked by the way it basically said that my report wasn’t very good. Now I understand that Dutch people just say what they think and I’m quite comfortable with it. I actually changed and became a bit more like this myself.

By now I’ve been in the Netherlands for five years, and this has become my new comfort zone. That experience made me relaxed, because I know I can leave my comfort zone and it will be all right. I know what to do if I decide to pack my bags and leave for another country a second time. For now I’m staying on in Leeuwarden as a postdoc at Wetsus, but at some point I know that my comfort zone will start to feel uncomfortable and that I might want something else. But I’ll see what comes on my path.

I realize that not everyone might feel this way. For example my parents didn’t understand in the beginning why I wanted to leave. But after hearing my experience, they started to come round. I needed to be quite persuasive, but they are actually coming to visit me for the first time to see my PhD defence. It’s a big deal because they don’t really travel much. So they are leaving their comfort zone too.’

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