Comments by an American Semi-Digital Nomad in Siberia (Комментарии американского цифрового «полукочевника» о своей жизни в Сибири)

Автор: Коллантай Д.А.

Текст доклада представлен в авторской редакции.


For the past three and a half academic years, I have lived and worked in Tomsk while conducting my life in the U.S. online—and the reverse in the summers. Additionally, in both places I coordinate a non-profit support organization that began by pen and paper and telephone in Alaska 30 years ago and itself became able to function internationally without any constraint, and without regard to my physical location, because of the internet. I’ll comment on these experiences and Siberia as a place for this possibly “semi-nomadic” lifestyle.

I’m Jean Kollantai, and I’m from Anchorage, Alaska and work here at Tomsk State University, in Western Siberia. I was invited to make a few comments today from my perspective as what one might call a semi-digital nomad. (Or is it digital semi-nomad?!)
For the past three academic years, I’ve used technology to help me lead a double life, as well as to direct a national and international non-profit group while living it. While I’m here in Tomsk for 9 months of the year, I can and do still participate in my life in Alaska in various ways, take care of my various business, and easily talk with my family and friends there and in other places, at no cost (and that’s the same as I would do at home, if they’re not in Anchorage). It’s even possible to log on and see if our house is locked; and to vote in city, state, and national elections. People here watched me vote in the last U.S. presidential election.

When I’m in Anchorage during the summer, it’s easy for me to continue to work with some people here by Skype and by email (which I do quite a bit with them when I’m here, too, including some who are abroad). The 15-hour time difference is always a bit of a challenge for Skype, but it’s do-able. I can organize my classes in academic English for publication before I even get back, arrive with a full schedule of meetings, and jump in to everything with no real gap.

In addition, the “magic” of Facebook makes it possible to communicate with most of my friends, relatives, and colleagues without any real regard to where we are, what time it is, or whatever, wherever I am working. And for example, a good friend and colleague here has left for an internship in the US for a year, but it’s really no different now to chat about what’s up or ask her a question about something, or answer a question, now than it was when she was here.

A so-called secret group on Facebook is also an important element of the non-profit support group that I direct, the Center for Loss in Multiple Birth. I founded it in 1987, when everything was strictly pencil and paper, photocopying, postal mailing, and this was an extreme challenge as the group grew to include many hundreds of members through the United States, Canada, and other countries throughout the world. For some time now, in the 2000s, we have been able to operate mainly (though by choice not entirely) through the internet, which has been very useful in general and especially useful while I live here because it doesn’t really matter where I am. A few days ago, for example, I had an email letter from a woman in South Africa who very much needs support. She began her letter “I live in South Africa and I hope it’s ok if I write” (thinking she was writing to Alaska—which used to seem like a lot to people to write or phone to there). I wrote back saying “of course” without even needing to say, “By the way I’m in Siberia!” (though I’ll mention it at some time)—and was able to put her in touch with a woman in Canada with a similar situation whom she’d wanted to talk to after reading her personal experience on our electronic newsletter. It was South Africa to Siberia to Canada with no difference in anything.

I must say that my internet service here is better than the one that we have in Anchorage, and there have been no difficulties in being connected. (Though I have not yet dabbled in smart phones and can’t speak to that.) Tomsk has actually been a very comfortable place to live my double life, and I can see how Siberia in general could be appealing in some ways to digital nomads or semi-nomads, especially urban ones. But my background is as a social worker, and as a social worker I tend to focus on practical things and can see that there would be some practical issues for digital nomads in general (and based on having talked with a few people who have been one somewhere). Things like visas, tax laws, language in some settings, handling money and banking securely, all that sort of thing. In this country, it’s very important that each person be registered to a legal physical address at all times and have the document to show that, and many nomads would likely find that difficult as well as unaccustomed. In many countries, earning money in the country can cause one to lose one’s tourist visa (I knew someone to whom that happened in Australia, for a very small stipend that she tried not to receive for giving a talk!). I suspect that laws and practices haven’t completely caught up to this kind of work, and that nomads would need to be somewhat knowledgeable, depending on their situation—that digital nomadism is not always quite as “free” as the name connotes. Also, there are war and conflict, climate and climate change, and many other realities affecting life and travel—but this trend is promising for those who can do it, and I’ve been fortunate to have my own, modified version of it between Siberia and Alaska.
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