Resident alien

Aug 07 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

Like most people in academia, I have moved around a decent amount. I've lived in multiple states and countries throughout my career, and may someday move again. The semi-nomadic lifestyle has some perks, particularly as it relates to gaining experience with different cultures and norms. I have made friends in far reaching places, especially as they spread to new places from where we met. My eldest daughter has two passports and I hope to bring her back to where she was born in the next couple of years. I see these as good things that have helped me develop my sense of values and perspective.

There are things, however, that rolling stones miss out on. I am once again teaching teachers for a few days this week and many of them have lived entire lives within a few mile radius of where they grew up. I've found myself lost in conversations about places and things (some still present, some long gone) that are familiar to them all. Nearly every one of them knows somebody who is a friend of someone else in the room.

The level of connection is astounding to someone who has spent much of their life disconnected from the permanent residents based on my transience. A few years here, a couple more there, a handful over yonder.

In about a week I will have been here for 4 years. That's roughly as long as the previous 3 places I have lived. This time is different, because there is potential that I will stay here for a considerable length of time. However, it still feels the same at this point and I wonder whether I'll settle into to my current environment or always remain a foreigner. Time will tell.

10 responses so far

  • DrugMonkey says:

    Wait until your kids are in school and playing in the local soccer team. It comes with time.

  • Bashir says:

    Don't really feel like a local in my current town. That's for a variety of reasons. The biggest one being that I've basically spent the whole time trying to figure out how to leave. I'm a postdoc, I'm supposed to leave.

  • miko says:

    Two years and house made us feel like locals, but almost everyone we know is a transient.

  • So jealous. I know we'll get there too, but I'm still jealous. We're in the middle of moving to two households right now, currently without housekeys .

  • SEL says:

    "However, it still feels the same at this point and I wonder whether I'll settle into to my current environment or always remain a foreigner. Time will tell."

    After the nomadic times of undergrad, grad, and postdoc positions, I've landed tenure and own a house and so technically could stay at my current location forever. Problem? I don't like the culture here. So I will always feel like a foreigner. Unless I go ahead and try to find a position elsewhere...but....the job is good. So, I guess my solution is to just try to travel a lot.

  • European Academic says:

    After a PhD and postdoc in two countries and now as an academic in my third country (and in total living 12 years abroad), I have a theory that there exist two types of people: those who have moved and lived in at least one different culture (I mean really lived and worked, going for holidays doesn't count) and those that have always stayed in one place. So, in a way, there are global and local people. In my experience, once you've globalised yourself and expanded your views through contact with other cultures, you can never really connect with the local people anymore on the same level as you did before that, not even in the place where you were born. You have much more in common with the other global people, even if their original countries are totally different from yours, since you all become sort of "third-culture kids". At least in my experience this is how it works.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I'm pretty happy in my job and the location isn't bad. Sure, there are unwritten traffic "rules" that make me stabby, but that would likely be true anywhere. It's possible that we're just no longer able to "act local", but it may just be a time thing. Integration of the kids into local stuff will likely help.

  • I moved several times across countries and internationally during my academic career and have "settled" into a tenure track job several states away from where I grew up. I've been here for almost two years now and still feel like a complete stranger. I'm wondering if folks have any advice for fitting in for people that aren't having kids or going to church?

  • I also moved around a lot for my training (although not internationally) and now find myself an ethnically mixed West Coast transplant to the rural white midwest. I've lived here as an assistant professor for four years and have yet to feel like I fit in, maybe in large part because I'm single, no kids, and I don't like beer. Last year I finally got desperate enough to start attending church (UU, because I'm an atheist) and learning to play a team sport. It's helped, but I feel like I still have a long way to go. I'm eager for advice as well.

  • kt says:

    On the one hand I know what European Academic above is saying, but on the other hand... I'm a two-passport and two-culture person who has nevertheless spent most of my life in the same Midwestern area. Sure, I know four languages and have friends on many continents; I have nice frequent flier status on two airlines; I have been at three different higher ed institutions and will lift it to five in the next year or two: but I'm a local person. Because I was lucky enough to go to grad school not too far from where I grew up and because I kept a number of elementary/high school friends, I know someone who knows someone who's a teacher at X Neighborhood School and I know the local gossip to some extent and I know that corner big box used to be an independent pharmacy and I still call the local Catholic church by the pre-parish merger name. I also grew up with kids from the same communities I now teach and feel a commitment to those communities and understanding of the issues they're facing, because they're my communities. I'm worried about them and the next professor they're going to have who won't understand them because she's from somewhere else.

    I actually really like that local part of life and am rather angry about the forced relocation aspect of academia. If you are from a culture that values home and family and being around for the daily and seasonal celebrations, how do you reconcile that with the academic value of moving for opportunity and leaving family for whatever continent might hold the best temporary job? Conversely, how are we ever going to reach students from these cultures if we are forced by academia to make our cultural knowledge broad rather than deep?

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