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Should I change my job and my country of residence?
August 1, 2014 12:12 AM   Subscribe

I am facing a huge question that I don't know how to navigate and don't feel like I can talk to anyone about. The short story is that I have a precarious-feeling academic job in the Midwestern U.S. and applied for a job in an English-speaking country in the Southern Hemisphere. Today, I found out that I am on the short list for the job. And now I'm just not sure what to do.

First, about my current life and current job. I live in a Midwestern town comfortably near to extended family with my wife and two-year-old son. (We really like our extended families on both sides, and we are close enough to see them regularly but not so close that they just drop by.) I am a junior, tenure-track academic, and I basically like my job. But things have become seriously, badly, dysfunctionally politically charged in my department. So much so that I am unsure of being tenured in a couple of years even though it should be an easy case. Complicating matters is the fact that my wife is also an academic. We have not been able to satisfactorily solve the two-body problem in our current location, but she has *something* and has just started to feel sort of good about where we're at.

Second, about the new stuff. I have a good friend who lives in the country we would be going -- not in the same town but close enough. The department would be, I think, a large step up in quality, and in virtue of the way universities work there, I would have tenure even as a junior faculty member. Plus, it will probably pay a little bit more, after adjusting for cost of living. I really like the look and feel of the country and the town. It would be life-altering, which is maybe a good thing in and of itself.

Third, my questions. So many questions, really. And it's hard to know where to start. The big one, of course, is whether my family should move if I get an offer. And how should my wife and I make our decision? Importantly, what concrete things can I do to make her a real part of the decision-making, to be fair, to be concerned with her interests, and yet not give up on my own?

Some smaller questions include whether I should tell my current institution that I am on the shortlist somewhere, and what, if anything, should I be trying to negotiate on this end, insofar as staying put definitely has advantages? Is there any chance of using this to get something permanent and meaningful for my wife? Would asking for such a thing even be a good idea? Would getting a job offer be a way to get tenure at my current institution? Or at least get them to make a fast review of my tenure case? How open and up front should I be with the new place? I think it's true that I would take an offer very seriously. But I couldn't promise that I would accept.

And how do I go about telling my parents, my wife's parents, my grandparents, ... ?? How can I tell them that we might be moving to the other side of the world for maybe the rest of our lives and that they will go from seeing us every other week to seeing us once a year at most? In some ways, it feels like moving to the moon. And finally, what do I need to ask and think about that I am not asking and (probably) not thinking about? What have I left out of account?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
If the job is in Australia or New Zealand, memail me and I might be able to give more specific advice. I am a New Zealander working as an academic in Australia.
posted by lollusc at 12:40 AM on August 1


Keep on pursing it and start working the angle of getting your wife an offer there too, Once you are at the flyout stage, tell your chair and mention explicitly 'one of the most attractive things about moving to X is that Megan has more opportunities there.' . If it sucks, you try back on the American market in a few years.

I do not see how this will impact your tenure case at all. At least at my university (American R1), tenure cases sort of go by the books.

Good luck and congrats!

And Don't worry about your folks right now.
posted by k8t at 12:52 AM on August 1


The extent to which you can use this potential job offer as some kind of negotiating tool is heavily dependent on the culture of your present institution and your stature within your field which we know nothing about. For example, faculty at my state university are unionized and the type of negotiations you are suggesting never happen here--ever. They are not allowed by contract.

But what we do know is that your department is dysfunctional and you believe that could have a negative impact on your ability to gain tenure. So it is unclear to me why a department that might hold something against you on a future tenure case will go to bat for you now if you make demands. So given the level of dysfunction that you imply, I would not reveal your cards at this time. And I would only make demands unless you have a firm offer from the other institution and you really mean it--meaning you will absolutely resign from your tenure track position if your demands are not met. I would not use this potential offer as some kind of fishing expedition--the blow back might hurt you in the long run and might be ammunition to derail your tenure case if you decide to stay.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 1:24 AM on August 1 [2 favorites]


It would help if you told us the name of the country and your experience living or traveling there (or anywhere abroad) in the past. I am a firm believer in wherever you go, there you are. Your problems and issues will not disappear.

The place you go may be much harder or easier than you're expecting, but the main factor in determining how it will go is you. How well do you adapt to change, are you picky about food or certain brands?

You have gotten ahead of yourself- slow down. There is no need to inform your university that you're on some short list. Sit down and think - regardless of the offer or pay, do you want to move there, specifically? Academia is politically charged, period (in my experience). No one can make these decisions for you, and the fact that you're so unsure makes me worry that you lack experience abroad and think this possibility is a ticket to perfection. Good luck!
posted by maya at 1:26 AM on August 1


I'm an expat from the Midwestern US. Generally, I think everyone who has the opportunity to live and work in another country should do so.

I started brainstorming a list of questions (below) and it got huge. But don't let that scare you. Some of these questions probably have simple, clear answers. The ones that don't have clear answers are the ones you have to think about and, most importantly, discuss with your wife.

Have you ever visited the country that you're considering? You say you like the "look and feel" of the town, but have you ever been there? How much do you know about daily life in the country? Have you read up on culture shock for English-speaking expats in English-speaking countries? Is your friend a native or an immigrant?

What are your savings like? Do you own your house and cars? How much available credit do you have? How much debt do you have? (Moving overseas is expensive, even if your employer is contributing. There are a lot of little expenses here and there. Having savings to draw on for this is obviously better than taking on a lot of credit card debit.)

What are the legalities of your wife working in the new country? Could she do so immediately, or does she have to wait on a permit? With the salary and cost of living that you're looking at, could you live a one-income lifestyle? Are you willing to?

If you hate it and want to bail after a year but you can't afford to, would your extended families give you money to do so? Would you be willing to accept money from them?

How is the health of your extended family members? Are they physically and financially able to travel? Do any of them have experience with international travel? (I wouldn't worry about them too much, to be honest. They'll adapt, and if any of them resist the idea of visiting at first, I bet a grandbaby will persuade them to come. Remember that you don't always have to be the ones to go to them.)

Are you an extrovert or introvert? How about your wife? Are either of you shy or socially anxious? (I'm a hardcore introvert and fairly shy, so I don't think that's a barrier, but I do think outgoing people have an easier time of it when moving abroad.)
posted by neushoorn at 1:33 AM on August 1 [7 favorites]


It would help if you told us the name of the country and your experience living or traveling there (or anywhere abroad) in the past. I am a firm believer in wherever you go, there you are. Your problems and issues will not disappear.

I would definitely jump ship from a dysfunctional department to a functional one, especially if junior faculty at the latter get tenure. Or even known dysfunctional to unknown status.

If it weren't for the consideration of the wife's position.

And how should my wife and I make our decision? Importantly, what concrete things can I do to make her a real part of the decision-making, to be fair, to be concerned with her interests, and yet not give up on my own?

I would start by just talking to her.
posted by sebastienbailard at 1:34 AM on August 1


I've also taken an academic (non tenure-track) position in an English-speaking foreign country. neushoorn's list of questions are absolutely spot-on. Two, in particular, should not be underestimated. First, just because there's a language in common doesn't mean the culture's in common. Lots of everyday tasks are done differently. This can be a source of amusement, or a source of tooth grinding frustration. Second, moving overseas is expensive. You will have no credit in your new country until you've been there a while. Most of your appliances will need to be replaced. (Fortunately, electronics are fairly voltage-agnostic these days). You will likely want to replace your car or cars as you're almost certainly moving to a place where they drive on the other side of the road.

A couple other questions:
How is your family's health? Are there any special medications you need? How will you access the health-care system in your new country? If you or your other family members are not eligible for whatever national health system may be available, will your employer pay for private insurance for them?

Do you like hosting visitors? We end up hosting friends and family frequently.

Questions aside, I think making this move, for me, was a great decision. It's a rare opportunity that not many people get. Every day is still a bit of an adventure.
posted by penguinicity at 2:16 AM on August 1


Assuming you are offered the position, you know who should ultimately make this decision? Your wife. You are a two-academic family in which you have a tenure track academic job and she has... "something." You are being offered another tenure track academic job. You have a plethora of career enhancing options compared to her, since it sounds like she currently has none. So, she should decide which of the following applies:

1) The tradeoff of being near close family is worth not having an academic career job in her speciality.

2) The career potential for her is better in the new, far-off country.

3) The quality of life and/or the opportunity for adventure is better in the new, far-off country even if she doesn't land a well-tailored, career enhancing job there.

You are currently in a situation that is currently best for you. The decision about what, if anything, to do next should be about what's best for her.

And how do I go about telling my parents, my wife's parents, my grandparents, ... ?? How can I tell them that we might be moving to the other side of the world ?

You don't. If you accept the position, you tell them when the decision is made.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:05 AM on August 1 [10 favorites]


Some smaller questions include whether I should tell my current institution that I am on the shortlist somewhere, and what, if anything, should I be trying to negotiate on this end, insofar as staying put definitely has advantages?

Do not say a word unless you have the offer in hand. Even then people will disagree about negotiating: first, there's the risk that instead of counter offering, your current place just says "congratulations and good bye!"; second, they may give you a counter offer now but see you as someone with an eye on the door and therefore not someone to keep around; and third, there's no way that any offer they make will include making the department functional and offering you solid support through tenure.

Your current university is guaranteed to be full of grad students and faculty who have left their home countries to come to the US for the academic opportunity. The pluses and minuses they have faced offer a hint of what you are considering. As someone who has worked overseas and will do so again, I'd say take it (and of course bring your family, unless you like the idea of having all the disadvantages of both married and divorced life, with none of the advantages of either). You can always reapply to jobs in the US if you aren't happy there; this is not a permanent, unalterable decision.

And how do I go about telling my parents, my wife's parents, my grandparents, ... ?? How can I tell them that we might be moving to the other side of the world ?

You don't. If you accept the position, you tell them when the decision is made.


I agree completely. Right now this is a discussion between you and your spouse only, and you should keep it that way. Loose lips sink ships, and more people involved does not make the decision easier.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:09 AM on August 1 [1 favorite]


Please listen to DarlingBri. This should be your wife's decision to make. I'm all for people adventuring and living abroad but it sounds like she has sacrificed her career significantly already for yours, has a young child--and now you're asking her to give up her family and support system too.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:37 AM on August 1 [7 favorites]


"Generally, I think everyone who has the opportunity to live and work in another country should do so."

I 1000% agree with this. Think about what benefit your kid will have growing up in a diverse culture. Is it possible your wife might be able to become a SAHM, is she so desires?

That said, you have given NO indication of what discussion, if any, you've had with your wife about this. You are very worried about discussing this with your extended family, but what about your own wife? Extended family might be grateful for the chance to come visit you in an exciting new vacation place, even if that means they see less of you. They don't get to make that decision for you and your wife. Only the two of you do.

I would sit down with your wife and make a cost/benefit list. Like, actually write it out. From your question, it seems like there aren't many benefits at all to staying in your current position, but your wife might be able to come up with additional costs/benefits you aren't thinking of on your own. But yeah, first prioroity should be working this out with what your wife wants and what you both want for your kid.

Signed, a person who was an ex-pat for three years. And I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
posted by Brittanie at 11:56 AM on August 1


You're tenure track at a US university with a good chance of getting tenure? Stay where you are. I know you say that your department is really dysfunctional and this *may* mean you won't get tenure. If that happens, cross that bridge when you come to it. Right now spend the next two years sussing out everything you need to do to increase your tenure chances where you are.

Because if you leave now, the worst case scenario is that you've uprooted your career, your wife's career, AND end up hating the new place. Plus then it will be even harder to come back to the US and find a similar situation. I'm next door neighbors right now with a guy who had a "firm" offer for a professorship in South Africa that ended up being cancelled due to budgetary changes the week before he was supposed to get on the plane.

But most importantly, as others have mentioned, you have to talk about this with your wife. And for a move of this magnitude I wouldn't go forward with anything but her 100% enthusiastic encouragement. I've seen couples break up over moving to West Virginia for an academic job, let alone someplace several countries away.
posted by MsMolly at 2:32 PM on August 1


Is it possible your wife might be able to become a SAHM, is she so desires?

The OP's wife is also an academic, and he describes her lack of a real academic position as a problem. Why do you think she'd want to be a stay-at-home mom based on the question?

And finally, to the OP, how do you know that your department is unusually dysfunctional? Dysfunction seemed like standard operating procedure in much of academia, or so I hear from my friends.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 8:54 PM on August 1 [3 favorites]


The OP's wife is also an academic, and he describes her lack of a real academic position as a problem. Why do you think she'd want to be a stay-at-home mom based on the question?

Sorry I wasn't clearer about this — it's not that I assumed she'd want to be a SAHM. It's that, in my experience as an expat spouse, it's difficult to get a job in a foreign country unless you are being sponsored by an employer for a work visa. Spousal visas are much easier to get. (YMMV depending on what country we're talking about here.) OP mentions that the expat job will pay more, so in the event that spouse's job prospects are already sketchy and may become even more so in small foreign town, this was just another option for them to consider.
posted by Brittanie at 5:11 PM on August 3


Although I am a current grad student and was up until the past year on the academia path, I want to comment on the non-academic and non-professional parts of your question.

I lived abroad for several years at a very formative age: I left the US at an age where I didn't know just how big the decision was that I was making, and it is only in retrospect that I am awed at the enormity of the decision that I made. I don't know that I would be able to make the same decision today - not because I'm sorry that I made the decision I did, but simply because, older and wiser, I don't even know how I would even begin to go about making such a decision in the first place. I don't regret having made it - it was an incredible opportunity, and it really shaped me as a person. But that's the thing: it really shaped me as a person, in ways that I expected and in ways that I had no way to anticipate in advance. The person I am now is very different from the person I would have been if I had stayed in America, to the extent that I find it almost impossible to imagine who I would have been had I stayed. It's almost like I existed in various possible parallel universes, and I had to choose one to really inhabit forever to the exclusion of the others. I am now living back in America, and I find that the experience feels almost like a foreign country all over again. My attitudes, manners, passions, desires, and interests have been shaped in both monumental and subtle ways by the ideological and cultural contours of the country where I previously lived. Many of my colloquialisms and virtually all of my cultural references stem from the country where I lived. The mythology of the country where I lived burned its way into my core, and now when I imagine or dream, it is in the imaginative language of that country that the deepest parts of my being express themselves. Yet in that country I am still not native, and I am never more aware of my residual Americanness than when I am back in that country where I spent several years: when I am there (even when I had been there for several years), I am always "the American". I feel at home now in both countries, but I never feel entirely at home in either country: I never can fall un-self-consciously back into either culture without a slight sense of remove that I feel from the people of either country, and I am a true native nowhere. Whichever of the two countries I am in, I feel an overpowering sense of longing for the absence of the other country, its people, its customs, etc.

Perhaps this sounds negative, but I don't mean it to. There are definitely a lot of positives to all of the above as well, of course. The issue is that your question isn't at its heart a question about choosing between one job and another, but between choosing between one self and life, and another self and life. It's about choosing who you will be in the future, what will animate you, what will shape your frame of reference, and who will be your people. The fundamental problem is that the two possible lives and selves are virtually unknowable before you pick one or another - basically it's a leap of faith either way. It's almost like marriage: a different state of being and you don't and can't really know what you're in for until you've already taken the plunge. Sure, you can attempt to do the calculus about the financials, the department, your wife's job, the opportunity for your son to have such a unique cross-cultural experience, etc. But ultimately, it's not really that kind of decision, and all of that I would argue gives a false sense of certainty about what is in advance a fundamentally unknowable experience, with unknowable existential consequences that far outweigh the more quotidian ones that you can account for. Ultimately, you and your wife have to decide whether you want to hold hands and jump, or whether you don't want to.
posted by ClaireBear at 5:05 PM on August 20


So, just in case my point wasn't as clear as it should have been: I would suggest that this is less like deciding between two similar jobs, and more like deciding whether or not to accept an arranged marriage. If you consider the decision that way, I think it will put both the scale and the possible consequences in proper perspective.
posted by ClaireBear at 5:20 PM on August 20


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