Emigrate from USA to a Nordic Country?
October 27, 2017 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I'm a physical-science professor in the USA at an 'R1' university with an active research program. I'm alarmed enough at the present US political situation that I've put out some feelers about the possibility of moving to universities in Nordic countries. One department appears eager to proceed with the 'senior hire' process. Should I play ball with them?

The department appears good to me -- probably a lateral move in terms of university / department resources/support. They're looking for someone with my expertise, and I have the impression from a visit earlier this year that I would fit in very well intellectually. [In case you look at my question history, this is not the university where I've been on sabbatical; I was there for a 1 day seminar visit.]

All this said, I'm extremely happy with my current job and city in the USA. The only reason for me to consider moving is that I'm scared about the political situation in the USA. Moving to escape the USA political instability is the only upside. Downsides include the fact that pursuing a move could really complicate the divorce process that I'm just now at the beginning of.

All this said, academic senior hires typically take a very long time. In my field in the USA, such hires typically take 1 to 2 years from an initial interview to starting the new job. I would expect a similar timeline if I pursued this possibility. It would be at least 2 years until I actually move permanently out of the country. It could be entirely possible to have a 50% appointment at my home university and a 50% appointment at my new (Nordic) university for a few years (wherein I would spend 50% of my time in the USA and 50% of my time in the Nordic country for a set number of years, up to perhaps 3 years in a transition process).

Should I 'start the dance' with this possibly new department? It's really just a hedge against the USA politics becoming intolerable. I don't want to move, but I don't want to be stuck in the USA if we come to a point where the political system provokes mass emigration to safer harbors. This job would be a very soft landing for me if I emigrated from the USA.
posted by Doc_Sock to Work & Money (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Downsides include the fact that pursuing a move could really complicate the divorce process that I'm just now at the beginning of.

Are you thinking your by-then ex-spouse and children would be able to emigrate with you should the USA politics become intolerable? If things hypothetically wind up going that route in the U.S. and you felt the need to escape, would you want to move away from your children, leaving them in a country with a fascist regime that could even complicate international travel? Being separated from my kids, especially leaving them behind to deal with what I could escape myself, would scare me much more than living under any kind of political condition. I think you need to discuss this with your spouse and make sure she'd be on board with 1) co-parenting with a 6 month on/off schedule and 2) would agree to let the kids (and herself) come to the Nordic country too if things here become intolerable.
posted by flourpot at 7:38 AM on October 27, 2017 [7 favorites]

Also - and I'm sure you've considered this - the research funding future here is precarious. If you're getting heavily recruited over there and you're at an R-1, you're probably relatively fine, but I'm sure you're already starting to see the effect on graduate studies in your field and the effect on jobs outside of R-1s. And of course, in the current political climate, there is no guarantee that even people at top schools in top fields will always be fundable. The better your employment future, the better future you can provide your children.

When I think about historic disasters, I think of many accounts by people who were able to bring relatives to safety, and the key part was that the bringer had a secure job and money. If things deteriorate here, it is very likely that the bourgeois children of a well-off professor in Europe will be able to travel through and out of the US. The best guarantor of escape is someone outside who can help you.
posted by Frowner at 7:56 AM on October 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Worst case scenario: you start the dance, the process proceeds, one or two years from now you start your appointment at the Nordic university while going on unpaid leave (don't neglect to do this!) from your current university. It turns out you hate it in Scandinavia and you bail after a year or two (check whether you can extend your unpaid leave for a second year!), returning to your original faculty position. This kind of thing actually happens rather frequently.
posted by heatherlogan at 7:58 AM on October 27, 2017 [14 favorites]

If I had a decent job waiting for me in one of the few likely-safe areas of the world, I would go without a second thought.

There are some assumptions about lack of political risk though that I'm not sure are warranted. E.g. Finland is a Nordic country and it's on the border of Russia.

Remember that Scandinavia was affected by fallout from the Chernobyl disaster. If NATO and Russia go to war over the Baltics, even a small nuclear exchange in Eastern/Middle Europe could make things "hot".
posted by Jahaza at 8:05 AM on October 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

If I were in your position, I'd do this in a heartbeat.
posted by arkhangel at 8:18 AM on October 27, 2017 [4 favorites]

You mention that the move "could" complicate your divorce proceedings. If you have school age children, that "could" is actually "totally 100% will". Unless you and your co-parent are in absolute agreement about how to handle physical custody and visitation, move-away custody cases are among the most expensive, time-consuming and actively disruptive to kids. You would potentially need approval of the court to move your child(ren) and your home jurisdiction may be more or less permissive. Judgement would ultimately be made based on the "best interests of the child". So as part of your decision making, be prepared to drop a lot of money on a lawyer familiar with international custody. Even if you are sure you and your co-parent would be on the same page, things can change.
posted by thatquietgirl at 8:20 AM on October 27, 2017 [13 favorites]

Moving halfway across the world while you have grade-school & high-school age children (based on your previous question) will have a permanent effect on your relationship with them. Full stop. Do not fool yourself that it will be otherwise. You may all come through it with a still-great relationship, but that will take a significant amount of emotional work, money (traveling to see them or bringing them to you) and time commitment. Failure at maintaining the relationship you will have permanent consequences.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:39 AM on October 27, 2017 [21 favorites]

You have children. Nowhere in this particular question are they mentioned. That seems like a really huge part of the equation, or at least it would be for me, especially considering that you're getting a divorce. You'll have to think of custody arrangements (unless you're pursuing and would get 100% custody), and things like what would happen if one of your children becomes seriously ill or has an accident while in your ex's care; would you be able to leave your job for x amounts of days, weeks, months while you deal with your sick/injured child across the world?
posted by cooker girl at 8:41 AM on October 27, 2017 [15 favorites]

If you didn't have kids, I would say that there is no harm in starting the process. But doing this will remove you from your kids' lives for months at a time. It would be different even from the classic not-very-involved-divorced dad "two weekends a month and the summers" schedule. Does this matter to you? Because it really should. You don't want to join the ranks of sad old men who only too late realize why it's important to have a real relationship with your children.
posted by praemunire at 8:59 AM on October 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you have children I'd talk to a divorce lawyer that's had experience in these sorts of situations (ie one parent in another country), before making any decisions.

If you don't have kids, give it a go. Worst comes to worst, you've had a fun life experience & lived in another country for a while.
posted by wwax at 9:06 AM on October 27, 2017

If you say that you don't want to move, don't move.

The probability of the kind of instability you're worried about in the US is very low. The probability of similarly bad things happening in nordic and/or Scandinavian countries is lower but probably not *that* much lower.

I really don't mean to overstate this, but I think frowner's talk of "safe" areas is misplaced. You would do well to worry about rising nationalism across Europe undermining the EU and sabotaging the economy of $Country, at which point scapegoats are really handy. Similarly, a reduced EU might tighter relations with Russia seem reasonable, especially to the right-wing xenophobes who are on the rise everywhere. In any case, if the low-probability event of things going really pear-shaped in the US should come to pass, that's likely to destabilize the rest of the world, and most nordic/scandinavian countries' capacity for wholly indigenous self-defense are pretty limited.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:22 AM on October 27, 2017 [11 favorites]

I realize a lot of people don't like the current president or political situation. Unless, however, it is impacting you personally in some significant way, this is a pretty radical step at this point. Why not wait until the next election and see what happens? Sweden isn't free of problems; a Danish cartoonist sparked plenty of controversy; don't forget Olof Palme or the 2011 mass shooting in Norway. Can you maybe talk to someone about your concerns about political instability here (we still have the same institutions intact even if many don't agree with them right now)? It is unlikely that you would get custody of your children since it would mean uprooting them to somewhere they (and you) have no connections, and presumably they have family here; the court will do what's in their best interests, and your spouse doesn't sound incompetent.
posted by OneSmartMonkey at 9:28 AM on October 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

One thing I would keep in mind is how this would affect your research lab, since many of your graduate students and postdocs may not want to move with you.

Of course if it is the best thing for you, it is your lab and you should move. But I have had 3 friends who worked in various labs with PIs who moved west-east coast in the USA, or from the USA to Europe, and the lab’s productivity crashed to a halt for 1-2 years, partly due to people coming/going due to the move, and partly due to having to pack up, move, and set up equipment all over again. You will also have to coordinate what to do with grad students (ie, do they transfer programs? commute? how does that even work internationally?) and possibly find a home at your current institution for postdocs who don't want to move with you but are still in the process of wrapping up a project.

I work in the life sciences, so the turnaround may not be as bad in the physical sciences, but I would still expect your professional productivity to take a hit.
posted by angst at 10:29 AM on October 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

"I don't want to move."

Even if you end up with a 50/50 time split, you're still asking strangers for advice on whether you should move... in the same breath that you say you don't want to move. You have to balance your own equation on the risks and benefits of moving relative to your personal life and future desires. I think you'd need quite a big positive--something more substantial than hedging a geopolitical fear--to balance out a statement like "I don't want to move." Do you have one, or more, of those positives?
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:12 AM on October 27, 2017 [3 favorites]

Yeah I’d proceed with them, because having options is a good thing. When you have an actual offer in hand, you can still say no, depending on the conditions and the rise of US fascism. And/or just use it to get higher pay from your current employer. Outside offers are always good.
(Pretty much sounds like you should stay but who knows what happens in the next year...)
posted by The Toad at 1:44 PM on October 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is it really that bad in the US? That is scary.

I want to pitch in about the kids, because I was recently in a similar situation, and I took it up with my kids openly. Surprise: the one who is still in school thought it was brilliant, and convinced her bigger sister who lives in her own apartment with a boyfriend to support me.
As it ended up, I'm still here (in Scandinavia), and it's my ex who has moved to another country, and the youngest supports that as well.
Talk with them. It's OK if nothing happens, they are big enough to be participants in a proces.

About Scandinavia: we are also hit by the current right-wing tsunami, but I admit there have been no real attempts to end democracy and we still all have solid welfare states. Just don't think this is a liberal paradise, because it really isn't.
posted by mumimor at 1:52 PM on October 27, 2017 [1 favorite]

> All this said, I'm extremely happy with my current job and city in the USA. The only reason for me to consider moving is that I'm scared about the political situation in the USA.

Can you be more specific about what you're afraid of? That might be more helpful -- if you would find it useful to have people discussing what you're worried would happen and how you can protect yourself against it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:57 PM on October 27, 2017

Other folks have already commented on the family aspect, do I'll comment on the Nordic country aspect....

(1) Do you have experience living in said Nordic country for an extended length of time? While some Nordic countries have more immigrants than others, they are all fundamentally nation states/monocultures and you will definitely be an outsider. I commented on this here on the blue a couple of years ago.

(2) Do you know how much you will get paid (after tax) and are you okay with that? Life in Sweden (the Nordic country I'm familiar with) involves more consumption of social goods and less consumption of private goods. That means: free school lunches, almost free health care, heavily subsidized daycare, nicer public spaces... but consumption goods (clothes, electronics, stuff) and services (restaurants, hair cuts,...) are very expensive. I know a Swedish professor who has lived in the US for decades and wanted to repatriate to Sweden as he neared retirement, but balked at the pitiful salaries on offer.
posted by yonglin at 5:44 PM on October 27, 2017

At the risk of coming across as a complete ass, I have to ask: what specifically about the current political climate makes you have such concerns, and how would this potentially impact you in a practical sense?

On the topic of emigrating, or even simply working in Europe legally, having tried this for different reasons years ago I can tell you that EU nations in general make it very difficult for North Americans to legally move and gain employment. I am not familiar with the Nordic states, but Spain was notoriously uncooperative about allowing me to work there and extend my visa. I have the ability to gain German citizenship due to family circumstances, but even that process was exceptionally long, costly and ultimately not worth the effort. Additionally, you will want to consult with a tax attorney because unless you relinquish your US citizenship you will likely have US tax liabilities as well.

You'll want to discuss this in detail with your divorce attorney because any effort to leave the country will reflect negatively upon you during proceedings, regardless of your reasons for doing so.

Something else to consider, and I accept that this is a controversial point of view: Many Euro countries are far more monocultural than the US. Additionally, and especially in countries like Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Germany, the cultures place a high premium on following commonly accepted social norms and rules. Deviation from those norms can lead quickly to ostracism. I don't say this as a negative, simply an observation from my experiences and those of friends of mine. If you're someone who doesn't like to go-along-to-get-along, or is willing to fall into the cadence and accepted social norms, you might ironically find life there more challenging than you thought. It's very subtle, but very deeply ingrained.
posted by tgrundke at 7:21 AM on October 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

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