A Last Look at being a Migrant Academic

It’s fitting that today is the last day of examining life as a Migrant Academic—that is, one that works in a country outside of their country of origin. The reason that it feels fitting is that today I’ll begin packing for the trip back to Shanghai. This is the hardest part of being a migrant academic. During semester breaks, so about twice a year, I come back to the U.S. and spend a bit of time with “my boys.” My boys here meaning my little 4-year old Pomeranian-Shetland mix—a real lazy sort—and my husband—an engineering sort. These times are nice because we spend some real quality time together, and we do our best not to take that time for granted. But, and this will stay true no matter how many times I make this trip over the coming years, leaving will always be hard. Certainly, I’ll be happy to be back at work, back in the classroom, and back to teaching. I do really love my job. But, the temporary goodbyes can be a bit affectively draining. There’s a reason for our madness; a reason why I trade my country for his and he trades his country for mine. It’s all about attempted longer term career planning.

If you’re thinking about whether the migrant academic’s life is for you, I’d say take a risk and go for it. Speaking from my experience, it’s been horribly rewarding both personally and professionally. I’ve done things because of this experience that I would never have done otherwise. I’ve gained invaluable experiences, ones that I hope will aid me on whatever my long-term career path might be. If you do decide on this career path, know that you’ll want to learn how to roll with the punches and that you’ll want to be open to new things. Many early career academics are told to learn how to say no. I would say as a migrant academic you need to learn how to say yes. Say yes to new experiences. Say yes to cross-departmental collaborations. Say yes to that one extra conference every year. Say yes to taking chances, making mistakes, and getting messy. You’d be surprised what comes up.

Finally, make sure that you take time for self-care. Often, when finishing our graduate programs, we’re so focused on our theses or dissertations and on trying to publish and to play the game. We completely neglect our self-care. Perhaps, we think we’re too busy to go to the gym; or, our student health plan doesn’t cover mental health visits. If you choose to be a migrant academic, you must attend to care of the self. If you don’t, it’s going to be a rubbish experience, and you’re going to flounder professionally. No matter where you move, make sure that you have options for self-care, and that includes mental health, an oft-ignored area of our personal health and wellness.

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