“here we are: RUSSIA and ROMANIA walking around the halls of the National Lab”

Having spent over 10 years abroad in several different countries and continents, I’ve learned to be thick-skinned about any kind of treatment, but there are still things that amaze me sometimes.
While doing research in North America, my advisor (who is also a foreigner) and I finally had the opportunity to use a “fancy instrument” in one of the famous national labs.
As usual, since I’m coming from a former Communist country, I had to go through a security check before being admitted (for any kind of administration, cold war is still ongoing in their minds and instructions). As usual, they don’t think it’s important to let me know that they approved my application, not until I bother them several times. All of this was part of the routine and I already got used to it. It took me several months to get my single entry student visa, I skipped one semester of graduate school because of this, and I have not left the country for over 4 years because my vacation is only 2 weeks long and I can’t wait for a few months to get a new visa (which also requires traveling several hundred kilometers from my hometown to get to the nearest consulate). I thought nothing could surprise me.
Finally, my advisor and I are at the National Lab. The security department is issuing our visitor cards. Our names are printed on a card in small letters and are kind of hard to read from the distance. By contrast, the names of our counties of origin are printed in gigantic, super-bold capital letters on a glaring red background. So here we are: “RUSSIA” and “ROMANIA”, walking around the halls of the National Lab. Not everyone can read my name on a badge, but everyone can easily see where I come from. I’m not the person, I’m the state.

the accent obstacle

English is not my native language. When I started teaching philosophy at a university in an English-speaking country, the language obstacle was a big concern. I should rather say “the accent obstacle”. I write and publish in English, and I enjoy conversations with colleagues and navigate the everyday life issues with no problems attributable to language. But I still have an accent. In the first student evaluations I got a few negative comments about that, and it was very distressing. After reading them, I started loosing confidence, and we all know how that ends (i.e. performing worse in the end). Even though I go to class thinking that accent is not an obstacle, I always end up blaming myself for having a strong accent every time a student asks me that I repeat what I just said (it is difficult for me to distinguish now when they are asking for a content clarification rather than a better pronunciation).

logic skills, german language, and being jewish

I come from Israel. I studied Philosophy in Berlin, Germany. After successfully completing the obligatory Logic course, a Student came to me and told me in the presence of other students that I had a good note simply because I do not speak native German. He maintained that it was somehow easier to me. After I told him I think it has nothing to do with it, he told me that it is because I am Jewish.

compulsory gratefulness

My experience as a foreigner in academia includes a nearly constant feeling of gratefulness, accompanied by a nearly constant feeling of exhaustion. The fact that universities have to process more paperwork for me than for national candidates (I am referring to the terror land of visas) combined with the importance of this paperwork for me (not only my job, but my stay in the country with my family is at stake) – all these things make me soak in gratefulness for things that, if I look at them with a colder mind, don’t call for that (the “colder mind” stage always comes after I have my visa renewed for another year and I enjoy several stress-free months). After all, my university is not making me a favor – it is a fair exchange of benefits, where I contribute my skills and hard work.

Feeling constantly grateful to HR offices, department chairs, deans, department secretaries, international scholars offices, even when they make mistakes (such as missing a deadline for some visa requirements), and even when they make deliberate Continue reading