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 decisions that cause me so much stress, jeopardize my stay in this country, and cost me money, …. is exhausting. Feeling that I already owe so much to my department and my university paralyzes me when I need to ask for anything else, including the things I have a full right to ask.
Being grateful for things for which perhaps I don’t have to be grateful for reminds me of the ways in which women, as I have been told by senior women academics, are often less demanding than men when negotiating the terms of a contract, as if the fact of being offered a job was already something to be grateful for, and demanding anything means you are selfish and betraying the deal. I have been in a few events where women senior academics gave invaluable advice to junior women about how to fight all the forces that go against them when pursuing their careers. I wish there was a way to get advice and support for foreigners, about how to handle the accent-related micro-aggressions in the classroom, the xenophobic well-intentioned comments in conferences, and especially, about what to be grateful for and what not, about what we are entitled to expect, and when we can relax and stop being grateful.