It’s the end of my first year as a foreign student. During the whole year I found it hard to “fit in”. The issue is that I’ve had the feeling that to be part of the community of my department was difficult: everybody was polite, but there was always this feeling of distance. After my first weeks, I realized that my only friends were foreigners too. We talked about this issue and they had the same experience: You are welcome but not integrated. I assumed it was due to the fact that we were foreigners: different cultures, different ways to interact prevented us from understanding the “non written rules of the community”. Interesting enough, every time I would meet someone from a different department the first question was: how is the atmosphere in your department? I realized it was not only me but that in general the perception other’s had of my department was that it is hard to fit in and interact with the community. After a few months things had changed: some of my friends had been integrated in the community, some didn’t. I was too busy to think of it, until I had a revealing experience two days ago: the department organized an event to which most of the students of the department attended. After the event, a group decided to go for a drink. I was sitting with some of my foreign friends and someone came to invite us to join them for drinks. When the group left for drinks I realized it was only integrated by white men. And suddenly I realized: the invitation to drinks was not addressed to all of us, but just to a few of the people I was siting with: men. I couldn’t help but to comment it with my friends, and their answer was astonishing: oh, you haven’t noticed yet that our department is completely male dominated? Indeed, I realized that the only ones of my foreign friends who were invited to parties, to join extra academic events or that had been welcome to be more involved in department activities were in fact white men. I have to confess, I did not notice any of this till my friends mentioned it. I was so convinced the problem was being a foreigner that I had not realized what the real issue is: the problem is being a woman. Honestly, I’m still in shock. Not only because of the reality but because it’s taken me a year to see it!
I would like to tell the story of a dean at a prestigious university in the United States who was willing to go a great length when I, an international Lecturer on a 1-year contract, presented my resignation. The dean went as far as to threaten me with retroactive firing (!), and put me at risk of loosing my new job and, even worse, deportation.
The story goes as follows: I was working as a lecturer at university A. I was on a working visa (I need a visa to be in any country other than the one I was born). I had a big teaching load, no research time and no stability (the contract was for one year, renewable). Most important, this job came with a lot of uncertainty, for I didn’t know whether they would renew my contract until two or three months before its expiration date, and therefore of my visa’s expiration date. No job = no visa = deportation. In my second year as a Lecturer I applied for a postdoc position at a high profile university (university B). And I was offered the position (yay!). Having a job offer when you are on a visa is not, however, any warranty. University B couldn’t confirm my contract until they had all visa documents transferred from university A, and approved by the governmental office. In order to start that process, which would take several months, I had to keep my visa, sponsored by university A, valid. The HR people from university B told me I had to be hired in my previous job in A right until the day before my new contract with B was planned to start, otherwise the transfer could not be done.