invisible behind stereotypes

I have plenty of anecdotes to share concerning stereotypes related to my homeland and the way in which they were tactlessly brought up by colleagues in informal and formal contexts alike: a colleague imitating my accent in the attempt to be funny; a director telling me “be sure not to do that [some procedure] the way people usually do in your country”; improvised “trials” in which I was supposed to explain the behaviour of this or that politician; a senior colleague explaining to me and two more locals how corrupt academia is in my homeland;  and even the patronizing tone in which I was often told, with a smile, how nice a place my homeland is for a holiday, after all.

My homeland DOES have many shortcomings (for instance it did not give me a job!) and I am a very self-ironic person but, especially from colleagues who are supposed to be “intellectuals,” one would expect to be just treated as a peer and not as the representative of some (more or less stereotypical) national traits.

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“British jobs are for british people”

Since the day I started my PhD coming from Mexico into the UK I had a number of interesting comments from staff and colleagues that were amusing at the beginning  but  rather unpleasant in the long run… I explain myself: I remember the day I arrived I was told straight away that I will be very happy in such a “friendly and open” department and that I will take a great experience back when I return to my country… Indeed, there was always this (ungrounded) assumption that I was only temporarily in the UK and that I should return to my country and speak about the bounties of Brit education back there, treasuring it while it lasted… In order to challenge what started to be an unneeded trend in every advice related with careers I kept expressing that I wished to stay in the UK and apply for jobs here: couldn’t be more surprised to notice that the intensity of the discouraging comments of the career advisors from my discipline went into downright persuasion to avoid my purpose because of the dire situation of the job market and sadly, even quite xenophobic expressions that “British jobs are for british people” and the like  … This made me take the whole thing as a challenge so much that i became quite determined to stay in English academia… This is not the place to report everything that happened in the process but eventually got the job and  I am working in another UK university now…  When I listen here and there publicity from the UK universities recruiting people and saying how friendly and welcoming their institutions are I tend to take it with a pinch of salt since…

Being a foreigner in your own country

I am half Turkish-Dutch and born and raised in the Netherlands, so I never really had problems with the Dutch language nor its culture. Once I worked as a Junior-lecturer at an University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Once I arrived in the department, I did my work just like anyone else. I was being paid part-time, but I was basically working full-time. So one day I wanted to address it to my boss. However, she felt so annoyed that she said: ” I don’t know how they do it in the Turkish culture, but in Holland we do it like this”.  I felt very humiliated. One day we had a party at her house, and she kept referring me to everyone as [Name] from Turkey. Everyone started speaking in English to me, and I had to explain everyone that I was Dutch actually. I asked her to stop introducing me as [Name] from Turkey. She didn’t listen and even continued doing it. Then, one day, I was scheduled to leave to Vietnam with some Master students and my boss asked me to come to her office. When I was in her office, she asked me for a personal request. She said that her daughter had a clothing store on the internet, and whether or not I wanted to buy some fabrics for her daughter in Vietnam, since “all Turks know about fabrics so well”. Just because Turkish people are successful in the garment industry, doesn’t mean that….. I guess you catch my drift. Once I got another offer from another university, you can imagine, how happy I must have felt….. Being a foreigner in your own country.

it’s a shame you don’t do Chinese philosophy

I am an Asian-American philosopher born in Asia but received my secondary and onward education in the States.
When I was a graduate student, I was offered a TA-position for a broad first-year world civilization course. I was a bit surprised by the offer since more senior and more qualified candidates were passed over. I asked the instructors why I was chosen and they said, “Your background, you know.” [some hand-waving in my general direction] “You mean growing up in a small East Coast town in the States?”
I have also been told repeatedly when I went on the market that it was a shame that I didn’t do Chinese philosophy.

“Oh, you mean you’re not married to an American? I assumed that’s why you were here.”

I am English, with an unexceptional English accent, and a PhD from a UK university. I teach in the US. Students here are mostly very decent about accent/cultural differences, and I have been lucky enough to find many supportive and welcoming colleagues. But there is some entrenched xenophobia still out there, and when it appears, it is nasty. Here are some examples:

–A provost at a liberal arts college on-campus interview: “What do you know about the liberal arts? You don’t even have them in your country.”

–A student, on hearing about us potentially hiring a faculty member from a non-US country: “Great, yet another accent I have to get used to.”

–Another student: “You don’t speak English. Well okay, I suppose you do, but not proper English.”

–A colleague: “You know, sometimes I just don’t hear you. It’s your accent.”

–Another colleague, in a meeting, in front of other faculty: “Over the summer, I was reflecting on the difficulties I’ve had in working with you on this project. I decided the problems come down to you being from a different country.”

–During hiring negotiations: “Oh, you mean you’re not married to an American? I assumed that’s why you were here.”