Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Naive and Privileged

I'm slowly meeting some of the other faculty folks here, slowly. There seem to be four broad categories of faculty, the Japanese tenure line folks, the semi-permanent foreign folks, the not so permanent foreign folks, and the exhange from another home university folk (that's me). When I signed up for the exchange program, I was sort of under the impression that there would be more faculty like me, visiting from a home university for the semester. But this semester, I'm it for that role.

What I have been surprised to discover, but shouldn't have been, is that there's a veritable army of adjuncting people here, working with little job security, putting together classes to teach at multiple universities. There seems to be a common thread of ABDness, starting in on adjuncting while finishing the phud, and then getting caught in the loads of teaching it takes to support oneself and one's family. That's a fairly familiar story through adjunctland, I know. Some of the folks I've met here are here because their research interests led them to the area, others because they've made international families.

The semi-permanent and not so permanent foreign faculty here seem to have little job security; some tell me of working at various universities or colleges around the world with all sorts of hiring and firing weirdnesses.

When I was going into the Peace Corps, I rather romanticized what it might mean to be an ex-patriot, based, no doubt, on my High School teachers' romanticizing of Hemingway or something. While I was in the Peace Corps, in my early to mid-20s, I got to know a few ex-pat teachers, people in their late 20s and early 30s, almost all men, who'd teach at X American School for a while, with plans to move to another school in another country at some point. But all of them worked hard, and none seemed to have any romantic notions of Hemingway-esque adventures, and I lost mine along the way, which was healthy and good for me.

Of the people I've met, several express a sense of permanence here, and yet even these folks don't seem comfortable with the language, really, not like people I knew in SA were comfortable in Spanish.

To be honest, it's really hard work living and working in another language. I'm doing it probably as easily as it can be done: teaching in English and working with people who are at least bi-lingual in English. And it's still work to figure out what to get at the store, how to take the bus or train, how to license a bike, get my alien card, all those things that just have to be done in another language. (I keep that in mind when I meet immigrants to the US; I have a lot of respect for people who make their way in US culture as immigrants.)

And yet it's still an adventure, still special to live deeply within another culture (or shallowly, in my case here). And it's exciting, and satisfying on some important level for me.

But, thoroughly boring bourgeoisie Bardiac appreciates the idea of having a home university to return to, a sort of permanent academic place, and with it a real home with a yard, a toilet I know how to work, and a bathtub that doesn't talk back.


  1. I want to hear more about the talking bathtub...

  2. yea, I was wondering if I missed a post somewhere featuring the bathtub.

    we once tried out a car that talked. the kids freaked at being told to put on their seatbelts by a strange voice.

    but more about the living in a strange language -- a student stuck her head in my office yesterday when I was on the phone with mr. t. and mouthed to me, "you're speaking HEBREW?!". As soon as I got off, I went to find her as this has never happened to me in this environment. She thought she was dreaming - my voice sounded a bit far away, I went from Hebrew to English as the subject changed and then back again to Hebrew. must have sounded eerie to one not expecting it.

  3. Ooooo I want to hear about the fancy toilets! With a picture!

    And timna - I admire you for NOT speaking Hebrew with students ever...I always break down and explain things...

  4. I'm not teaching Hebrew or to Hebrew speaking students -- so no one is waiting for me to explain. Occasionally I have to pause to remember the right word in English!