Thursday, December 2, 2010

Where in the world?

When I’m asked about whether I plan to live in the US forever, or return to my home country to live, I generally tell people I can’t plan forever – I can only take one step at a time, and re-evaluate every time I’m changing jobs or making another significant life decision.  

And so, as I begin flirting with the job market and applying for a tenure-track faculty positions, I once again need to concurrently think about where in the world* I want to live and work for the next chunk of my life/career? I should note, for context, that I have spent over 10 years in the US. This is a large percentage of my adult life. I have strong connections here and close friendships. The thought of leaving, even to go back my native home, becomes harder every year.

Despite this, I have worked hard to have the option to go home**. Over the time I have spent in the US, I have been diligent at maintaining my network in my home country. I make sure to catch with them at international conferences or when I visit home, giving occasional seminar talks at my alma mater when I’m in town.  I consider many of these people friends as well as mentors, so this has been natural and easy to do. 

Carmen SanDiego never had to make this decision (Source)
What makes the "where in the world" question particularly difficult is the interaction of personal and professional factors. Is it time to move back to my home country, closer to family? What professional opportunities will I lose? What will I gain? What personally do I lose by staying away? What other factors are keeping me here? Will my home country's funding be sufficient to allow me to pursue the questions I want to look at? If not, are there other options for obtaining funding/alternative research questions? Is work or family more "important"? What will my future look like if I stay? If I go home? What opportunities will I have to go home (or come back to my foreign home) later in my career?

The real problem, of course, is that these questions are unanswerable. I know my parents are healthy now. But what about in 2 years time? 5? 10? How will I feel when a nephew or niece arrives if I live half a world away?

I understand that all I can do is make a well-considered decision now, then make the best of it. No later “what ifs”.  No “road not taken” regrets. But this is harder than I can describe. For each part of the process, I am trying to make decisions based on what I know now. I had focused on the North American market. It is here that I believe that I will have the most options, funding opportunities, and support for my career in these early stages. It is here that I am waiting to hear about a significant amount of funding. When I looked at job advertisements, there were no jobs available in my home country anyway, so I had breathed a sigh of relief and moved forward with applications with a lighter heart.

But recently I have learned that there will be jobs advertised in my home city this cycle. So what do I do? Apply to the jobs my home country, go through the process, and see what it looks like, even though for funding/career opportunities I am fairly sure I want to stay in North America? This feels like I’m wasting someone’s time and money if they fly me out for an interview.  Do I thank the professor who has suggested I apply, and explain why I will not be applying at this time? This latter option feels a little like a cop-out, avoiding a potentially more difficult decision later on. Right now I am opting to wait to find out about the funding before making the decision. If I get funded here, I won’t apply, and vice versa.

Meanwhile, I am keeping family in the loop. Explaining my decisions, discussing any questions that come up. I am lucky to have their ongoing support, even for that part of my life that means I live almost as far away from them as I could possibly live. Because of their support, because they have been there via email and phone and skype when things are hard (without offering "why don't you just come home" as a solution to problems), I am avoiding the temptation to make a decision and then present a fait accompli at the end.

*I should note that everyone has the option of moving anywhere in the world. I could also look for jobs in a third country. I am not doing that – the thought of starting all over again, AGAIN, is frankly incredibly unappealing.
** Perhaps I should have saved myself the stress of an impossibly hard decision and just cut all ties? But in the beginning, my plan was to leave the US as soon as I was finished with graduate school. Yeah. Right.

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