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By Shola Adenekan

Tuesday, December 20, 2011.

Teaching abroad is one of the dreams that many academics arguably have. Stories of living in a warmer clime or teaching with the latest tools are part of the academic imaginary just as migration has always been part of the academic experience, but as permanent teaching positions are now few and far between for many academics in Western Europe and North America due to the current harsh job market, this perhaps may be a good time to actualise your dream of working overseas and to get a taste of how the other academic side lives. You may even get to refresh your mind and career in the process.

Academia goes global

Until a year ago, Wambui Mwangi used to teach as an assistant professor of political economics at the University of Toronto, but she is now taking a break from Toronto to return to her native Kenya. Dr Mwangi recognises that in the digital age, academic communities are now global and points out that it is now easier to negotiate flexibility in schedules and presence in different places as mobility is no longer a problem in academia.

Patrick Effboley who is an academic at Université Paris X Nanterre, suggests you should look at working as guest researchers, visiting professors and through twin programme between your home university and those abroad, as well as sabbatical leaves.

Kenneth Harrow a senior lecturer at Michigan State University who has thought in Africa suggests looking at Study Abroad appointments as well as schemes such as the Fulbright lecture tours.

Committing to teaching abroad

In terms of the kind of commitments you should be willing to make with regards to moving abroad, Dr Mwangi advises that difference in geographical location may also mean immersing yourself in a different set of academic priorities such as different ways evaluating what counts as scholarship.

“Depending on where one’s research context is, moving away from it might also give rise to a dislocation of intellectual perspective, or at least change it,” she says. “Then of course, there are the intersectional politics of who has a right to speak, read and teach some subjects, which voices count as authoritative and which ones are silenced.”

Integrating overseas

Dr Effboley advises that when moving to abroad, you should be ready to stay at least for two academic years so as to benefit fully from the overseas environment and also to give your overseas students and colleagues the chance to gain from the experience. 

And if you do move abroad, Dr Harrow says you should try to establish a close tie with your new colleagues and you should be willing to ask for assistance in learning the new approaches and standards that are expected.

“Acquiring a mentor would also be helpful,” he says.

Dr Mwangi suggests you find out what your new colleagues are up to, read their work and attend their research presentations.

“Academic practice lends itself particularly well to belonging by doing,” she says. “Integration results from exhibiting an interest in the work of others and providing opportunities for others to be interested in one’s own work.”

Dr Effboley warns that integration in overseas academic community needs patience, open mind and personal commitment.

And if the plan is to return straight back to your home institution, Dr Effboley advises that you should ensure that your old position is only covered temporarily.

Dr Harrow warns that there are often bruised feelings at home about those who left and who might now think they have a better grasp on the field, so working considerably with those at is important.

Work-family life balance

Since family life is as important as your academic life, if not more, these academics advise that the interests of your loved ones are as important as your own.

“Your children’s education  is important especially if they are moving from one linguistic area to another  - French speaking to English or German, English to French, etc,” says Dr Effboley. “In the other way, the return should be planned taking into account the same issues. But it is also important to plan it so that the children don’t feel disturbed in their education.”

Dr Harrow advises that you should get to know the parents of your children’s new friends so as to work out activities together.

“Try to give the children a sense of empowerment in know more than one culture,” he says.


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