GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Traveling between the Global and the Local

In Liminal Thinking on 2010/02/09 at 09:00

I just returned from India. It was my fourth trip there in a year, and only a week long. Somehow traveling like this has become the norm in my life and my career, and I’m not sure how it happened, other than I have a very thick passport, a university with a “global mission” and no children.  In the past five years, I have spent a considerable amount of time alone and with students in a variety of countries, including South Africa, Brazil, Thailand, India, the Dominican Republic, and before that, in Moldova, Estonia and other places….I’m clearly not an area specialist, so I suppose one could call me a “global specialist.” My own research focuses on local and global activism, and my teaching mission is to teach students the practice of activism, so I feel incredibly lucky for these opportunities to do what I love.

Recently, my vice-provost asked me how I felt about starting programs in Haiti or Indonesia (or both!) and of course, I found myself agreeing to it all. And then he reminded me that I should probably get a second book out within the next year or so before I go up for tenure.

And here lies the problem: this schizophrenia of being globally oriented while also striving to meet the more parochial, local  demands of “academia.”

Most universities and even many colleges in the US seem to have caught the fever for “global” initiatives.  They look to expand their boundaries outwards, to embrace whatever benefits globalization might have created (and certainly we’re in a new world where globalization will have to mean something different), but the centrifugal force of the old system remains. No matter how many international programs are created, no matter how many global connections are forged, the expectations of faculty meetings, curriculum committees, articles published, classes taught, robes worn–all remain. Despite the new-found global missions, those expectations will be the guiding principles for tenure approval, so we “GenXers”, who are more comfortable with this global vagabond life, will have to carry the double burden of global and local until the sea change occurs.

My junior colleagues and I seem to be facing even greater challenges than we were prepared to handle (I don’t ever remember a grad school professor advising us how to juggle teaching a class in India while also teaching one in the States, in the same semester), but there is the exhilarating sense of being a part of the vanguard. As Meg wrote in an earlier post, adjectives like “international,” “global,” and “world” don’t really capture the sense of what many of us are doing now, and there are few signposts to guide us. I suppose we’ll travel ’til we get there.

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  1. In a jest, a colleague once summed up my university career as “now you see her, now you don’t.” I have a parallel experience of global/local pressures on account of research projects, which bring me overseas over long periods of time with a teaching load of 2-4 classes back in Iloilo. Because I have to get “permission” to go abroad every time, I am “tracked” by the system. But I am BLESSED by supervisors and a Chancellor who are pleased with the research grants I obtain (they are competitive grants; prestigious to the university) and are willing to cut me slack provided I don’t tank my student evaluation. I have the added advantage of doing research that feeds into publication. My research-to-publication “conversion” rate is more than 1:1 at this point, which makes my university happy (increases publication stats). And I get paid $1200 for every ISI article I publish. I don’t know if these so-called “global programs” allow you that synergy (personal/institutional benefit) as overseas research.

  2. Hi Rosalie, yes, I think I should have said something about the issue of synergy, as you put it (and maybe that will be my next post!), but I, too, am really lucky in that my travels abroad, whether alone or with students, are always closely related to my research, too, so it’s an endless source of material for my work. Luckily I have a great director and a Vice-Provost who both recognize this relationship but I fear there are others who aren’t so lucky.

  3. The personal costs indeed are very high with a globe-trotting lifestyle. I too have no children. But I am very fortunate to have a husband whom I can drag (and is willing and financially able) to a lifestyle of research/conference travels. He refers to himself as a “trailing spouse.” And so, I don’t feel as bad having this life (a) I often fold my research travel with sightseeing/tourist-y things; (b) I am with my husband. Believe it or not, any research grant application of mine begins with a conversation like this: “How do you like Austria? Miss your winter? Like to ski? Innsbruck it is.” Just last night, I told him I will apply for a South-South grant with a possible partner from South Africa. He’s stoked— we’ve never done an African safari.

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