GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘International Education’

The Graduate School Pep Talk from the Chair

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/10/02 at 03:03

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines

In my 20 months as Division chair, I have seen the departure of several male junior colleagues for graduate school in Manila and abroad. It may sound like no big deal, but to any young man few years out of college or who hasn’t lived abroad previously, starting graduate school far from one’s comfort zone is daunting. Like any mother hen, I did the usual “let’s have a serious talk about your academic career” and “what the University expects from you” routine with each one of them. A walk through choices of graduate school and programs, housing, fellowship applications, return service obligations, University clearance — this process takes a lot of time before they can finally board the plane and begin the next 2-4 years away from the demands of teaching.

I also take time to celebrate this important transition from a teacher to a student. Like I had been toasted and feted with gifts of winter clothes, shawls and Philippine native accessories when I left for the US in 1996, I want my soon-to-depart colleagues to feel that I am as proud and hopeful of their success. The scarf, hat and gloves essential for cold weather upon landing; a set of flannel sheets; a chapter or the entire Lonely Planet to inspire travel; some coins or singles for when they get hungry in between airport transfers. Along with these, I drum up the following tidbits of wisdom and advice, which I hope they will take to heart:

1. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Getting the degree is the end and be all of this journey. There are plenty of distractions in the form of additional courses, internships and “rackets” (moonlighting) that may provide ready cash or added skill. But at the end of the day, the faster you can finish the degree the better, so you can go back to and really start your career.

2. Your dissertation is not your magnum opus.

Statistically, fewer than half of students who start Ph.D. programs graduate, and fewer still complete their dissertation after gaining an ABD status. This is a valuable piece of advice given to me by Professor Chris Bosso at Northeastern, which I repeat like a mantra to my young colleagues. Toil on and get it done.

3. Socialize and build friendships.

A scholarly life is not spent in solitude at the library. Make friends, go out for drinks or coffee, finagle an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner or Labor Day weekend barbecue, have your meals with somebody, go on a road trip and to school-sponsored activities. Aside from a diploma, earn memories of this important phase because this is the only “end stage student experience” (if in a Ph.D. program) you’re ever going to get.

4. If program has optional foreign language courses, take them.

While English remains uncontested as scholarly language, speaking another language helps in strengthening one’s specialist training. Spanish, Bahasa, Japanese or Chinese– these are handy for any specialist building a career in the region.

5. Your written English and your undergraduate/graduate training is not as good as you think.

It is both humbling and a liberating experience to have somebody critique your work for what it is. It pays to take criticism constructively and grow from it. This may require some serious brain re-wiring, but you’ll appreciate it down the road when you write your 200-page dissertation or tome.

6. Immerse yourself in the culture of the place. Don’t be the snob foreigner or the homesick nationalist

It’s normal to long for the fish sinigang using batuan (sour soup) but the clam chowder is equally interesting to the palate. Join a parade, watch the fireworks, attend a folk concert, visit the local museum, try the food at the local hangout. Every locality, no matter its demographics is a place of interest. You will be happier and more well-adjusted if you learn to appreciate what your host community has to offer.

7. Save money, but don’t give up the opportunity to travel.

Being in graduate school is synonymous with poverty. There are plenty of innovative ways to stretch your budget without necessarily living on a perpetual diet of canned goods and cheap fast food. If you are abroad, treat it as likely the only chance you’ll ever have (given the difficulties of applying for a visa). Ponder about which places/cities you want to see; plot how to get there the cheapest way during school holidays; team up with friends for road trips together. Travel enriches.

With misty eyes, I send them off. But not with a last minute reminder to send progress reports and copies of grades. And a postcard to adorn the Division bulletin board.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Leading Them “Over There”

In Liminal Thinking on 2010/11/20 at 00:18

Denise Horn, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA

When I was in college in North Carolina, no one really thought much about “abroad” experiences. If you did go abroad, you went to Europe to study French or, as in my case, to learn Spanish in Madrid. The norm was to think of your career aspirations as a domestic endeavor. At the time, the Peace Corps seemed only to want engineering and nursing students, so it wasn’t a viable option for an arts-n-science student. Even in grad school, many of those who studied International Relations with me never seriously considered international field work as an important component of study–why go abroad when you could just manipulate the data from your computer at home?

I bucked the trend and made a concerted effort to move my work overseas but to be honest, I engaged in no strategic planning for my career as a young student–I had vague notions of wanting an international career, but my ambitions stopped at the academy. Luckily that has changed drastically for me, and I spend a third of my year abroad, but sometimes I really do wonder how that happened. There was no one to show me how to do it, so I fumbled along until I found the opportunities I needed.

Read the rest at Inside Higher Ed (link here)


We launched the University of Venus blog in February 2010 and currently have readers from over 125 countries. In October, 2010 the blog was visited by over 26,000 readers.

In July 2010 we partnered with Inside Higher Ed (a large higher ed media publication in the US) as part of a new initiative to support blogs focused on international and global higher ed.

In June, GlobalHigherEd and The World View launched with IHE. GlobalHigherEd is headed up by Kris Olds (professor at UWisconsin-Madison) and Susan Robertson (professor at UBristol, UK). The World View is a blogging venture coming from Philip Altbach’s team at the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College.

Beginning July 12, we started blogging at University of Venus @ Inside Higher Ed. Check out our new home and join the conversation (link here)

I Teach (Not)

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2010/10/12 at 02:11

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from the Philippines

The academic calendar is symbolic of how an institution values time. It pegs the community to set dates like enrollment and graduations; exam periods and study periods; and holidays and vacations. In my university’s case, what is not contained in the calendar is more instructive than what it actually says. Like many non-modern societies, we take a more malleable approach to time and along with it, a less strict teaching regimen.

My University’s academic calendar is a historical artifact from a former agrarian society that was dependent upon the young’s labor for planting and harvesting. It begins in June and ends in March. Book-ending the semesters are Christian holidays (All Saints/Souls Day in November 1; and Lent in late March/early April). Apart from the requisite two-week holiday for Christmas and New Year (December), we also give way to numerous “public” holidays celebrating heroes and heroic events (about 7 national and 3 local), which under former President Arroyo’s holiday economics scheme invariably were moved to Mondays (and inconveniently announced the week before the holiday!).

For a university with fixed class schedules on Mondays/Thursdays and Tuesdays/Fridays, the said holiday economics scheme is a killer on academic rhythm. It meant Monday/Thursday classes automatically lose anywhere from 4-5 sessions per semester. Moving class schedules to avoid Monday proved to be a disastrous experiment in my university, with students lamenting their midweek (Wednesday) respite. Unresolved, this serious problem drove some faculty members to shorten their syllabus topics or else wave their fists in frustration to a government more intent on building quasi-nationalism through these public holidays than inculcating knowledge to the young.

That our academic calendar falls within the typhoon/monsoon season also means several cancellations on account of flooding and other natural disasters. Surely nobody in his/her right mind would brave flying GI sheets and falling tree branches in a typhoon category 3. The same applies to those like myself who are too worried about getting leptospirosis from wading in flood waters. And so, while my professors in Boston would typically make allowance for one “snow day,” in the Philippines, 3 or 4 weather-related class cancellations are standard.

And then there are the numerous class suspensions from the democratic urges to “consult” by university officials– from visiting student/faculty dignitaries from Manila, University President candidates, pension fund administrators, student council members, etc. Memorandums are usually issued to this effect, and of course fashionably close to the actual date to make life extra miserable for teachers. These “consultation” events are so numerous (and NOT scheduled outside of class hours) that I have come to believe teaching is secondary only to accommodating bureaucratic niceties in my university. That very few eventually turn out in these consultations despite the class suspension should have cued administrators’ long ago of this folly. Worse are committee meetings for which faculty members are EXPECTED not to hold classes (or to make alternative arrangements) so that they otherwise spend half a day discussing matters better done on-line in less time.

My university also calendars various activities celebrating institutional milestones from foundation day, sports festivals, alumni homecoming to Christmas lantern parades. Typically lasting 2-3 days, they have become associated with “tradition” as well as an informal teaching holiday (I usually spend this week-long respite doing field work or attending conferences abroad). In fact, although NOT stated in the academic calendar, it has become general practice to not hold classes on these dates. Claims of “alternative” class activities etc. are touted to cover for these gaps, but everyone knows it’s just an excuse to party.

If you are keeping tabs, the non-teaching days sum up to a whopping 3 weeks every year where I am. To someone like myself who takes learning and face-to-face engagements with students as serious endeavors, it is a most unhappy situation. Am I too infected by Western academic standards where classes are sacrosanct to the university’s mission? Should my University be faulted for bringing up community and national values at par with knowledge building and sharing? Why bother with an academic calendar when red letter days are rendered invisible or hidden?

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.



Academic Hoarding

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/09/24 at 20:44

Meg Palladino, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA

During a recent cleaning spree, I came to a slightly upsetting conclusion about myself: I am a hoarder. I hoard three things: trial sized beauty products, plastic shopping bags, and lip balm. The trial sizes are in case I need to take a vacation, I am ready. The plastic bags are for walking my dog; I never want to need one and not have one when he needs to go. The lip balm… well, I like lip balm.

Discovering my hoarding tendency at home made me take a look at my office to see what types of things I hoard there. I have a lot of pens and magic markers in various colors. I have a lot of paperclips; I especially prize the square or pointy paper clips that come from other countries, and I have a black and yellow striped paper clip that I like. I have a giant box full of outdated business cards that I can never possibly use before there is another change to my title, the name of my department, the name of the college or the logo of the University. I also have a lot of books. I have multiple copies of some books, in case students or faculty need to borrow them. Finally, I have a stash of university-branded swag – backpacks, mugs, magnets and key chains. Those are tools of my trade.

I also have gifts from students from all over the world: a small garden gnome from Germany, a brown porcelain Chinese dragon statue that sits next to my stapler, a sandalwood letter opener from Thailand, a wooden bowl from Mexico, a statue of the Eiffel Tower, and a blue flowered scarf from Turkey. These are the rewards of my trade.

I dug deeper and took a look at my computer, which contains the contents of my work world. Again, there were many practical files: meeting notes, faculty guides, syllabi and book lists. I hoard emails that make me feel good, and emails that make me feel bad. I hoard links to websites, articles and online resources. I have a collection of no less than 23 rubrics for assessing writing.

As a manager, I also hoard things outside of my office, in other areas of the department, and guide others on what to keep and what to throw away. In the kitchen, I always want a full stock of coffees and teas, many flavors. I never want to run out of spoons, plates, cups or dish soap. I never want to throw away the leftover condiments from lunches. The supply closet has a stash of outdated brochures.

I am by no means a compulsive hoarder, but I do want to be ready for anything, within reason. I don’t want to be caught unprepared whether walking the dog, on vacation, just for fun, or helping students progress in writing.

As a part of the DIY generation, I am always thinking of ways of re-purposing things. Those outdated brochures could become someone’s art project and I also think that my hoarding tendencies have increased as I try to be environmentally conscious.

Although I don’t think I would qualify for a spot on Hoarders, I do think that I have a hard time de-cluttering. Any recommendations?

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.


Commuter University

In Graduate Studies & Students on 2010/09/23 at 00:08

Deanna England, writing from Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada.

I work and attend a commuter University. It’s in the heart of downtown, and in Winnipeg, downtown is not a thriving social hub. People don’t want to stay downtown after dark, nor do they tend to choose it as a place to socialize. For the most part, the campus community scurries back to their suburban neighbourhoods at the end of the day, and does their studying and socializing in those areas.

The University and City Hall have been working very hard to re-vitalize downtown. Our campus is rapidly spreading, residences are increasing in size and number, and in general, everything in the area is getting a face-lift.

When delivering my Orientation this past week, I very specifically bore in mind a story that one of the recruiters had told me earlier in the year. She told me how one of her international students had confessed that he had no idea where the downtown mall was, as he only ever went to campus and to his residence. This student had no friends, and had even approached her about volunteer opportunities on campus, specifically so he could meet people. The mall in question? Less than a block away up the same street that the University is on. I could have cried when I heard this story. To think that these students are so isolated that they had no idea what was going on around them was just heartbreaking to me.

So this year I focused less on the logistics of registration and health plans and the CV and spent more energy on “campus life.” I invited the Theatre Department to speak about the plays that students could attend for free. I invited the Global Welcome Centre to recruit students as volunteers and mentors. I invited the Athletic Centre to talk about the gym, and the sports teams on campus.

Yes, the Orientation was too long. Yes, there were too many talking heads. And no, I might not do the same thing again next year. But the potential loneliness of the students touched me. It goes back to an earlier post where I mentioned the importance of students “experiencing” graduate school. If last year’s theme was about getting involved for the sake of their CV, this year’s theme will be getting involved for the sake of their own emotional well-being.

Can I force students to be friendly with each other? Can I force them to get involved with campus activities and politics? Definitely not, nor would I want to even if I had that power. Butencourage them? Oh yeah. I don’t want them to just look back at their time with the University of Winnipeg and evaluate the quality of education that they received. I want them to give a happy little sigh and smile about the special time of their life that they had here. A time of networking, a time of experiencing new things, a time of stepping outside their comfort zones, and yes…a time of learning a thing or two. Can’t they do it all?

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

Can’t Leave Your Brain Behind

In Happy Mondays on 2010/09/07 at 20:07

Mary Churchill, writing from Boston, MA in the USA.

Vacation is supposed to be a time away from one’s normal routine – an escape from the drudgery of day-to-day life. However, when you are trained to critique and engage in critical dialogue, it becomes virtually impossible to unplug and escape. This is the conundrum of an academic on vacation. We can’t stop thinking and we don’t really want to.

I recently returned from a short vacation to Mexico. My husband, son, and I went to Cancun and Playa del Carmen to visit with family who live in the area. On this trip, I realized that downtime looks very different for an academic. I couldn’t help but view the Mayan Riviera through at least three lenses: those of researcher, teacher, and administrator.

Like most of the people in the region, my family works in the tourism industry. Not only are they selling vacation homes and rentals, they are also selling dreams. To appeal to people while on vacation, you must appeal to their desire for escape, for fantasy. As a sociologist, I was fascinated by Cancun – truly a “postmodern” city (Jameson). I instantly drew parallels with The Celebration Chronicles, Andrew Ross’s work on Disney’s planned community – both attempt to construct an alternate and improved reality.

For me, vacations are filled with curiosity, questions, and new insights, followed by a frenzied search for what has already been written on a topic as soon as I’m back in my office (if I’m not using the airport’s Wi-Fi while waiting to board my return flight). I spent this morning searching for academic literature on Cancun – specifically tourism’s impact on society. On the map of Mexico, the Riviera Maya is located on the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula roughly between Cancun and Tulum. On the chart of tourism urbanization, it falls between Gladstone’s “tourist metropolis” (Las Vegas and Disney World) and “leisure city” (Fort Meyers and Daytona Beach). It is a make-believe play space filled with sun, sand, and beaches, and supported by an army of flesh-and-blood workers drawn from across the Yucatan and beyond.

When I wasn’t reflecting on the societal implications of selling dreams, growing up in a city of escapism, and using another country as an exotic playground, I was thinking as a teacher and administrator. I think students have much to learn from Cancun’s rapid rise as a top international tourist attraction – from tourism branding and marketing to the challenges of urban planning and transportation in a hurricane hot spot to the sociological and psychological study of “the postmodern pursuit of pleasure as an end in itself.” (Gladstone)

Programmatically, my initial ideas involved experiential education. What a fantastic opportunity for students in so many areas: business, engineering, social sciences, and humanities came to mind immediately. I wanted to know about the local colleges and universities, local coop and internship opportunities, and ESL and other language programs. How could US institutions partner with local institutions? How could I help professors bring students on short-term programs? What are the security issues that would need to be addressed with risk management? How could I convince parents that students would be studying rather than partying at Coco Bongo?

These were the thoughts I had while lying on the beach in Playa del Carmen, in the shade of a palapa, sipping sangria that was beginning to take on the appearance of a magical elixir – part vino tinto, part limeade and eating ceviche overflowing with bright purple tentacles and crunchy-sweet jicama. At first, I envied my husband and son for their ability to effortlessly unplug from our lives in Boston and be completely in the moment, playing in the surf. Upon reflection, I realized that I thrive on curiosity, engagement, and making connections between research and “real life” and that I have little desire to fully unplug.

One necessary societal role that academics play can be witnessed through our constant stream of questions and critiques — an endless litany of dialogue openers filled with how?, why?, and what next? rather than conversation closers made up of “because,” “so what,” and “who cares”.

I wondered –Would the zoologist be intrigued by the animal that hung out at our hotel’s pool and looked like a cross between my Siamese cat, a raccoon, and a lemur? Would the geologist have an overwhelming desire to swim underground and explore the local cenotes?


  • Alarcon, Daniel Cooper. 1997. The Aztec Palimpsest: Mexico in the Modern Imagination. University of Arizona Press.
  • Gladstone, David L. 1998. “Tourism Urbanization in the United States.” Urban Affairs Review. 34:1
  • Jameson, Fredric. 1991. Postmodernism , or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Duke.
  • Mullins, P. 1991. “Tourism Ubanization.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 15:3.
  • Ross, Andrew. 2000. The Celebration Chronicles:Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney’s New Town. Ballantine.
  • Sontag, Susan. 1977. On Photography.Doubleday.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

The Campus is Flat. The Reach is Global.

In Guest Blogger on 2010/09/02 at 01:01

Nicolle Merrill, writing from Portland, Oregon in the USA.

In my job, my daily tasks revolve around creating an engaging online community for international higher education. At GlobalCampus, I work with an amazing team of former international students located across continents and time zones to bring international opportunities, such as university placements and scholarships, to future students worldwide.

Traditionally, international students receive information about educational opportunities through education fairs, online searches, and agents. Often specifics about international school programs and available scholarships are scattered. Despite loads of money spent to improve websites and travel around the globe to target student markets, there are still millions of future international students without direct, free access to these opportunities.

As a former international student, I was surprised at the lack of centralized information on university programs and scholarships. Having benefited greatly from my international student experience, I’m now working from outside higher education to change international students’ access to this information. It’s fun (languages and cultures!); it’s exciting (technology!). And it’s also a ton of work.

Building any online community is an epic task, and with global aspirations, the task becomes even more challenging. While professionals in international higher education are now using Twitter and Facebook, many are still adjusting to the idea of a two-way information exchange and disruptive technologies, such as social networking sites. As I introduce staff to GlobalCampus, I face challenges that many in higher education are familiar with: resistance to change, uncertainty with new technology, inflexible organizational structures, and skepticism about third party service providers. I spend a large part of my day educating higher education professionals about the goals of a social enterprise; I talk about international student needs and help university staffs understand social networking technology. I also hear from future international students daily, whose ambitions, goals and talents inspire me.

Despite the challenges, I’m seeing fantastic results. University and college staffs are participating: promoting their programs, listing international scholarships, creating new scholarships, writing educational articles for newsletters and scouting students. Soon GlobalCampus will be inviting professors to endorse students, giving future international students the ability to have their recommendations online and accessible to university staff. International students are eagerly responding: completing their profiles, writing articles, responding to university staff and learning the norms and rules of a global online community.

As I read the higher education blogs, there is a lot of discussion about changes in institutional communications, international partnerships and technology. The discussion is healthy and warranted. I put those discussions into practice by asking higher education institutions and staff to embrace new outreach methods and technology, and participate in a global community designed for them. Though changing the landscape of international higher education is a lofty goal, I remain committed and optimistic. Future international students know that access to higher education opportunities is changing. They’re just waiting for international higher education to catch up.

Nicolle Merrill helps universities and colleges create online recruiting campaigns onGlobalCampus. She spends a ridiculous amount of time searching her RSS feeder for awesome articles to share on Twitter. She’s also obsessed with clever study abroad programs, loves #hashtags and lives on Skype.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

Students Arrive in One Week

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/08/28 at 01:40

Meg Palladino, writing from Boston, Massachusetts in the USA.

600 international ESL students. 3 levels of English. 3 academic tracks in 2 divisions: undergraduate and graduate. 4 or 5 classes per student. Classes cap at 20, 30, or 40. Classroom capacity ranges from 14 to 47. We have 27 classrooms and 65 (and counting) teachers. It sounds like one big multi-part GRE question with endless permutations. It is the reality of international education administration.

Students arrive in one week. Classes are getting cancelled, moved and added. Teachers are still being interviewed and assigned classes, while others are changing their plans and backing out of classes. We have run out of classrooms and I have wild visions of instructors teaching in hallways and lobbies, or even in tents.

As Heather Alderfer points out in her post, it is important to be friendly with the Registrar. For academic administrators, it is crucial to maintain open channels of communication with key staff members in offices on campus.

International education has a lot of ambiguity and it is very different from traditional undergraduate education. In addition to language and cultural issues, there are a lot of variables that go into predicting whether or not a student will be able to arrive on time to begin their program. Will they get a visa? Can they get a flight? Does our program start date fall in the middle of a major holiday? At the last moment, will they decide not to get on that airplane?

The ambiguity makes traditional academic planning next to impossible. The one thing that remains consistent is ambiguity. We don’t know how many sections of various courses that we will need. We seem to always be on the tipping point between raising course caps and adding new sections. And if we decide to add a new section, will we be able to get a room? And will the room be available at a time that won’t conflict with other classes? If it does, we will need to rearrange all of the classes. And now can the teachers teach at these new times?

These are the questions that we spend the last few weeks wrestling with before an academic term begins. It is unending. As I write this post, I am checking my email to see what instructors have accepted their teaching loads, and as I get confirmation from them, I am getting messages from my administrative staff that their classes have been rescheduled.

I think it’s time to take a break to go out and buy my Registrar a box of chocolates.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

I Have Some Bad News

In Vistas from Venus on 2010/08/13 at 20:28

Meg Palladino, writing from Boston in the USA.

The first student looked at me with tears in his eyes, silent for a moment, and then said, “I have to call my parents.” The next tried to argue with me, then begged, pleaded, and finally resigned himself to the news. A third student meekly accepted my words, and the fourth didn’t come to the meeting at all, perhaps predicting that it would be about something she did not want to hear.

Often when we think about the end of an academic term, we have images of students getting diplomas, achieving their dreams, and joyfully celebrating their success. We rarely talk about the students who are not successful. These students start down an academic path with the same hopes and dreams as the other students, and for various reasons, they do not complete their programs successfully. Perhaps they are homesick, unprepared, having too much fun with their friends or have a family emergency. Maybe they are not ready or the program is a not a good fit.

Meeting with students who are unsuccessful draws on a skill set that may not be immediately associated with an administrative role. Administrators are thought of as bureaucratic, political, and as manager types. I have found that compassion is equally important. Too often, administrators become caught up in the fine art of box-checking and in making sure the correct forms are filed with SEVIS or the department of employment. They forget that students are human, have hopes and dreams, and have often made great sacrifices of time and money.

Compassion is required when you need to tell a 19- year-old student from China that he has been denied admission to the university that he has worked for a year to enter. Compassion is necessary when a student cannot get funding for a program that she has her heart set on attending.

In managing the end of the term processes, I always make sure to work with advisors to develop alternatives for students. Some students are very close to their goals and for others, goals are often unrealistic and perhaps unachievable. It is important for advisors to be equipped to deal with these different scenarios and to work with students to manage their expectations and disappointment.

On the evenings before I know that I have to meet with students to give them bad news, I go to bed with a feeling of dread, but always attend the meetings with a positive yet firm attitude. I know that I am telling students news that will change their lives and I know that I need to be prepared to help them to deal with the bad news and to offer them alternative paths.

I am taking a stand for compassion, a necessary but often unacknowledged quality of a higher ed administrator. Include it in your interview questions; make it a part of evaluation and promotion decisions. Let’s be more open about talking about dealing with failure, an unfortunate but inevitable part of the higher education enterprise.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.

The Exodus: Philippine Academics Who Never Return Home

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2010/08/04 at 09:23

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from the Philippines.

There is something about the air in America that seduces the senses. To those who have never been to the land of milk and honey, the scent one encounters in opening the ubiquitous balikbayan box (Filipino care packages) is a close proxy. It is intoxicating, tempting and proven to induce reckless behavior among even the well-intentioned foreigner, even serious academics.

During the orientation for Philippine Fulbright grantees in 2009, one message was driven home like a hammer: there is no way around the two-year home residency requirement attached to a US exchange visitor (J1) visa. Not even marriage to a US national would waive this requirement. This point had to be made because the grantees included young academics, particularly women, who on record seem to be more prone to romantic liaisons while abroad (myself included). The spectre of Fulbright grantees violating their visa terms is a serious concern for an institution whose thrust is to encourage people to go back and contribute to their country’s betterment.

Academics are no exception to the hordes of Filipinos wanting to immigrate to the US to get a job (any job) that brings one closer to the middle class aspiration of a home, car/s and a 401k. Even the most ardent nationalists quickly realize how hopeless the Philippines is after spending some months abroad. No blackouts, free wifi, relatively cheap food, travel opportunities, all those green bucks– at some point one gets seduced by the idea of a First World lifestyle. When the built-in-support network of US-based relatives is added to the mix, Filipinos get braver in facing visa violations. It’s easy to be convinced by kin who tell you that it’s sheer stupidity to return to poverty back home.

To my home university, this brain drain has exacted a heavy toll. I know of at least 8 faculty members who were sent to obtain graduate degrees in the US, Canada and Australia and who have never returned. They disappeared from the grid as soon as they found a foreign citizen they could marry or as fast as their spouses or children could obtain dependent visas. No shame in stringing the university with false promises of returning after completing their degrees. No honor in turning their backs against the tens of thousands of dollars that the university spent to support their studies. No guilt over the thought that they have singlehandedly blacklisted other faculty members from ever being considered for future grants, given the stigma of their institutional affiliation.

To American Ph.D. holders who lament the dearth of tenure-track positions and the growth of adjuncts, the case of Filipino academics who reneged on their promises to their home universities but went on to establish successful academic careers in the US presents an interesting juxtaposition. How should their personal choices of economic betterment be weighed in against our (Philippine) values of honor and debt of gratitude? Is individual scholarship more important than the ethical/moral obligation to the collective? Do US universities even consider these points when hiring?

Case in point: A Filipino-American scholar, who unbeknownst to me was a reneging fellow from our Fisheries College, was to deliver a lecture under Fulbright auspices at our university. My colleagues from the Fisheries College raised a ruckus about this and boycotted the event. I also learned that the same colleagues rejected his earlier request for my university to be his Fulbright host institution. Clearly, this person is either insensitive, had permanent amnesia that he has legal obligations with my university or worse, totally convinced that his stellar scholarly achievements in the US would conveniently make up for his past unethical conduct.

I tend not to fault people for their “lapses of moral judgment” but with reneging Philippine academics, I take exception. Professional success is never a good substitute for a clean conscience, particularly in the business of “professing.” When I was dating my husband, I told him unequivocally that if he married me, he’d have to relocate to the Philippines permanently. It was non-negotiable. I take pride in being the Fulbright Philippines’ poster girl of an academic who returned home and never regretted it.

This post was also published on Inside Higher Ed.