This year, like the two that preceded it and at least the next to follow, I will be unable to make summer plans. As someone with a non-permanent position, I am constantly chasing opportunities and gearing up to take the next step, move on to the next position. I expect to live in a different location from one year to the next. As a non-permanent resident, my journey is compounded by visa complications that make me unable to travel for anywhere from 2-4 months around the summer months.
This means a not insignificant amount of lost opportunities for me. I never accept invitations to teach at summer schools or speak at conferences or workshops. I don’t even apply for summer conferences, I just don’t know where I’ll be over the summer and in the following year. In fact, right now, as I worry about a commitment I foolishly made two years ago to attend an event this July, I am unable to make travel plans because the one thing I do know is that I will not live in the same place in July as I do now. But where I will live – and more relevantly, where I should book a flight from/to – that is at the moment a mystery. These difficulties, and the anxieties that they give rise to, are shared between all of us who have temporary jobs.
Being born a citizen of the “wrong” country brings with it an additional layer of complexity, beyond that experienced by other transient academics. If I want to be an academic in my field (which I do), I am bound to look for work outside my home country, where I have very low chances of ever finding a job. I have accepted this as a part of my journey, and have done my best to learn everything I can about the country where I expect to make my future home. I am happy that my personal life circumstances and education even make this possible, and I appreciate this opportunity. Nonetheless, I share with other migrants the difficulties that arise from living and working in a non-native language, with little support from family members, who are generally far away.
I do not mean these as complaints; I embrace these difficulties and am fully prepared to face them. As a writer on a blog about those with more privilege and those with less, I am writing this as a reminder to those of you who were born to the right parents and in the right country, that you are lucky in ways that you don’t even see: You don’t have to apply for work visas to be able to continue living in your home. You don’t have to pay for said visas, either.* You don’t depend on having continuous employment and not even a single day without a contract, or you will have to immediately leave the country. You don’t worry about being deported, having to quickly sell everything you own, or reading up on fees at nearby storage facilities, in case you do have to leave for a month or two. You don’t worry about paying for a flight to leave, come back, get your stuff together, and move to the next location. You don’t worry that the process will take too long and you will not be able to accept a job or start it on time.**
The anxiety of even a single day of unemployment, of not getting my documents in order in time, of deportation, of losing all my belongings, added to the more “mundane” worries of the transient academic about their next job, weigh heavy on my heart for months of the year, year after year. It’s not something that I, and others in my position, talk about. But it builds up, and sometimes feels like more than I can handle. I so wish more of my colleagues knew and understood, and supported me through it.
* Likewise, you don’t have to apply for visas to attend conferences, or pay the processing fees for said visas. You have never cancelled your participation in a conference because the visa would take too long to be issued, be too complicated, or cost too much.
** So when you tell me that something might come up even in August, I hold my tongue and thank you, but secretly know that that’s entirely unrealistic for me. It’ll just be too late.