Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Titanic is sinking … and she stays onboard

She had walked from the department to the bus stop that afternoon, feeling the weight of the world weighing down on her shoulders. It was a cold, rainy afternoon in fall, and it seemed nature was crying at her predicament. She reached the bus stop just in time to see the bus leave right in front of her. The frustration of missing a bus becomes manifold when you actually watch it leave right in front of you, knowing that you do not have enough time to run and cross the road. This was perhaps very symbolic for her that afternoon, looking at the bus full of opportunities abandon her. Although she was suitably qualified for what she was aspiring to be, she did not have that powerful piece of document that declared her eligible for the job. It was the same document of citizenship or permanent legal residence that people in the past have killed, manipulated, and married for. Neither her parents had the foresight to visit the US and give her birth there, nor she had the foresight to get hitched to someone local. As a result, despite what she would have liked to think of as spectacular and scintillating academic potential, she was disqualified for the numerous teaching fellowships she tried applying to. Apparently, she did not fall under the category of people America deemed fit to allow to teach and educate their children.
She had always wanted to work as a science and math teacher. That was her forte, her calling. That was what she did in India, and that is what she eventually wanted to do in the US. Who said PhDs were overqualified to teach in schools? She was doing a PhD, training to be a professor, but she also wanted to take a few years off first and go teach in a public school setting. She thought she would immensely benefit from the classroom experience while developing her research agenda as a professor, and she loved teaching anyway. Hence, while most people’s careers took off on an upward trajectory, she was willing to step down and go teach in a school for a few years. Don’t get her wrong when she said “step down”, for she in no manner insulted teaching in a public school as an endeavor fit for the lesser achieving. What she meant is, she was overqualified for the job, and hence thought she would definitely get it. The minimum requirement for teaching in a school is a bachelors degree. Armed with two masters degrees, and a PhD on the way, she knew she would never struggle to find a good school to start teaching.
She forgot something very basic while happily making her future plans. She forgot that she did not belong to this country. She was an outsider, a foreigner. A very unwelcome foreigner in a country where she has been told, “The foreigners took our jobs!!”.
She started looking at teaching fellowships. That was when the truth hit her. Every teaching fellowship she tried applying for specifically mentioned that they require citizens and permanent residents only. They would not sponsor her visa. Desperate, she emailed them, each and every institution, asking if they ever made exceptions for doctorate degree holders. None of the answers came as affirmatives.
There was a clear disconnect between theory and practice. In theory, she was always told by different people, at different point of time that America was in dire need of good science and math teachers who were passionate about teaching. That was when she started to think that she would be a great fit in the setting. Even her professors assured her that visa sponsorship should not be an issue. Clearly, she now knew better.
Her thoughts were mostly sad as she waited for the next bus in the rain. She realized that she did not qualify even for an interview. To deny someone the right to employment by denying them the right to be interviewed, not because of lack of credentials or enthusiasm, but because of the lack of paperwork produced as a result of a random event of being born in the United States was perhaps the ultimate example of social injustice. While America embraced international students with open arms (statistics say so, not I), they were equally reluctant in creating job opportunities for them. No one had taken a look at her academic achievements that she had so painstakingly put in her resume. She was rejected - Just like that. It was an alienating experience. She was neither into chip making, nor into programming, occupations that highly commanded visa sponsorships. She was just an ordinary human being and all she wanted to do was teach. For the first time, thoughts of going back to India seriously occurred to her. Strangely, it was a freeing, emancipating thought. Not that there were any better jobs in India, but she would at least not feel like a foreigner, an intruder. True, millions of people immigrated and embraced this country as their own. Then how could she explain the chilliness, the hostility of the situation she was facing? Certainly there was no pride in living the life of a second class citizen from a third world country, trying to fit in a first world nation. Her ideals were conflicted. She had always wanted to excel at what she did, so that she would be in demand for the quality of her work, no matter where she lived. She wanted to be so good in what she did that the job would come looking for her, rather than the other way around. Clearly, she could have all the respect she wanted, as soon as she could produce proof of citizenship.
Various thoughts and incidents from the past flashed in front of her. She remembered the woman in her late thirties she had met at the Zumba class who had beamed in pride, “Why do I need to work? My husband is a professor. I have married well.” She thought of her friend, whose husband had applied for their green card the moment she married and stepped into the country. None of these women had trouble finding legal residency in the country, and were happily and proudly unemployed. However, when some people actually wanted to work and make a difference, they were denied the opportunity because they had probably not married well. Where was social justice in this God?
She remembered a scene out of a movie she had watched in her teens. The big ship was sinking, and the affluent people left in their lifeboats one by one. Clearly, she was staying onboard, sinking with the ship. After all, she was a second class citizen from a third world country, trying to fit in.


Biddu said...

It's very strange that they do not rely on foreigners in primary schools and high schools...but in higher education there is no such restrictions to become a professor. I hope the rules change soon and "she" finds herself on a lifeboat...

Rakhi said...

This is tough on you. I hope something works out. Soon.
Love and best wishes.

Badri said...

Marry an American citizen, sure way to get a job in this crazy place!

They have immigration problems with both high skilled and low skilled labor and yet they can't do away with both.

Your metaphor is slightly wrong. This place is the Titanic. Their systems are screwed up and they are slowly sinking. And they are abandoning those who can help them!!

Dew said...

She should hang in there for little longer and the things will certainly become favorable to her.

Dew said...

She should hang in there for little longer and the things will certainly become favorable to her.

Mormegil said...

The problem with teaching after PhD in a school is not getting the job, although schools do require stringent teaching certifications. However, you'd be lucky to get a tenure track job even in a directional R2 university or a small LAC with high school teaching in your cv, especially in today's academic job market. It's very hard to get back in the academia after getting out; nothing that a stellar publishing record couldn't solve, though.

loop said...

I really don't think it has got anything to do with talent/education or even justice for that matter. I guess professions like teaching also need people to be culturally integrated to the US. It's very much different from programming/chip design which only needs you to possess a certain skill.
Getting a permanent residency involves living here for a long time etc. which they hope would get you on board with the way things are culturally, here. (I don't mean that the measuring scale is perfect, but I guess it makes a fair amount of sense. Living here long doesn't necessarily make a person understand/appreciate/relate to American culture. But without living long enough, it's quite impossible. That way, living long enough with a desire to belong here is sort of basic minimum)
I can't say if it's unfair. But I certainly can't think of having a class teacher who wasn't from almost the same background as me when I was in primary school!
I don't mean to hurt or anything, just my two cents.

alpine path said...

:( My thoughts are with you always!

alpine path said...

:( My thoughts are with you always!

arumugamks said...

See the positive side of what you have gained. I hope you will get a better opportunity. Wish you happy diwali and prosperous life.

illusion said...

Well... these incidences are just an indication of how unfair life can be at times,,, i hope and wish that she gets fair chances of achieving all her dreams..

Sachinky said...

Forgive my candor, but I don't understand these pity-party posts. America welcomes and embraces international students solely because they pay out of state tuition and some colleges even charge international rates to foreign incoming students. The US government or anyone else for that matter is not obligated to provide or create jobs for these students post-graduation. It is a tad naive to assume this especially given the current nature of the economy and the growing calls for limiting employment-based legal immigration. In fact, students on F-1 visas are expected to return home upon the completion of their studies.

Also I feel the need to address this issue because it is one of my major pet-peeves. It drives me batty when people assume that marriage to an American means a sure fire way to a green-card. The process of legal immigration is an arduous, convoluted, expensive and lengthy one, despite however Hollywood or Bollywood might portray it. I am a green-card holder and am eligible to file for naturalization in a year. I understand that the green card is not given to me but it is a privilege accorded to my US citizen husband to have his spouse able to reside with him. I am a guest in this country. In fact, I can say with certainty that if my marriage were to go south, I'd be surrendering my green-card at the border and going back home.

I cannot empathize with this "second class citizen from a third world country trying to fit into the first world" mentality -- no one is forcing anyone to be a second-class citizen anywhere. We make our decisions and then we should be mature enough to bear the consequences of those actions. If the lady in the post feels that way then there are other options; for example, returning to India where she can follow her life-long dream of teaching. I don't understand people who choose to live, study, work in the US but then spend their time being resentful and cribbing about how their lives are so miserable. Oh woe is me!

It is common knowledge that to get a work-authorization visa, one needs to be highly specialized professional (doctor, professor, engineer, programmer, etc). They are not handed out like candy.

I work as a kindergarten teacher in a private academy. Teaching is not a specialized job (certainly not at the primary/elementary level) and you will find many certified and licensed teachers who are unemployed. Teachers are apparently dime a dozen these days.

I apologize for the length of this comment or if something I said caused offence. I wasn't sure if the post was fictional or autobiographical.

rgb said...

Irrespective of what the immigration rules in a country should be, it is unfortunate that you have trouble doing what you want to do due to formalities.

But, if it is not too much of an intrusion (and I can completely understand if you feel you do not want to share), may I ask why you were planning to teach in the school? I often read your blog because of the humour, and gather that you are in a science education program, and have previously taught in a school in India for a while. Thus, unlike many in a PhD for education who have never personally taught at the school level, you actually have had that personal experience and can probably remember how students react to different methods. I am sure that you have "new eyes" from your more recent studies, old ideas have crystallized, and you might even want to think about the differences in environment and methodology in the different places. The reason I bring this up is that if you are motivated by such an idea, you might be able to think in terms of phrasing this as a field experience in a research proposal question, and trying to get that approved. That of course is extremely competitive, and so this might not sound easy, but once you get paid by a research fund, these citizenship/visa issues will not arise.

Again, I am not under the illusion that any of this is easy, but if that is your direction, it may be worth a shot. Apologies, if this is totally irrelevant.