I just returned from a quick trip to the U.S.A. for the annual convention of the American College Personnel Association. I also stopped by Oxford to visit with family which offered great renewal in preparation for my return to Qatar. The ACPA convention was both taxing and rejuvenating because I had to tell the story so many times about how I came to Qatar, what I do, and how this is such an unusual, challenging, and fulfilling place. I was exhausted by telling the story but I was rejuvenated when I reminded myself of the purpose of this work by tell others about it.
The only problem with this scheme is that returning to the work is a bit of a rude awakening. For an entire week I only talked about how great the work is and seldom did I allow myself to focus on the challenges we face. There is no judgment in this comment - just description. The fact is, for cultural, organizational, and many other reasons, this work is tough. I had two meetings today where colleagues were on the verge of saying that they couldn't continue to push. I empathized but recognized a struggle in working abroad in higher education that most other people don't face - the struggle is in the very natural resistance to change and to doing things through different cultural means. The only way I can figure to get out of this is to offer what you have, hope that it makes a contribution, and then let the chips fall as they may.
What I mean here is that it is very important to me that I give my all to my work but there are limits to my ability to bring about change. Others around me have to welcome it and see the opportunity in what I propose. There may be a variety of reasons why ideas I hold dear may not be timely, will never work, or need to be packaged in another way. I can also do everything to my best and things will still not turn out. The natural tendency for agenda-driven Westerners is to internalize the blame and get down about things not moving ahead. What I'm beginning to learn, and I believe is essential to ex-patriot success abroad, is recognizing that it is my/our responsibility to offer what we have but to let it go. To not let go would mean to harbor thoughts, questions, and to hold on to a type of grieving for what we hoped would unfold. My view is that this kind of internal struggle only festers and makes things worse and that seeing my responsibility as offering my best and then letting it go is the only way to maintain one's sanity.
Ex-patriot work is fascinating and so powerful but it is not easy. After all the questions I answered at ACPA, I returned with a proposal for my youngest daughter who lives in Qatar - to write a book introducing the dynamics of working as an ex-patriot in higher education. I drafted a book outline on the plane and hope that Darbi and I will be able to dig into this in the coming months. Much of our content will come from our respective blogs. So, if you have been reading our stuff, let us know of those things that have been most provocative. We'll be sure to include those as we forge ahead.