A Family with no Country to call Home: a modern love story

Spoiler alert: Not only am I going to share with you my love story but I am also going to explain how my family has come to have no country to call home (or some think the exact opposite: many homes).  Or, as we like to call it, our “National Security” problem.  That’s right, we are nationless.

Okay, so technically, my son and I (and even my dog) can go back to the United States (where I’m from and where my son was born), but Viorel cannot (he’s Romanian). Obviously we are NOT going home unless we can go as a family.

I met my husband in the beautiful Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York.  We met at the SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry Research Station at Cranberry Lake.  The field station is in a remote area surrounded by “forever” wild forest.  In 2006 I was working as the station’s business manager as a part of an assistantship to pay for graduate school.  The Field station has no road access and part of my job was to organize and facilitate the transportation of all students, faculty, staff on and off the station.  Viorel arrived late one evening, apart from our regular ferry service, and needed special transport.  I arranged for a speed boat and met him at the station dock to greet him and provide information on his cabin for the evening.  When I met him, I thought he was attractive… skinny… but really cute!  So, not only did I greet him, but I also gave him a tour of the station and walked him to his cabin.  (The tour and personal guide was NOT part of my job!)

Viorel was a Fulbright graduate student at the time.  That summer he was the teaching assistant for a class about frogs and snakes (Herpetology) and was also doing frog surveys though out the Adirondacks as part of his Masters project.  Unfortunately, I never saw much of him again that summer.  …But we met again at a party that fall, hit it off, and we have been together ever since!

It may seem silly, like out of a romantic novel or something, but the truth is that I knew almost as soon as I met him that I was going to grow old with him.  Viorel is not (very) romantic, but he was (and still is) handsome, intelligent, interesting, good mannered and thoughtful.  Perfect qualities for a life partner.

In 2008 we moved to Orono, Maine after Viorel got a PhD assistantship at the University of Maine (I also worked at UMaine during that time and was a true sugar Mama). We got married that same year (in my friends stylish 70’s kitchen) on a rainy September day with only 3 other people present, our friends Mary Lou Friedman, Ann Lawrence, and Emily Knurek.  Emily served as our guest, witness, and photographer!  Then we all went out to the Stone House Diner in Bangor for brunch.  Which Viorel found fitting and good luck, because in Romania when people are married they wish you to have a…. stone house.  Meaning that you will have a strong marriage.  Later that year, we had two beautiful reception parties, one was a backyard BBQ at the house I grew up in Rochester NY with all my family and the other in Romania with Viorel’s family.

Our Wedding

Our wedding day, CHEERS!  (Old Town, Maine, 2008) Photo: Emily Knurek

NY reception

Backyard BBQ reception (Rochester, NY, 2009)

RO Reception

Romania Reception (Braila, RO, 2009)

Since then our family has grown and we have a beautiful little boy, Octavian or “Tavi” for short, named after Viorel’s Mother’s Father, Octavian Neculai. Tavi was born in Maine on a mild (for Maine) and sunny day in February. I have never been so happy and proud.


Tavi’s Birthday (Bangor, ME, 2010)

Some of our best memories were made in Maine, marriage, the birth of our son, holidays with family (Viorel’s aunt and uncle in NH and mine in upstate NY) and lifelong friendships. It was, indeed, “vacationland” (Maine’s nickname).  But like all good things, this too came to an end.

Good Friends

Some of our good friends (Old Town, ME, 2010)

1st Camping Trip

Camping and Hiking (Cutler Coast, ME)

Viorel had been  studying in the United States on a J-1 Visa and although we could, and eventually did, extend the visa for a 3-year “Academic Training” after his PhD, we eventually had to leave the States.  The J1 Visa has a requirement that, if funded by the US Government (and especially applicable to Fulbright grantees), all holders must return to their country of origin for  2 years and ‘give back’ to their home country (For Viorel, Romania). The requirement is placed and enforced by the U.S. government and cannot be redeemed or exchanged by working and living in other countries.

However, at this point in our lives, we decided not to go back to Romania for the 2 years, the capital reason being  the lack of job opportunities. There are no jobs for us there and sitting and passing time for two years, would be a career killer.  Who will hire two academics that have been off the grid for two years?

So, although South Park teaches us that Canucks are crazy, the logical decision was to move to Canada (me, to follow my dream to pursue a PhD, and Viorel, to do whatever it took to keep us afloat). We did that with an infant and a dog in tow and it was nuts.

We’ve been living in Vancouver BC for 3 years, while exploring our “national security” options.  Viorel applied to the U.S. Department of State to request a J-1 visa waiver on the basis that his country, Romania, had no objection for him not returning, and based on our family situation. His waiver was rejected. (So quickly that it’s doubtful they really considered it… but they did manage to take the $1000 fee, quite quickly as a matter of fact).  We have been in touch with several immigration lawyers, they all have the same response: since Viorel accepted a $12,000 stipend from the Dept of State while on the J-1, he has no chance of any appeal.  That it would be a huge waste of what little money we had to fight it… we would lose.

As a consequence, it feels like my country and my government has also rejected me and my son. We can never go home (my home). Worse, they really don’t want us. I am a good citizen of the United States. I vote. I’m involved in my community. I’m educated. For crying out loud, most of my family has served Uncle Sam; I  served in Peace Corps. And this is how my country repays me… by giving me and my family the boot. It is a slap in the face.

Canada has welcomed us with open arms. I’m a PhD student and Viorel a postdoc, so still on a temporary status, but we would consider permanent residence if the right job opportunities arise. Canada has been good to us and in turn, we have embraced Canada (turns out that South Park is brainwashing Americans about Canucks… although they are crazy about weird things like curling and repeatedly saying “eh?”).

Is it ironic that in a global society where people often find themselves in ‘transient’ situations we are looking for a home? Especially in academia, people go where the jobs are, so pledging ‘allegiance’ to a place to live or a country might seem a complete misnomer to many of our friends and colleagues. In the end, I feel like we are being kicked out of my home; but I am hopeful that we’ll find permanency and stability at some point, if not for us, for our little boy.

4 thoughts on “A Family with no Country to call Home: a modern love story

  1. It is extremely frustrating to me that our government would turn it’s back on it’s own citizen, a well educated and productive member of society on top. In my heart there are so many things wrong with how our government has failed my sister’s family. How do we get this rectified?

  2. I’m sorry to hear about your situation. I’m an international student advisor at a university in Massachusetts, and my husband is also a foreigner as well (a former Nepali colleague of yours at ESF), so although we didn’t have to deal with the J-1 requirements (he was an F-1), I’m familiar with the hassles of the J-1. I think, however, that you can add up time spent in Romania over the years to eventually equal 2 years, instead of going for a solid two year chunk of time. It might be worth asking an immigration lawyer about (or perhaps you already have?). It wouldn’t be an immediate solution to your issue, but if, over time, Viorel’s visits to his home equaled two years, then the requirement would be fulfilled, and he could get a visitor visa or even a green card through marriage to return to the US.

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