Finding a Way Back Home

Strabo, Xuanzang, Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, Isabella Lucy Bird, Freya Stark, Bruce Chatwin, Bekka Brodie, Viorel Popescu, Tavi Popescu, and Rex-a-roo.  All are famous travellers.  Okay, true, the last four listed (me, my family, and our dog) are not famous enough… just legends in our own minds.  We are academic nomads; in search of wisdom, experience, adventure, happiness… and the “holy grail” (AKA positions at an academic institution). However our nomadic lifestyle is coming to a close and we have finally made our voyage home.

Many academics live the traveling lifestyle for 10+ years before finally finding the “holy grail” and we are no different. Over the last 10 years we have lived in 7 different cities and 11 different rental apartments/houses (this does not include travel for fun, conferences, or research). However, the main difference is that we have unique circumstances (detailed in “The family with no country to call home” and the follow up post “Why we are a family with no country to call home“), and we have lived in 3 different countries (United States, Canada, and Romania).  Often (thanks to Skype and the Internet) we are living in one country and working in multiple other countries at the same time.  There are many blog posts about academic nomads (here, here, and here) but this post is our story.

The beautiful thing about being academic nomads are the places we have been, meaningful relationships forged, and memories we have made along the way.  While living abroad we made a point of seeing and experiencing as much as possible, often with friends and family, or with friends we have made along the way.  Just to name a few of our favourites… In Maine, U.S.A, we loved visiting Bar Harbour, Acadia National Park and the Maine coast (too many times to count).  While in the Pacific Northwest (Vancouver, Canada), our favourite places were the Okanagan, Squamish, and Whistler (2010 Winter Olympics venue), and traveled to Kona, Hawaii… twice!  (One of the added benefits of being an academic nomad are having friends to visit all over the world. For us that included beautiful and tropical Hawaii; thanks Emi and Scott!). While living in Romania last year, we tightened bonds with family and friends while exploring Transylvania, Banat, but also Barcelona, Spain, and Montpellier, France. Tavi spent quality time with his grandparents (3 full months of summer vacation), and learned to speak fluent Romanian.  …Can’t think of any added benefit for Rex (and, honestly, he has “baggage” from all the traveling), but he might be one of the most well traveled dogs EVER.

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park (Maine 2010)
Aloha!
Aloha! (Tavi and I with friends, Scott Hamilton, Emily Knurek) (Kona, HI 2013)
Whistler Mountain! (With visiting family: Me, Viorel, Tavi, Patsy Brodie [AKA Mangie], Larry Glanville [AKA Poppy "G") (Whistler BC 2014)
Whistler Mountain! (With visiting family: Me, Viorel, Tavi, Patsy Brodie [AKA Mangie], Larry Glanville [AKA Poppy “G”) (Whistler BC 2014)
Digging
Excavation at Harrison Lake (B.C. Canada, 2013)
Brans Castle
“I vant to suck your blood… ah ah ah”  (Traveling with friends, Viorel Popescu, Antonia Musso, and Andrew Cook) (Bran Castle, Transylvania, 2015)
The Spanish Inquisition!
Dramatic Spanish architecture! (Traveling with family: Me, Ionuts Simion, Veronica Simion, and Viorel) (Barcelona, Spain 2015)

Now, we are on our way home (my home, the United States).  My husband, Viorel Popescu, and I have accepted positions at Ohio University, Athens OH (not to be confused with Ohio State University in Columbus, OH).  Luckily for us, we are good at moving… a super power we rarely get to brag about.  We can pack up in less than 1 day and can fit all of our possessions into 6 suitcases.  In fact, we have just about memorized exactly which items are packed into what suitcases; making packing even faster and more efficient.  To top it all of, Rex, has his own pet passport!  His passport helps expedite his movement through security at various layovers and into the country of our final destination.  (In this case, back to the USA… not that anyone at the border really cares about the dog because they are entirely too busy giving Viorel the third degree).

Leaving Romania, destination Athens, Ohio.
Leaving Romania with the help of family and friends ( 6 checked bags, 3 Carry-on bags, 1 dog crate [plus dog]), destination Athens, Ohio, USA! (Left to right: Cristian Tetelea, me [Rex], Veronica Simion, Tavi Popescu, and Ionut Simion)
Pet Passport_Woo
Rex-a-roo and his pet passport

We quickly adjust to our new home, (wherever that may be) thanks to Google, Skype, Facebook, family, and friends.  (Seriously, I don’t know how people did it before google: search, maps, translate, etc.).  Using the internet, we can quickly find the essentials like a home to rent, transportation, and the closest grocery store.  Family and friends helped considerably by storing our personal items, salvaging housewares, and furniture from roadside curbs and thrift stores, feeding us warm meals as we transition, and moving us.

(Photo of Tavi and Woo passed out in back of Larry's Truck, our new car and home)
Tavi and Rex passed out together while in transit to Athens, OH from Rochester NY… this is actually a very typical travel scene. Thanks Larry and Mangie!
12615 N. Peach Ridge Rd
Tavi outside our new rental (a cabin in the woods)! Thanks Danny Moates!

We can quickly assimilate into new cultures, places, people and food, but nothing prepared us for actually moving home and getting our dream job(s).  Now that we are here, our personal life has settled but our academic life has not… regardless of that coveted “holy grail”.  We are still adjusting and transitioning at Ohio University.  Viorel is navigating his role as assistant professor of conservation biology: planning lectures and teaching, recruiting graduate students, writing grants, networking, and attending meetings (a lot of meetings…).  I have been given adjunct status at OU, with an office, lab, and insect rearing room, which is more than I could have hoped for considering I only recently defended my PhD. Matt White, Biological Sciences chair at OU, was instrumental in providing all this support for me.  At the moment there are no classes for me to teach, and it is uncertain if anything will be offered in the future.  So, I am concentrating on identifying funding resources (i.e., opening my own business, Brodie Insect Science LLC!) and research.  Although we are incredibly nervous, we hope to eventually carve out places for ourselves at the university.  Go Bobcats!

Exploring Ohio University
Exploring Ohio University.

There is a saying that “travel is timeless”, and this certainly holds true for us.  Over the past 10 years we have developed meaningful relationships, seen amazing places, and made memories to last a lifetime. However, traveling (or, in our case, frequent moving) is tiring and we are happy to end our nomadic lifestyle, grow roots, and really invest in our new community. The timing could not be better for Tavi; he has started kindergarten and looks forward to making life-long friends at his new school.  As well as for Rex, who is just too old to be dragged all over the world anymore, and would prefer to spend the rest of his days napping.

This is the world as Academics know it and as we know it.  It has made us stronger, opened our eyes to new opportunities, and made us appreciate and cherish our loved ones, and above all else, we have lived.  We are not unlike the philosopher and famous great traveler, Strabo, we synthesize our own travel into a science of geography, or as he put it “the art of life, that is, happiness”.  Although we have found a home, the adventure is not over, we will continue to look forward to what is around the next corner and the voyage that awaits us… but always returning home.

A Family with no Country to call Home: Romania Adventure!

That’s right, we have officially moved to my husbands home soil… Romania!  The plan is to start working on the 2 year home residency requirement, which the US Dept. of State so courteously requires from my husband. In any case, it is a pretty loose-end move, since we have no clue what awaits us.

This is a follow-up story from my post “A Family with No Country to call Home: A Modern Love Story” and my husbands take (including the nitty gritty details) “Viorels Story: Why we are a Family with No Country to Call Home“.  To recap,  we met in graduate school in 2006, married in 2008, and our son was born in 2010.  When we met, Viorel (now my husband), was studying in the United States with a Fulbright Scholarship on a J1 Visa.  The US Dept of State requires that, at the end of his J1 term, he must return to his country and “give back” for 2 years.  In theory, it’s a wonderful idea, but (1) there are scant job opportunities for academics in Romania, and (2) this the 21st century, and a person doesn’t need to be physically present in that country in order to contribute and “give back”.  So, along with many other reasons, we moved to Canada in an attempt to bypass this requirement, in the hopes that we would settle there. We lived and raised our family in Canada for almost 4 years, searching for job opportunities that will satisfy both of us. Somehow, BC never felt like home to us, and we’ve been longing to get back in Northeastern US for a while. Both Viorel and I have close family there, which would be great for Tavi (we also found out that life as young parents in this academic system was very lonely, and seeing family was a rare event – this April was the first time in 3.5 years that Tavi met his grandparents in Romania; sad…).  Add this to the fact that academic jobs in Canada are very rare (about 80% of STEM postdocs will never even get an interview for an academic position in the Canadian higher ed system), and we started to seriously doubt our initial decision to settle in (Western) Canada.  So, we decided to take the risks involved with moving back to Romania and hope that after two years we’d be able to return to the US.

On December 15, my entire family (including Viorel, Tavi [our son],  even Rex [the dog] and myself) left for Romania.  We sold our car and the majority of our belongings (don’t feel too bad, we didn’t have much anyway).  We brought little more than 1 suitcase each to begin our new (short-time?) life in Romania.  Since arriving in Romania, we’ve been staying with Viorel’s parents while we search for a home, car, and school for Tavi.  (I should mention here that Tavi and I voted for more traditional or classic forms of transportation… however, we were vetoed by Viorel and my brother-in-law, Ionuts.  We now own an Opel Astra, a German car.)

Tavi on a traditional Romanian carriage, the horses were on break (Braila, RO- December 2014)

 

Tavi with the classic Romanian Dacia Truck or "Papuch" (Papuch= Slipper)
Tavi with a classic Romanian Dacia Truck or “Papuc”, Papuc= Slipper (Braila, RO- December 2014)

While in Romania, I have assigned myself 5 main goals, 1) learn Romanian(!), 2) spend time with and get to know my husbands friends and family (often requires that I learn Romanian first), 3) finish my dissertation (the defense is scheduled for July 1, 2015 and I’m well on my way with 3 out of the 5 chapters are submitted or published!), 4) eat lots of Chorba (Romanian borscht soup)  and Sarmale, and 5) investigate potential post-doc opportunities in Romania.

Me making great headway towards eating lots of Chorba! (Photo: Tavi Popescu)
I’m making great headway towards goal #4 and eating lots of Chorba! Thanks, Mamaia!!  (Photo: Tavi Popescu)

So far I’m making dramatic progress on 1-4!  Regarding #5, investigating Post-doc opportunities, Romania is one of the few European countries with intact wild forests with a diverse array ecosystems.  Because of this, it’s home to many species that cannot be found anywhere else in Europe and many of them are threatened or are in danger of becoming extinct.  These species include mammals, birds, plants, but also encompass overlooked, yet often just as charismatic, insects.  Some of my favourite insects on this list include Rosalia Longicorn Beetle, Rosalia alpina, and flat bark beetle, Cucujus cinnaberinus, (Family: Cerambycidae), and the Mountain Apollo Butterfly, Parnassius apollo (Family: Lepidoptera).  This, paired with a fair bit of optimism, hard work, and cleverness, allows for plenty of research possibilities.

The Rosalia Longicorn is found from the Alps to Slovakia but its numbers have steeply declined due to deforestation. Logging and wood-processing industry is the main source of income in many areas of the Carpathians, Romania. (Photo: Lhasek)
The Rosalia Longicorn is found from the Alps to Slovakia but its numbers have steeply declined due to deforestation. Logging and wood-processing industry is the main source of income in many areas of the Carpathians, Romania. (Photo: J. Lhasek)

 

The Flat Bark Beetle lives under the bark of dead and live trees in central and Eastern Europe.
The Flat Bark Beetle lives under the bark of dead and live trees in central and Eastern Europe.  This beetle is listed as vulnerable by the IUCN due to clear cutting forest. (Photo: L. Krasensky).

 

In the last few decades this species distribution throughout Romania has decreased drastically and currently considered extinct in the Western Carpathian mountains. (Photo: J. Lhasek)
In the last few decades this species distribution throughout Romania has decreased drastically and currently considered extinct in the Western Carpathian mountains. (Photo: J. Lhasek)

What does the future hold?  I have no idea but you can be sure it will be full of trips to explore Romania’s culture, and historical and biogeographical regions.  Because of these upcoming expeditions and adventures I expect my blog will morph as well.  It will still focus on insects and my experiences navigating through academia as a mother and mentor, but I anticipate will take a dramatic turn to Romanian entomology and my experiences adjusting to my new culture and country.  So, let the adventure begin (again)!  Join me and my family as we attempt to, “find the “Mania” in Romania!”

(Plus, I hear Dracula’s castle is for sale… a potential investment opportunity for us?!?  Nah, I been there, it’s cold and has very small doors!)

Update!  I submitted a grant application for the Mohamed bin Zayed Species conservation Fund and it was accepted!  I will be surveying endangered, threatened, and poorly known longicorn beetles (Family Cerambycidae) in traditionally managed Romanian forests!  For more information see RO Beetle Project!

Viorel’s Story: why we are a family with no country

This post is a continuation from Bekka’s “Love Story: a family with no country” and I am officially a “guest blogger”… This is my side of the story.

As far as our love story goes, Bekka pretty much described it all in detail, but I will say that I had the same feeling about her after our first few dates. I just knew that I will ask her to marry me, and that was that.

The focus of this post is “why we are a family with no country to call home”, what bounds us from not being able to live in the US, and my thoughts on some immigration issues. I’ll admit it, it’s entirely my fault. As Bekka mentioned, I am Romanian, and I came to the US in 2005 on a Fulbright Scholarship to take 2 semesters of graduate-level classes [10 months] at the State University of New York, Syracuse. I am geographer and environmental scientist by training, but “fell” into conservation biology and ecology after graduation from the University of Bucharest. After dabbling in science (in early 2000’s) while working on conservation of vipers, tortoises, bears, wolves and lynx (yup, Romania still has all of these species, and many more in abundance), but not really having a vision of my future career path, a friend of mine (and a very successful Romanian scientist) encouraged me to apply for a Fulbright Scholarship. He said it’s ‘the most amazing experience’ and ‘It will help you enormously in figuring out your next career steps’. It turns out he was right; it was the best thing that ever happened to me, as it led to meeting Bekka, having Tavi, getting a PhD, and in general changing my life path. …But unfortunately, it also led to our “no country” dilemma.

tortoise_release

Releasing captive bred baby tortoises, Iron Gates, Romania 2004

The Fulbright Program was established in 1946 to encourage collaboration and mutual understanding between the American people and rest of the world. It fosters a global exchange of experience and intellectual capacity unmatched by any other program. The exchange goes both ways: US scholars go abroad to teach or do research and outreach, and foreigners come to the US to get education in the US higher-education system. The program benefits from US Federal funding (although many countries contribute as well), and foreign scholars that are solely funded through US funds [my case] are subject to a 2-year home residency requirement. The philosophy behind this is straightforward: the scholar has to give back to her/his country after getting educated in the US, and this was equated at the time with being physically present in her/his home country.

For being offered such a great opportunity, I happily agreed to come back to Romania for at least 2 years and give back to my home country. Thinking that 10 months of classes is all I got, that didn’t seem like a big deal. But, it was a big deal: when I started in Syracuse, it was like the world just started to make sense. The first semester there I felt like an empty cup filling and filling and filling… with knowledge. It was amazing, and I often ask myself how my life would have been without this opportunity. After the 10 months, my advisor Dr. James Gibbs saw more potential in me, and made it possible to extend the stay for another year to do field research and develop a Master thesis (frog surveys in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York). And so I did, and this is how I ended up meeting Bekka. After I was done with the Master, it was either “go home” or “stay for a PhD”. During the 2 years in Syracuse I felt like I only scratched the surface and that there was so much more I needed to learn, so I opted for the latter. I did a PhD in Wildlife Ecology at the University of Maine with the best advisor anyone could ask for: Dr. Mac Hunter, the first ecologist to write a Conservation Biology book, and likely one of the greatest thinkers in this field. Lucky, lucky, lucky: living in Vacationland (aka the State of Maine) with the person you want to spend your life with, and doing what you love. Say no to that!

IMG_0103

Catching Turtles, Syracuse, NY 2005

Like Bekka mentioned in the previous post, all good things come to an end, and in 2010 it was time to decide our next move. Knowing that it is not possible to live in the US, we started looking at opportunities in Canada and Australia. Bekka ended up accepting a PhD position at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, so Canada it was. Now here is another really great thing about Fulbright: after graduation, one can work in the US for another 36 months as part of what is called “Academic Training”. Most people I know do postdocs, and so I decided to take advantage of this opportunity. I was (once again) extremely lucky [seems like a recurring theme for me] to get a 1-year postdoc at Berkeley followed by a 2-year postdoc at UC Santa Cruz and Simon Fraser University that I could do remotely from Vancouver (you can read about my research on my website: https://sites.google.com/site/vioreldpopescu/)

Now going back to the situation we are in: married couple, one spouse US citizen, one kid US citizen, living temporarily in Canada, with little or no chance of going back in the US legally (some of you non-Americans might ask: why do you even want to do that?). Well, in some ways this would be less for me (although I admit that the job opportunities in my field are richer in the US compared to other countries), but for Bekka and Tavi, who are Americans. Although there are no statistics about people in my situation, the Internet forums are replete with such stories, in many cases extremely sad. There are also no statistics on how many Fullbright Alumni are actually going back to their countries versus making a living in a different country. For example, Canada is often the destination of many people subject to the 2-year requirement due to Canada’s better and more lax immigration laws. Why wouldn’t Canada want to welcome well-trained people that the US is practically kicking out? I am thus fortunate for having built a family and found a home (maybe temporary, maybe not) in Canada. I am also fortunate that my country is not a war zone, so we could still go back if need be; others are not as fortunate, and the current system does not make it any easier for them.

Now let’s go back to the Fulbright program and the 2-year home residency requirement. Again, I think the philosophy behind the Fulbright is wonderful, as it was aimed at rebuilding countries after WWII. However, there is a huge difference in one’s life between spending several months (and some J1 scholars I know just hated the experience and couldn’t wait to return home) and spending almost 9 years in another country, and then going back home. The reader can judge how likely is it for a person to re-integrate in a society based on such differences. Unfortunately, there is no program in place to facilitate transitions for people in the latter situation. Theoretically, your home country should make it easy to do so and make good use of what you’ve learned. That is definitely the wrong assumption for many places, including Romania (the government even gave me a letter saying that they don’t need my services when I applied [unsuccessfully] to the US Dept. of State for a waiver for the 2 years home residency requirement). Some countries do welcome their “lost children” back and put their skills to good use [from my limited knowledge Chile, Argentina and Germany are among the ones to do so]. Unfortunately, this is not the home-coming that most Romanian Fulbright alumni experience. In fact, many places (even some fancy Western Europe academic systems) see your training as a threat to local faculty or researchers. I have a good friend in Romania who had a “senior” Fulbright (came to the US to teach, not to be taught), went back full of hopes, only to find that university decided to give hers/his courses to someone else, and she/he was just left hanging.

The main goal of Fulbright is for a scholar to “give back” to her/his country and that is wonderful. My opinion is that “giving back” comes in many shapes or forms, and does not necessarily have to include physical presence; not in the age of instant communication, remote access to data, etc. In my case, I started “giving back” as soon as I learned how to write in proper English and gained some quantitative skills at SUNY Syracuse. This is because I think that nature protection in Romania needs my help much more than anything else in North America or Western Europe. In Romania, like many other undeveloped countries, we don’t even know what species we have, where they are, and what their threat status is. There are no inventories, no databases, little quantitative skills, and equally important, little or no funding to do any of the above. So I did give back: half of my publications are on Romanian topics, I have several ongoing collaborations on large carnivores and amphibian conservation and I like to think that I did all I could to put Romania on the “biodiversity conservation” map. Since 2011 I have also been the science advisor of the largest brown bear conservation project in Central and Eastern Europe, and the methods we developed for counting bears in a scientific manner are likely to be now adopted nation-wide. These are just a few examples, and I was able to achieve all these remotely from the US or Canada (we haven’t been to Romania in 3 ½ years). The bottom line is that I will continue to work in Romanian conservation all my life, regardless of where I live. However, this does not mean anything to the US Dept. of State, which outright declined my request for a waiver for the 2-year home residency requirement.

So, I would argue that the 2-year home residency requirement is antiquated in this day and age, as it very narrowly focuses on physical presence in the home country. This is not Fulbright Program’s problem, but an artifact of the ancient and simply bad US immigration laws. The US Administration needs to start thinking in the 21st century, and acknowledge Fulbright scholars’ contributions beyond a physical presence test. On that note, regarding outdated US immigration laws, if a J1 exchange visitor moves to the US with their spouse Uncle Sam is even less welcoming.  The spouse gets a J2 visa to be able to reside in the US, but obtaining a work permit is difficult. Spouses can ultimately get employment, but the law does not facilitate it. In comparison, the first thing I received when we moved to Canada was a work permit for the duration of Bekka’s studies. Basically Canada said: “you came here temporarily, why not go work [whatever kind of work], contribute to society and support your family?”. Thank you and kudos to you, Canada!

April 3rd 2014 was a very special day: my last official day of the 8 years 8 months and 17 days as a J1 exchange visitor, meaning that all my US legal ties are now (officially) cut. I can no longer work or live in the US without returning to Romania for at least 2 years.  By default, my wife and son are (unofficially) “exiled” from the US.  So, regarding our next steps, we are still trying to figure it out: making the best of it in Canada (for what we do, the job market is relatively poor here), or try something else (Australia, New Zealand, China)? We are staying in Canada for at least another year (it will give both Bekka and I time to wrap up our projects), but the future is still uncertain.

To finish up my rambling, I need to tell you about the best post-graduation advice that I ever got from one of my mentors at SUNY Syracuse, Charlie Hall. He said: “NEVER GET COMFORTABLE”. At first I didn’t understand; years later, it made more sense: academically, you do not want to settle on a certain topic, and always want to be at disequilibrium in order to be productive. I did follow that advice and it worked out great: collaborations, papers, amazing professional experiences, and many new friends along the way. But from a family perspective, we are longing for comfort in security. And I am not talking about material things like a house or even a comfortable bed (don’t worry we have neither), but rather emotional comfort and peace of mind of being in a place on a status other than TEMPORARY.

me_mu

 

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.

birthday

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.