I have been here in Nacogdoches at Stephen F. Austin State University for the past two months. I finally feel like I am settling in. It has been a long journey to get here - literally and figuratively - into a tenure track job in the US. In the future, I am going to write a bit more about my academic journey, but for now, I just want to focus on the things that have been taking up my time.
The cost of moving across the country and getting into a new house is enormous. We have been saving money for the past six years in Kazakhstan, so we had the resources, but it has been alarming to see them disappear so quickly. The startup costs of learning new systems, new cultures, new jargon, and new routines have also been high.
My wife has done an amazing job of putting our home life together, getting our kids enrolled in school, and just helping us settle in. But the time its taken to do those things, to schedule repairs on the house, to schedule deliveries, to get new drivers’ licenses, buy a new car, set up insurance, banking, and retirement accounts through work, and more have been exhausting.
I have moved twice before as an academic. The first time we moved to Las Vegas for a VAP position at UNLV. We were helped there because we had family living down the street to help us navigate the new area. It was also temporary, so we had less incentive to think of the long term consequences of every little decision we made. Renting rather than buying was much less stressful in many ways.
The second time we moved, it was to Kazakhstan. The difficulties of moving there were real, but there was a robust support system to get foreign faculty settled in. I had to learn a lot about work in a very short amount of time, but I could focus on that much easier, because a lot of the distractions were limited. That was often because we had fewer choices, but in the short run, that was something that made life less stressful.
I have been trying to figure out my students. My undergraduates are not PS majors - I am teaching a general education Intro to American Politics course. I teach two sections of that. My other class is a graduate-level online course in a new MA program that I was hired to teach in. The MA course is going well. The intro course is different. I am so used to dealing with highly-motivated and highly-competitive students at NU, that I am working to find a balance here. Figuring out teaching styles, teaching levels, and what I can and should focus on is taking some time.
One thing that I am getting used to is being the junior faculty member. At NU - even though I was a new(ish) PhD, we were all pretty equal in the beginning. I became department chair after my first year there (two years after earning my PhD) and spent six years as the “go to” guy on our program, its design, curriculum, and all that stuff. Now I am the only Tenure-Track faculty member in the department who is untenured. I am the new guy in all the senses of that word and I am having to get used to that.
What does all this mean? Not much. I am living the life that I want to live. I am teaching and researching. My family is happy - especially my kids. I know that soon I’ll be comfortable and in a routine and wondering why I felt so tired for those first few months in East Texas. Maybe I’ll look back at this and remember that - yeah - I had a lot going on in those early months.