Challenges facing 'immigrant professors' under the microscope

Academics often “make profound sacrifices” to work overseas, while such a move usually comes at a high personal and emotional cost, according to a new book looking at the experiences of 'immigrant professors' across the globe.

Immigrant professors
The book, 'Experiences of Immigrant Professors: Challenges, Cross-Cultural Differences, and Lessons for Success', which is published in the UK on October 28 by Routledge, is a collection of 21 studies and reflections from expat academics on the personal and professional challenges they have faced.Editor and author Charles B. Hutchison, who was born in Ghana and is now associate professor of education at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, says that although the cross-border flows of academics number in hundreds of thousands, there has been little examination of their experiences.According to a review by Times Higher Education (THE), "Lecturers have been adapting to foreign environments since wandering European scholars first converged on the University of Bologna more than 900 years ago."But it is a growing phenomenon. About half of the estimated 2.2 million researchers working in European Union countries have undertaken some kind of placement outside their home country. In the UK, there were 51,365 non-UK academic staff in 2013-14, 26 per cent of all academics, up from 17 per cent a decade earlier, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency."About 610,000 PhD holders in the US are foreign-born – accounting for 27 per cent of all doctorates held in the country from 2005 to 2009. This is almost 40 per cent higher than in 2000, according to an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development research paper published in 2013."The book, which mainly centres on the experiences of expat lecturers from Africa, SE Asia and Spain working in the US, says that foreign lecturers often encounter an initially hostile environment.Scholars describe their difficulties with students unused to interacting with foreign staff, who raise complaints about their tutors' accent, teaching and rigorous marking style. "Academics face a culture shock when they move to a new country, but there is also the 'teaching shock'," says Prof Hutchison. "That is often the biggest change to handle."Some of the academics contributing to the book say they encountered clear prejudice with one African lecturer complaining that "any image of a professor other than white is still a culture shock to some" and describes being mistaken by one student for a handyman coming to do some repairs to the computer.THE reported, "Finding mentors and building support networks are seen as crucial survival tactics by many contributors, but while some academics argue in favour of assertiveness in response to difficulties, others advocate 'putting a smile on our faces and being nice no matter what prejudice we encounter'."Many international staff 'work twice as hard to disprove negative preconceptions, proactively challenge discrimination and institutional barriers, and use their national origin and experiences as strengths in the classroom', according to Leonie Brooks, a professor at Towson University in Maryland who was born in Jamaica."But the book also offers many arguments in favour of making the significant effort of relocating to another country. Xavier Coller, professor of sociology at Pablo de Olavide University in Spain, says that being taught by overseas professors as a student in the 1980s proved to be a life-changing experience for him."Research indicates that being taught by overseas academics can lead to better cross-cultural relations, appreciation of diversity and international perspectives," said THE.Prof Hutchison added that, as people at the top of their game, immigrant professors "shine for all the groups they inadvertently represent and are likely to change people's perspectives wherever they migrate".Don't miss the Re:locate Guide to International Education & Schools, published Autumn 2015.For more Re:locate news and features on Education & Schools, click here.