CAREERS: An Expatriate Jobhunting Experience

Posted in “First Person”, Chronicle for Higher Education
— September 23, 1998

Mara Jevera Fulmer

During my last two years of a six-year stint at a foreign university in the South Pacific, I worked feverishly at finding a teaching position back in the USA. I had just completed my masters at a major US university which required periodic international travel at considerable expense and now I was ready to switch from a working professional graphic designer/art director to teaching the subject fulltime. With nearly 20 years professional experience and a masters I felt qualified for a large percentage of the positions being offered. I felt fortunate that the academic world seemed to be opening its arms to the massive development of the internet by offering new or expanded programs in graphic design. The responses were great with my success in being shortlisted on more than half of the nearly 60 job applications that I’d submitted. However, the roller-coaster ride began with educating the folks who received my application package on how to determine time-zones, something I would carefully describe in the last paragraph of my cover letters.

A call at 3 a.m. for an interview (try and sound intelligent at that hour!), many offers to arrange complex telephone conferencing interviews, and even a few offers to pay for a portion of the very large expense on average of around $2,000 to fly to the east coast of the USA from the South Pacific. The response was so good that, for awhile I missed seeing the possibility that these folks may have simply been contacting me for the sake of saying they’d interviewed “someone from Fiji.”It soon became clear that this was indeed the problem.There was a certain “glamour” to interviewing this overseas candidate. And many committees seemed to dismiss the idea of actually hiring me after the initial telephone interview because they were afraid of the expense of bringing me to the interview.

Although I thought it only fair that a college or university would somehow assist financially, I was realistic enough to accept that they’d probably never go so far as to cover the cost of the international flight. As a veteran flyer, I accepted the fact that this would be a cost that would be borne by me. I was becoming sadly accustomed to the read-between-the-lines rejections, the explanations like “you and another candidate were tied but they were in the country” or state or city, meaning we wouldn’t have to deal with relocation challenges. The fact that the university I was working for would cover the majority of my relocation costs as part of my foreign contract didn’t seem to sink in when mentioning this in my cover letters or follow-up telephone interviews.

For my last round of interviews, I was able to convince a college in Michigan to interview me in person even before they’d really made any decisions because I offered to “swing” by the midwest on my way to an interview in Washington state. This added college was not willing to cover much more than the one night hotel stay, unless of course, they offered me the job. It was a chance I figured I’d take since it was combined with the risk of the westcoast interview at a college that offered to hand me a check upon my arrival for a little less than half of my airfare. I took the plunge. For my tenacity, I was rewarded.

The second college initially was not one I would have thought to consider. I couldn’t see myself moving from the so-called “glamour” of island life in Fiji to the blue-collar automotive culture of Flint, Michigan. But after attending both interviews (the second nearly foiled by a nasty one-day hangup with Northwest Airlines flight cancellations), I remember sitting with a friend in Moscow, Idaho. She had worked at the same university overseas and looked forward to the idea of my family moving to the west side of Washington state, only an hour or two away.

But, as beautiful as the scenery was, I was intrigued by Flint. The job sounded far more creative and I saw the area as another cultural challenge. I told her I thought I would prefer the job in Flint.

As luck would have it, the folks in Flint felt the same way about me. Here it is, a year after beginning my new position as Associate Professor in Graphic Design and I’m working harder than ever. I’ve developed a new AAS degree in Graphic Design and have been given full support by other faculty and administration, albeit tempered by standard college bureaucracy, for its implementation. I’m generally enjoying it all, especially the students who, like those I knew in Fiji, are eager to find out about the world outside their hometown. I hope I can live up to their expectations. It’s a challenge I think I’m up for.

Mara Jevera Fulmer, Associate Professor/Program Coordinator in Graphic Design, C.S. Mott Community College (posted 9/23/98, 4:53 p.m., E.D.T.)