The Student Affairs New Professional

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Learning to Fly - Post 18

Quote of the Day:
"You'll learn more about a road by traveling it than by consulting all the maps in the world."
- Anonymous

Isn't this quote so true? You can read all the Student Affairs literature you want, but you'll never have an understanding of what positions in our field are like until you've actually worked for a while.

Similarly, you can read all the books about being an international student but you'll never understand what it's like until you've actually gone to a different country and dealt with the stereotypes and the bureaucracy of receiving a visa and and and. Of course, it's not all bad. There's also the amazing experience of really getting to know a different culture, of becoming so familiar with a new language that you start thinking and dreaming in that language, making new friends that are so different than your friends at home and and and. But I'll tell you all about that some other time.

I have had a "vent session" about being an international student in a while, so I thought it was once again time to do so. Especially since, once again, I'm going through the scary process of applying for a visa.

Here are some of the facts: I came here in 2000 on an international student visa (valid for 5 years or until I finished my studies). I graduated in 2004 from undergrad and decided to go straight to grad school because then I simply had to extend my visa, which was just the easiest thing at the time. After two years, I graduated from grad school and applied for the OPT (Optional Practical Training). That allows me to work full-time for one year after I graduated in the field of my studies. So that's what I'm on right now.

Now, the institution I'm working at is applying for an H1B visa for me, which will allow me to work for 3 years (and I could apply for another 3 years after that). Fortunately, the department I'm working at has gone through this process with another employee last year, so they have some experience with all this. They've already started the whole process, as last year, it took a little longer than they expected. So far so good.

Now everything should be fine. And I try to keep telling myself that. But then again (and I'm sure you've noticed that if you've been reading my blog for a while) I'm the kind of person who is still going to worry. It's just that I have absolutely no control over all this. What if the school messes something up and the paperwork doesn't go through...or doesn't go through on time? What if, for some reason, the application is denied?

I try not to think about it too much because I'd just drive myself insane. But what's annoying - and what I really wanted to talk about today - are those comments from colleagues, who just have no idea what I'm going through.

For example, when we had to submit our letters of intent: Knowing that I needed the institution to apply for this visa for me, I didn't even think twice about indicating that I was interested in coming back. Yes, I like my job and I'd probably be coming back anyway. But because of this whole visa thing, I don't really have a choice. If I applied for another job, I probably wouldn't find out whether or not I'm hired until much later in the semester and then it'd be too late to submit the paperwork to get a visa for a Fall start date. And my current institution couldn't submit a visa application for me if I didn't tell them that I was coming back. So this really wouldn't work.
I'm not telling you this because I want you to feel sorry for me. I was totally planning on coming back anyway. And I'm so grateful to my current institution to going through the whole hassle of applying for a visa for me!!!
The reason I'm telling you is that some of my colleagues made comments, after we submitted those letters, questioning why I was so certain that I'd be coming back next year. And some of them asked me, if I wasn't even looking if there was something better out there. I know, they probably didn't mean it in a bad way at's just one of those instances where I realized how little Americans know about what it's like to be an international student and repeatedly have to go through this whole frustrating visa application process. This is already something I dread, something I have nightmares about, so unless you're ready to hear me rant about the frustrations of applying for a visa, don't ask about it!!!

Oh and what I absolutely love are those comments like, "Why don't you apply for citizenship?" Okay, here you've just proven that you have not the slightest the idea of what you're talking about. You can't just apply for citizenship. You need to be a permanent resident for four years prior to doing so...and while I've been in this country for almost 7 years now, all of those were on "temporary visas," so none of these years count. I'm also not fortunate enough to have close relatives here or to be getting married to an American citizen any time soon.

I also indicated in my letter of intent that I was planning on staying for two more years. Now, some people immediately thought I did this to improve my chances of getting the living learning community I wanted. Granted, I did include it because I was hoping to do so. But it wasn't a political, sly move; it's what I am really planning on doing. If this institution goes through the pain and the costs of applying for a visa for me, the least I can do is stick around for a little while and give something back to the department, isn't it? And let's be honest, job-searching itself isn't that much fun to begin with...add the citizen of another country component and it's pure torture. The longer I can avoid this the better.

Okay, so what's the point to my little vent session?
If you ever work with a citizen of another country, don't try to give them "good advice" unless you really know about the visa/citizenship application process. You're just going to make yourself look like a fool and make that person feel frustrated and annoyed. If you don't know, ask!
And just realize that little decisions, that don't seem to matter much to you, can be a huge deal for someone in that situation. Life's just a little harder when you weren't born in this country but are, for some weird reason, stuck on the idea that you want to stay here. You know, every other day, I ask myself why I even want to be here. The country or at least the country's government obviously doesn't want foreigners here anymore. And sometimes I even question if its citizens do...

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tryin' to Get Paid-Post 12

Post 12 from Tryin' to Get Paid

Yeah, it's been a while since I last wrote, but when you have to handle some campus crisis and take students to a conference, you get a little busy. Plus, I've had the flu, and that really kicked my behind. But, through all of this, I'm trying to keep my head held high. Some of my colleagues have really helped me through these past few weeks, and I'm really appreciative, whereas others probably haven't realized that I still work here (that's another discussion, which I might dive into in this post).

But, I have two things to rant about. Positive first!
1) I sat in my first class here, just to get the student experience. I met a professor in History, had coffee, realized he was a huge ally for multiculturalism, and he offered me an open invitation to sit in his seminar. Since I finally had time, I went and observed. Wow. First, the dialogue in his Critical Race Theory course was so deep, I was moved by what was said. One kid brought up a theory correlating Marcus Garvey's movement to move back to Africa to his espoused thoughts of facism. And, these students were using words and phrases I never heard of. I had to go back to my office and look in the dictionary to find the meanings of the words these students were saying. It gave me a deeper sense of what the "liberal arts" education really means, and gave me a different perspective of what a college class is like, since mine were vastly different. I think I'll keep going, with my friend Webster's in tow. Plus, I had Hmong food for the first time. Our school has a new Hmong student club, and as their advisor, I was invited to their celebratory cook-out. I brought an ice-cream cake to celebrate, and everyone had a good time.

2) I finally realized, after a while, that I work with an interesting bunch of professionals, and the dynamic I'm in poses so many challenges. For info's sake, I work with three other professionals and two graduate students. I am the only person of color and one of two males in our unit. The other man and myself went to state schools (um, more like "Moo State U" for our rural locales) out of state, whereas the women went to the same graduate program at the local Catholic university. I am the first in my family to achieve a higher education (master's or bachelor's), whereas the women are not. There are so many other factors that come into play, and when a crisis occurs, it makes conflict more interesting. We've had discussions on race and ethnicity, and my colleagues and I are on two completely islands. I tried to let them know the life is kinda different for a person of color (from my perspective)and about privledge (you know, the things we learned in our grad programs), but I might have been too strong in my conversations, because now nobody wants to talk about it. Part 2 continued below...

With our campus crisis that occured a couple of weeks ago, I was the first staff member to be informed by students, conduct some intelligence gathering, and pass it on to the appropriate personnel. This event crossed soooooo many boundaries (which I cannot divulge) that really affected a good portion of the student body. And when many come to my office and tell me moving stories, it takes a toll...and when I try to talk to my colleagues about it, I don't get a lot of sympathy or feedback. My supervisor has been wonderful during this situation; he has given me the space to vent, cry, and just talk. However, with everyone else, they just kind of walk past my office and don't even bother a wave or a nod. It's like I'm not even here.

I could be bothered by the "silence", and wonder if I'm acting like a professional, or whether I should let this situation roll off my back like water on a duck. I guess it's a challenge that I, as a new professional, has to face. I guess it takes time to repair relationships, and all I'm tryin' to do is give space and pause, and hope things get better.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Learning to Fly - Post 17

Quote of the Day:
"I'm the one that has to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life, the way I want to."
- Jimi Hendrix

In Student Affairs, we talk a lot about learning and growing, not just when it comes to our students but also ourselves; from professional development opportunities to conversations with your supervisor about how to best prepare for your next position.
And while I think this is a great and wonderful thing about our field, it can also be very frustrating and annoying when it isn't done right.

Let me explain.

We often have to submit these "preference" sheets/letters. If it is for placements for the following year, committee assignments, and so on. But in the end, it's not our decisions where we'll be placed or what committees we get to serve on. I understand that from an administrative point, there's no other way of assigning these things...and of course, you'll never be able to make everyone happy...but what bothers me is the way these decisions are sometimes made.

I don't think I'm really explaining this well, so let me try with a specific example...
I've spent a lot of time thinking about committee assignments for next semester. Many returning staff members will want to chair committees. And so should I...after all that's one of those experiences that you should get when you work in ResLife, right? But I also want to continue working with RHA and I know that I'll never be allowed to do both because both are a big time commitment.
Now, I know they need to take into consideration what other staff members want - maybe give a new person a chance - I understand all that. But I get frustrated when I get the feeling that people want to force me to chair a committee because they think it'll be the better professional development opportunity for me and it'll supposedly be better for me in the long run.

This hasn't really happened yet (although some comments have been made) and part of it is just my own paranoia. But similar things happened in grad school. I was assigned to a specific residential area because I was told it'd be the better professional experience for me. But it was an area that I had no interest in; so I spent an entire year being miserable; and then even had a hard time finding the kind of jobs I was looking for because I had the wrong kind of experience.

I appreciate that supervisors and other mentors have more experience and want to share that with me. I appreciate their concern about my professional development. But I also believe that my professional development should be MY CHOICE. It's my life afterall (Okay, now I sound like a four-year-old...haha).
But seriously: Point out to me why you think the other experience may be better for me. Question me why I want to do certain things. But don't give me something I didn't want and then tell me you did it because it was best for me. If you need me there, put me there...but at least me be honest and tell me that it was because it was the best for the department. I'll have a much better attitude about something, if I know that it was just something that had to happen for the better of the department or institution than if I feel like you're forcing your opinion on me, that you're babying me and telling me what's best for me. Maybe it'll make you feel better, as you're not giving me what I want, to pretend that it was best for me...but in my mind, that's just chickening out.
Yeah, so maybe I don't always know what's best for me...maybe I'll regret some of the choices I made years later. But at least, if I was the one who made the choice, the only person I can be mad at is me. But if you forced me to do something and told me you did for because "it was best for me," I'm just going to resent you, be bitter and frustrated.

So let me live my life; it's my life afterall.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Learning To Fly - Post 16

Quote of the Day:
"A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort."
- Herm Albright

So, I have to admit, I've been struggling with this positive attitude lately. I'm not sure what's going on. I don't really have a reason to be grumpy - at least nothing out of the ordinary, just the usual stupid little things - but I just can't help it lately.

Work has been slow, and to be honest, kind of boring. I haven't had much to do - something I'm definitely not used to. More than once over the past few days, I've been sitting in my office trying really hard to think of something that I need to do. I mean, there's things I could be doing. Like preparing for training presentations for next Fall (yeah, that's going to happen). Or reviewing my RA expectations for next year and fixing those (but I can't really do that without first having met with my grad student for next year...she's a returner, so I want to make sure to involve her more in some of this planning). I've decided to host a huge Safety program next month - in an attempt to have a little more to do - but even those things are basically taken care of.
I think, what's killing me, isn't so much the not having anything to do, but the waiting for other people. I have to do those training presentations with other staff members and half of them haven't responded to my e-mails yet, so we don't even have a meeting set up to start discussing our presentations. I'm on this committee and was working on a project, but I had to wait for my committee chair to get me some more information, which still hasn't really happened. I'm waiting for presenters for the Safety program to call me back but again, nothing much coming my way from them. So basically, I just sit around and wait and get annoyed.

For advising the Residence Hall Association, we've come up with this "wonderful" adviser we wouldn't have to go to all the meetings. Yeah, that may have been helpful in the Fall when I worked 14 hours a it's useless. If I don't go to the meeting, I sit at home in front of the TV and wonder what's going on at the meeting. So lately, I've just gone, even when it isn't my turn. What are they going to do? Fire me for doing too much?

You know, here's what I struggle with: I struggle with being a new professional - in my first year at a new institution - and with finding my place in this department. I don't know yet when it's okay to say something and when it's better not to say anything. I don't know who to talk to when I'm unhappy with the way we are doing things or have ideas to get something changed. I don't want to give this new department and their traditional ways of doing things a chance, but I also don't want to just accept how we do things. I have new ideas; I think there's ways we could improve; I just don't know if it's my turn yet to suggest those changes...and how hard to push for them when I come across resistence.
I don't want to be that overexcited new professional who wants to change everything but I also don't want to just accept the way things are if I truly feel that they are not working. You know what I mean?

How do you find a balance?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Tryin' to Get Paid-Post 11

Post 11 from Tryin' to Get Paid

Mood: Cold...very cold
Music: Lupe Fiasco "I Gotcha"

You know, I think I made a mistake moving to the upper Midwest to find a job...I completely neglected the fact that, around the months of December-Feb., it gets cold. It gets really cold. I had never felt cold like this, the kind that hits your face and it just doesn't's like a teething 6 month old chewing on any uncovered part of your cheeks over and over and over. I remember being a child and not wanting to wear thermals because they used to itch my skin (these are the days before microfiber clothing), and my father told me "smart men dress for the season, not for the feeling", and his words never rang more true until today. Did you know temperatures can go into the negatives?

Well, as for work, I had my first campus crisis this past week. Some of you are wondering, he hasn't had his first crisis until now? Well, the nature of my work involves event planning and one-on-one developmental discussions, and I haven't had to delve into the world of crisis management...until last week. The details I cannot divulge...but as we professionals can guess, it started with a group of students not using their better judgment and acting in a fashion that a lot of their peers didn't think was a good idea, or was in a deeper sense very insensitive. In this case, our friend alcohol might have been involved. And now, with the fallout, this group in question is trying to rationalize their decisions (this is where Kohlberg's Moral Development comes into play...I'm glad I read it). So now, I'm working with a group of colleagues on how to handle this situation, and I've been tasked to discuss with students on this situation. I've had some interesting conversations, and I'm beginning to see the diversity of thought in the student interactions. I kind of had this idea in my mind that all the students here had the same thought processes, due to the reputation my institution had of attracting folks here. But, this incident has made me realize that I was short-sighted in my thoughts, and in a way I kinda feel like a fool for doing so.

Despite this situation, I am suprised that I've kept my cool and had some interesting discussions with folks across the campus. When I first heard the news, I wanted to throw a chair across the room, ala Bobby Knight. But, when I could have marched across campus and grabbed the students by their ears, I had to remind myself of a little thing called due process, and no matter what my temper was, this was an educational opportunity. So, my theory training kind of kicked in, and I went into, as my supervisor called it, "challenge and support mode". I'm glad I went into that mode and this situation has been relatively easy to handle, because if I went off on these kids like a raving lunatic, I'd be in the cold really quick, and ya'll know how much I hate the cold...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Learning To Fly - Post 15

No Quote of the Day today, but a little announcement:
The release date for Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows is July 21st, 2007.
[That made not just my day or my week but my year...haha. Yes, I'm OBSESSED.]

It's Friday, 5 PM, and after a very unproductive day, I've decided to just give up on trying to get work done.
I'm just hanging out in the office now...waiting for it to be 6 PM because that's when I told my staff I would go to dinner with them.

With not being as busy this semester, I've been having a lot of time to think - not always a good thing, let me tell you - and the more think, the more confused I get.

Here are some of the topics that have been roaming around in my head:

1) A lot of my colleagues are thinking about leaving the institution - either after their second year or even their first. Now, I've always been told that three years is the perfect time for you to stay in an entry-level position. I also didn't enjoy the stress of job searching last year, so the longer I can avoid going through that again the better. And you know, it concerns me that my colleagues are all ready to get out - not necessarily because they feel like it's their time to move on to bigger or better things (which would be fine) but because they feel it's time for them to get out of here. And that's a concern! What's going to happen to our department if nobody stays for more than one or two years?

So why do all these people decide to leave?
a) The live-in position: I know many of them are getting frustrated with living in. The being-on-duty 24-hours a day. While we have a staff member on duty for the campus, my institution has this culture where you're expected to be available for emergencies in your building after hours. Your staff will call you first before they call the staff member on duty. I highly doubt many of mine even know that phone number. And then there's the fact that our office phone lines also ring in our apartments. Bad idea! How are you supposed to have balance when you're expected to be available 24-hours a day, 7 days a week?
I think there could be some relatively simple answers here...don't have our office phone lines ring in the aparment for one; change the culture so that the staff member on duty is the first person to be called in an emergency; build apartments that are a little bit more separated from the building (Mine was just renovated this year but now it's in a men's corridor...actually right across from their bathroom...I'm sure you can imagine what Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights are like when my residents return from off-campus parties at 3 or 4 AM.).

b) Frustrations with the position: Mmmm, this one's harder to address.
There's the stress-factor. We all were insanely busy in the Fall semester. This semester is going better, but still....
Then there's the feeling of being unable to change anything. Yeah, we're still new here - mostly new professionals straight out of grad school - so it's understandable that we don't have a say in everything. And we are given quite a lot of autonomy when it comes to our buildings (at least compared to my previous institution), but when it comes to department-wide things you often feel like "things are done to you" instead of "you doing them." I'm talking about training for example...suddenly, a central staff member has to be involved with each training presentation. While we all know that our student staff training is AWFUL and our staff doesn't learn anything in those big lecture-presentations, we don't really get an opportunity to change that. And I'm even on the Training Committee. But it seems like my role consists more of reserving rooms and making the program look pretty. What a waste of time!!! (Sorry, I'm extremely frustrated about this, in case you haven't noticed.) And sometimes, you just feel powerless - unable to say what you really think or try to improve something or provide constructive criticism - because you know all ResLife departments are all about politics and who likes who and maybe the person that you're frustrated with is good friends with an Associate Director.... Yeah, those politics.... Wouldn't life be AMAZING without that???

It's tough. I like my job (most days) and I love the students here (or at least the student leaders, like my RAs and the RHA Exec Board). But I can definitely understand why some people are thinking about leaving....

Here's another topic I've been pondering:
2) Why are we so competitive with each other? Why can't we just be happy for each other?
You have those colleagues, who're supposed to be not just colleagues but friends. But as soon as it's about your placement for next year or a departmental or even regional/national award or just positive feedback from your coordinator, we turn into hyanas and stab each other in the back.

I've attracked some pretty nasty comments lately - and I'm not even sure if my "wonderful" colleagues are realizing how hurtful these have been.
So I've gotten the placement for next year that I wanted. And let me tell you, I really really wanted it. So I followed every step in the process and did everything anyone suggested. Which meant talking to my supervisor about my preferences for placement, meeting with the central staff members who work with that community and based on their suggestion meeting with another staff member in the division of Student Affairs who is also active with this community. Now, you need to know something about me: I don't like networking. I am awful in these "social" situations where you're supposed to make professional advances. I will never "suck up" to anyone...not because I don't want to but because I'm physically incapable of doing so.
And was very self-conscious when setting up any of these meetings and had to literally force myself to do that.
So when I got my placement, I was obviously exstatic. And not much could get to me...but a well-placed "Yeah, you were playing the politics for that one..." did leave a little scar.

I know we won't all be friends - I'm not that naive - but why can't we at least be civil. We're in Student Affairs. We should be SUPPORTIVE of each other!!!