Friday, February 24, 2017

The Journey Outside the USA Continues....

Many readers of this blog may or may not realize that the author of this blog is actually an American citizen.  Yet during more than six years of this blog's run, the vast majority of posts are written in locations about topics that are distinctively unrelated to the author's country of citizenship.  Even when written, America only exists as an elusive point of reference for other countries, a passive player looming large in the background that features much in the collective psyche of the local populace, but not nearly as much in the workings of their daily lives.

Perhaps that is not all that surprising when considering just how little direct interaction that the author has had with the US in the past years.  Ever since his graduation from Yale and flying off to Japan for his first full-time job, he has not been a resident of the US, instead globetrotting while largely ignoring any changes in America.  As a result, he has become more and more clueless about the US as a country and any of its recent sociocultural developments, except in specific instances where the political and/or economic consequences of those developments had international reverberations.

And the past few days have just sealed the author's fate once again when it comes to his increased distance with the US.  His hopes of getting a PhD in American schools were dashed with a flurry of four straight rejection letters, leaving open only the acceptance letter from University of Tokyo as well as a pending decision from the National University of Singapore.  For this author, it is, once again, time to go back to Asia, this time knowingly for three years at the very least as an academic in training, and probably a shoestrings budget in one of the world's most expensive cities.

Not that all of this is a bad thing.  In some ways, education, when compared to employment, is a much greater reflection of one's real capabilities as judged and evaluated by real professionals.  Material-heavy school applications cannot be offset by smooth talks of job interviews, and professors are unlikely to be duped by flowery compositions that betrays subpar contents.  Indeed, in many cases, the bureaucratic processes of participating in academia is a lengthy battle of "what is meant to be" against strange odds that do not feature in the world of salaried working, one that requires comparatively much more patience.

By this line of logic, the harsh realities of rejection might actually expose the current identity of who the author has become in these past years of sojourn away from the US.  Beyond simply not being up to the standards of Ivy League PhD programs, these rejections may also signal that, in many ways, academic and otherwise, this author is no longer a functioning member of the American citizenry, informed and attentive enough of current affairs and trends in the US to be a functioning member of that society.  It might actually just be better off for him to stay in Asia where he lived for longer than the US, and feel more at home.

Some may say to draw conclusions on "not fitting in America" from a bunch of PhD rejection letters is far-fetched.  After all, it is a fact that in many PhD programs in the US, foreign students make up the bulk of enrollment, and certainly they know little about the US initially as first-time residents.  But there is also fundamental difference between a first-time US resident and a long-term non-resident US citizen.  The former espouses enormous optimism of his/her individual future in a country based on their imagination, while the latter left the country precisely because that optimism was lost over the years of residence.

For any school (or employer, for that matter), such difference in attitude means that the former will bring much more positive energy and initiative to the country, contributing enthusiastically to the country's development in line with their image of what the country represents.  The latter, if thrown in the mix, will only drag the feet of these enthusiastic individuals by cynically exposing the dark underbelly of the US that they have personally experienced over years of living.  It is not a productive combination, if one component had to be chosen, it would make much more sense for schools to choose the complete foreigner.

As far as the author himself is concerned though, one thing is positive for sure.  That is that, despite all the financial troubles that might be associated with living in Asia, getting a firmer pulse on the world's (still) fastest developing continent is definitely worthwhile.  Perhaps that sentiment in itself is a sign of cynicism toward the US (and also toward US-led development efforts here in Africa), but it is also a sign of optimism in terms of personal development.  If one has to live for three years plus anywhere in the world right now, the heart of economically dynamic Asia, despite recent volatility and slowdowns, is still an optimal choice.

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