Friday, May 09, 2008

Sabbatical Dreaming

Sabbaticals can require preparation far in advance if one hopes to visit another institution/country/continent, so even though I am approximately midway between my last sabbatical and what I hope will be my next sabbatical, I have recently started thinking that I need to think about my next sabbatical. Thinking about thinking about something is not always the most effective means of getting something done, but it's a start.

In my department and in my family, sabbaticals take extra planning because my professor-spouse and I need (want? prefer? hope?) to take a sabbatical in the same year. For the last sabbatical, it took much longer than it should have for the previous department chair to agree that my husband and I could both have a sabbatical in the same year. The current chair is much more understanding about the 2-career-couple thing, but he wants at least 3 years advance notice. He has now been notified.

Now all we have to do is (1) agree on a place to go; and (2) get some funding (we are paid 50% of our salary during a sabbatical). I am not sure which one will be easier -- both have their challenges.

For the last sabbatical, my daughter was at a very portable age and was happy to have random adventures that her wise parents organized for her. It was challenging for her to be plunked into a new school in a new country, especially since she didn't know much of the language of that country, but within a few months she was speaking with some fluency in a new language, had made friends, and was very happy.

Our daughter's love of travel and adventure continues to this day, but the second-most-common sabbatical comment (after 'Where do you want to go?') that people make re. sabbaticals is that because my daughter will be a teenager for the next sabbatical, it's going to be difficult to get her to agree to go in the first place and life will be difficult once we get wherever we are going. So far, though, none of these dire predictions about going on sabbatical with a teenager have come from anyone who has done a sabbatical-avec-teen, though some have come from people who are not going to attempt a sabbatical trip because their offspring is/are of the teen species. I may have absolutely no idea what I am in for, but I can't imagine not going away for a sabbatical because my daughter will be a teenager.

As I was typing this, my department chair stopped by my office and said "I want to talk to you about your sabbatical." No, he did not want to talk about the fact that my daughter will be a teenager. He wanted to bring to my attention that it had just occurred to him that he will no longer be department chair that year, and perhaps I will be the next department chair, in which case I can't go on sabbatical.

I said: Do you mean to say that I would have to choose between being Department Chair and going on Sabbatical?

Yes, replied the Current Department Chair.

Hmm, let me think about that choice for a femtosecond, said I. And then: Sabbatical. Yes, I am pretty sure I would rather go on sabbatical than assume onerous administrative duties.

And furthermore, I thought but did not say, according to the way that my department/college does things, I would have to allow myself to be considered for the chair position, with no guarantee of attaining this lofty goal, and therefore my husband and I would have to stop all sabbatical planning in the event that I was selected, which is by no means as certain as the current chair thinks it would be. And then I might find myself with neither sabbatical nor chairpersonship. Yes, I definitely choose sabbatical*. I just don't know where it will be yet.

* As it turns out, today the Current Department Chair had the same conversation with my husband about our possibly forgoing our sabbaticals in the event that I would become Chair. I am glad I was not present for that conversation, although there is a remote possibility that my husband just laughed in a certain way he has when someone is saying something completely insane to him and he just wants them to go away. That is my hope, anyway.


Anonymous said...

For what it's worth:

Three years ago a MSP friend of mine went on sabbatical when his son was 16 years old, and to Foreign Country where his son did not speak the language. The MSP is originally from FC (his wife is not), although he is a US citizen and has been in the US now longer than he lived in FC. He (the 16 year old!) did struggle a bit at first in FC and did put up initial some resistance at the idea of being uprooted during high school. MSP told me that for his son there were challenges, adventures, many learning experiences, and new friends. All in all he really did enjoy and benefit from the experience.

Anonymous said...

About "femtosecond" -- thanks for that new-to-me word.

Sometimes, the chance to have a teenage friend come visit one's teenage offspring in FC partway through the year can take the edge off... this can be a tough expense, though, for families to absorb.

I think I'll practice a laugh like your husband's for my own purposes.

Anonymous said...

A Science Professor friend of mine is currently on sabbatical in Paris, and he tells me that he and his entire family are absolutely loving it. He says that the school his kids are at is awesome, and there are, of course, lots of scientific collaborative opportunites at the Institute de Somethinge or Othere.

Anonymous said...

I am nearing the end of a sabbatical in madrid, spain. I have a 14 year old daughter and an 8 year old son. My daughter previously was delightful to travel with, outgoing and adventurous. In about the middle of her 13th year she became a teenager, with ferocious mood changes. I can say this year at many times has been hellish because of her depression. I dont know if we would also be dealing with serious teenage depression at home,or if it was triggered by the stress of a strange school but it would be easier to deal with there.
Maybe many teenagers do not have serious problems but I wouldn't assume it will be easy to travel with a teenager either.

Anonymous said...

I've taken a sabbatical in a foreign (though English-speaking) country with a teenager (along with two pre-teens).
The teen got a *huge* amount out of it, in many ways. Maybe the main thing was that he learned about how the rest of the world looks at America and Americans. And it was through a bunch of kids, like him, not some weird foreigners he read about in a newspaper. Eye-opening.

It also worked out well for him when we got back -- he had a new identity at school, the kid who'd lived in a cool foreign country.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who went on sabbatical with his father as a junior in high school. He says that everyone should have such an experience because you get to enjoy a year of high school away from all the kid politics. He thought it was great. Both source and target were American cities in his case.

We moved my then 13 year old daughter from the mid west to the east coast and although she told us ahead of time she'd never forgive us for ruining her life, after about three months, she told us unsolicited that she was glad we had moved.

Anonymous said...

Chairs can go on sabbatical too (at least our chair did).

Female Science Professor said...

I think the main problem is that it would be the first year.

Tomato said...

My dad had a possible job opportunity in Ireland for when I was going to be a senior in high school. He said the only reason he would go would be if i came with him (he wouldn't want to be alone, my stepmom couldn't go because we have animals and she has a job and there are elderly (my) grandparents that sometimes need help). I thought about it for a while, I'd have had to have left my friends for a year and graduate from a foreign high school. Unfortunately, my dad took my hesitation to mean that I didn't want to go, so he turned down the job. I think I will always regret letting him think I didn't want to go. I think it would have been hard to be away for so long, but I also hope that it would have been worth it and i REALLY wish I had gone. That might be something to consider with your daughter--if she absolutely refuses to go, how will she feel 5-10 years later?

Anonymous said...

Maybe if you involve your daughter from an early stage (where might she want to go, is there anywhere particular she might want to visit or do - e.g. if you go to Europe, you can probably find the time over the course of a year to get a cheap flight within Europe and take a trip almost anywhere) she might feel involved and it might nip any problems in the bud.

It might be quite different being told that you are going to Nowhereistan, and discussing in advance where you might want to go, and planning how to fit things in to help her. It'd show that you care about it and let her take responsibility for her choices - for example she might want to see if she can begin to learn some of the language, and she might need to decide whether she wants to do school on the internet/work from books or go to school in the foreign country. If you're lucky the country will have a big pull too - like being able to learn to dive or ski or sail, or if she's into historical sites or something, getting to visit somewhere cool.

Also, although people say that the first year of highschool is really important, and it is, it's more the first year that you are in highschool. Maybe coming back into the second year - that girl who has lived abroad, is that bit more confident, speaks a foreign language, and is just interesting - will help. It's easy to get lost in highschool.

I think travelling with a teen can be fun - it's just that she'll be a young adult not a little kid any more, and maybe she'll need to be treated a little differently.

EcoGeoFemme said...

A professor in my department took his young teenager and preteen to Africa for a year. All seemed to love it.

Anonymous said...

I can't imagine not going away for a sabbatical because my daughter will be a teenager.

Really? You can't even imagine the possibility that your daughter might have a need for stability that could override your desire for adventure? That does not sound too promising for your daughter.

Plenty of people can offer "anecdata" about their experiences or their colleagues'(I could offer several such observations myself) -- but none of them will help predict how your daughter will experience the year.

I think anon@6:33 is closest to the mark, in terms of taking your daughter seriously as a participant in this process. However, I think that a 10 year old has no idea what their needs will be as a 13-yr old. If you decide to take your sabbatical year abroad (which is your desire, and is certainly not necessary at this time), you will owe it to her to remain very attuned to her reactions all throughout.

Female Science Professor said...

Perhaps I am lacking in imagination, and/or perhaps you choose to misinterpret me, but I think it is reasonable to say that, at this point in time, I cannot imagine not starting planning for something in a few years just because our daughter will be a teenager (i.e., based on that fact alone). Of course our plans will adjust depending on the situation as the sabbatical approaches. Right now, she is very excited about the possibilities, and is, as usual, a full and enthusiastic participant in discussions of where we might spend the year.

Anonymous said...

There is a strong tradition where I live of students applying to go on youth exchanges (via Rotary, AFS, YFU) to live with a family in a different country for a year.

My sisters and I all applied. For administrative reasons due to our town's Rotary club's hosting our year was cancelled, but both my sisters had a year on exchange, and came back fluent in a second language (I have always envied them for this).

I think your daughter is lucky! I would have been rapt at the chance to spend a year in a foreign country (with the security of my parents as a back up). As it was I made do with a 6 week exchange when I was 20.

That said, everyone is different. It sounds like she coped well with the last sabbatical, and if you include her in the planning phases (as appropriate) I am sure it will all go well. It sounds like she's a good traveller anyway.

Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde said...

My ProfFather chose to take a sabbatical in England, with my mother in tow on leave from her job. It happened to line up with the year after I graduated high school, and it also happened to line up with my top-choice college waitlisting me, and promising me I could matriculate there if I showed up one year late.

So the stars were aligned to take a gap year in England, with my parents. Many aspects of the experience were deeply frustrating and dissatisfying (e.g.: high school boyfriend now 3000 miles distant; all my friends sending me emails about how great college was; my first, uneven, experience with labwork; social isolation due to working in a lab and not knowing anyone my age; etc).

However, I benefited enormously from the chance to see America through other eyes, as other commenters have noted; from the chance to figure out what I wanted to learn more about in college; from the chance to grow personally and scientifically. I did not start college with the same freaked-out response I saw in many of my peers, but instead knew exactly what I was doing there and why I wanted to take classes. (Way easier than labwork, for starters!)

So overall I'm pro. I learned a great deal of independence and social bravery from the time abroad, and it gave me a perspective on the school system that benefits me to this day. It will be in some respects hard on your daughter to cope with social transitions, but she'll be that much better prepared for college and, like, life.

Global Girl said...

FSP, your daughter might already be a third culture kid, and if she isn't now and you go on sabbatical, she will be. A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background.

As a third culture kid, I don't think her being a teen has anything to do with how difficult expatriating or repatriating (something that many families forget can be even more traumatic than expatriating in the first place). There is a discussion about this at a very active third culture kid forum at .

I have a website about children like your daughter (, because I'm trying to spread awareness about how children who grow up in several countries will not "inherit" their parents' culture(s). I would strongly encourage you to find out more about the needs of third culture kids - a lot of us face challenges related to being a third culture kid very alone, without our parents' help. Often, our parents don't understand we're having a tough time or otherwise are unsupportive. In my experience, very few expats who give child-rearing advice know what they are talking about, because it takes nearly a lifetime to discover the issues that third culture kids have on your own. People giving you advice may be well-meaning, but you really should make an informed decision for yourself - every family and culture combination is unique.

Anonymous said...

Contrary to the opinion of anon 9:14pm, I think expressing that “I can't imagine not going away for a sabbatical because my daughter will be a teenager” to be perfectly reasonable. Having grown up the daughter of a diplomat I find the fuss made of moving children somewhat odd. I was certainly never consulted about the countries to which I was taken, and of course there is an extent to which my father wasn't either. This is not to say that people shouldn't consider ways to make the transition smooth for everyone. However I find the suggestion that an international sabbatical shouldn't be taken to protect a kid to underestimate both the resiliency of kids and the value of international experience.

Also, to echo what others have said, I think that international experiences are particularly valuable for American kids. The messages that America is center of the universe, and that the American way is the best (or only) way are pervasive, and I believe that having those misconceptions shattered is particularly good for kids (and the future of this country).

Vodalus said...

If your daughter starts giving you trouble as you get closer to leaving, then might I suggest emphasizing the following?

1) All the cute guys that live in country X that she'll get to meet. (Doesn't matter where. Every country has beautiful people living in it and pictures of them on the web.)

2) The ease with which she can convert a year spent abroad into "cool kid" currency. Especially if you take her to Western Europe or some place urban. She's going to be The Authority on expat-living when she gets back.

3) There will be plenty of high-speed internet access and she can do all the instant messaging she wants. (You might need to buy her a cheapie laptop for this one.)

If at the time she's the sulky sort of teenager that doesn't listen to her parents, then bribe your "coolest" lab member to talk up the event behind your back. Nothing makes a teenager like something faster than to be told it's a good thing by someone older and more fashionable.

In the meantime, you can make certain that she's well-stocked with juvie lit books where the heroine goes out of the country for the summer and wonderful adventures ensue. I'd just avoid the ones where it was against the heroine's will.

Anonymous said...

Something in that post made me think yikes: I have been thinking about my next sabbatical which is coming up in 4 years. Also it is likely I will be asked to be the next department chair at that same time. I hadn't connected those two dates in my head until I read this post.

A naive question: FSP says that the problem would be going on sabbatical during the 1st year of being department chair. Is it any easier later on, going on sabbatical while being chair? Would one just take a break from being chair and someone else would be interim chair? I gotta think about all this, I suppose the answers to these questions may vary from school to school. Ugh.

Bonnie J. M. Swoger said...

My whole family went on sabbatical with my father to Newcastle, England when I was 15.

While I had some trepidation about making new friends (not one of my strengths), I saw the experience as a bit of an adventure and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I made friends, saw some amazing things, and generally had a good time.

My sister was 13 at the time, and we both consider it one of the best experiences we ever had. As a bonus, we were both able to write about it for our college admissions essays.