My wife sacrificed her career for me to become an early career researcher. And I’m not sure if it was worth it. I am currently a postdoc in South East Asia. But my story begins in January 2011.
Shortly after our honeymoon, I received a call from the US consulate public affairs office. “Congratulations, you are a 2011 recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship.” I always wanted to study in America. And I always wanted to be a professor. My dream was fast becoming a reality.
What about my wife? I had been married to Surprise for less than a month and I was about to tell her that I was leaving for America. In our perfect dream, America was a land of opportunities; I will go there, save money for her air ticket, and she would join me shortly after.
As someone who grew up in extreme poverty, saving from my $1200 Fulbright stipend wasn’t hard. In three months, I had enough money to buy the ticket and my bank statement had enough balance to act as proof of financial support. So Surprise went for the US visa interview, excited that she was finally going to be with me.
My wife’s visa application was rejected. I was dejected. The consular made me chase a white rabbit. And I lost more than $2,000 in the process. He knew I was a Fulbright Fellow earning peanuts while leaving in the most expensive state. There are some sadistic people out there.
On first visit, the consular said he could only give Surprise a visa if she had a proof of insurance cover. I bought the J2 health insurance from Seven Corners. And I lost $1,000 in the process.
The consular changed his mind, he demanded a letter from a doctor who would attend to Surprise in the US. She was pregnant. I found the doctor, but he said he can only make that recommendation if he did a physical examination of Surprise. I gave up. My wife gave up.
Surprise finally joined me seven months later. My wife had a teaching qualification from Zimbabwe but didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. For several months, we searched for cheap colleges but couldn’t find any.
Reality finally struck, we were too poor to afford college. My Fulbright stipend wasn’t enough for one person, but we were a family of three. And soon enough, we were four. At that moment, my wife shelved her dream and took up a jobs in retail; Kmart, Ross, and even at an Amazon Fulfillment Center.
Our family life became non-existent. Surprise kept two jobs for us to survive. She left the house at 5 am, drove an hour to Amazon, break her back packing or retrieving orders. Around 5pm5 pm, she would drive for an hour to Kmart. Most of the times, she would stagger home at almost midnight.
My wife was exhausted all the time, but I felt terrible. Our dream had become a nightmare. But I had hope. We had hope. After I receiving my PhD, I was going to get a good job. Surprise would go back to college and get her bachelor’s degree in education or psychology.
I got my PhD but didn’t get a job. One thousand three hundred applications, five months, and one job interview later, I got a job at a university in Zimbabwe. The salary was modest, but the country’s economy was showing signs of fatigue.
After working for two semesters, my family left Zimbabwe for China. I took up a job as a postdoc hoping to publish enough articles so that I could easily get a faculty position. Again, my wife applied for undergrad at universities in China. She got a place at one university, it was too far and priced out of our range.
My postdoc contract is for two years. Surprise is shelving her dreams for another two years. I want to settle down after the postdoc. I want to live in a country where my wife and kids can get a good education.
By now, my wife could be holding a master’s degree in education, seven years teaching experience, and a career. Fulbright might have paid for my grad school tuition using cash, my wife paid for my career by sacrificing her dream.