Resident “Alien”

Have you ever had a conversation with someone at work that left you … speechless? Now, I consider myself quite witty and have no issue dishing out clever reparte when necessary. But this was…
A White, male peer, who once sat in a neighboring office, found out somehow that I was on an employer-sponsored visa. Let’s call him Jim. Since I did not divulge this information to Jim, he must have overheard me talking to my lawyer.

Jim:

While standing in my office doorway and speaking quite loudly…

So I heard they asked you to move to France and you said no, because of your visa situation?

Me:

Uhhh… I guess.

Trying to decipher how he found out.


Jim:

Man, that sucks. It would have been a great opportunity. I hear they are offering XX thousand dollars in signing bonus if you go.

Me:

Yea

At this point I’m showing all the obvious signs of discomfort with this conversation. I have shifted away from him to face my keyboard and have begun to type an email. He continues…

Jim:

I hear they might lay people off if they turn it down.

Me:

O….k. Hadn’t heard that.

Jim:

So how does the visa thing work? If you get laid off, you have to go home, right?  What will you do? You’re from Africa, right? You would have to go back there? That would suck with all the issues going on there right now.

Me:

silence.

disbelief.

blank stare.

Jim:

well, good luck. Hope it all works out.

—————–
I have to say, I still haven’t properly collated my thoughts on this issue. But I know it upsets me.
Ever since my arrival into the U.S almost 15 years ago, I have been reminded constantly of my “alien” status. It started in college as professors and students would not only mispronounce my name, but do it so dismissively. Like they couldn’t be bothered. I dreaded that roll call first day of class.  Just as I had begun to get used to this feeling, by my second year, I started realizing that I was not allowed to go after certain internships I was otherwise qualified for, because I was an “alien”.
Once I got my first “real” Corporate job, still on a visa, I remember this nagging feeling of being…unsettled. I didn’t feel like I could lay down any roots. I didn’t buy any nice furniture, much less think of home ownership. I would even use disposable utensils.  Because, who knew? I could be asked to leave at any time, and even though I had spent my entire adult life here, I would only have 30 days to pack it all up. I can tell you that this is not a good feeling and really does hinder your quality of life.
I commend every non-US native, Corporate-American who has endured this. With all the struggles of the job and life itself, you have this to contend with as well. And you do it with grace. Without letting them see how unsure you are about your future.
To the ‘Jims’ of Corporate-America, I have some choice words for you, but I will opt for a more…diplomatic route :).  Please treat this topic sensitively as it is sensitive for us. In case you are that obtuse and can’t tell, we really don’t want to talk with you about this. It is really none of your business. I choose to discuss this topic with friends and family, people who genuinely care about my well being. Many have come here to seek a better life for themselves and their families. Much like your ancestors did. Do not ask annoying questions about our immigration status. It is difficult enough to try to do a great job and compete (as we are often have to work harder to prove we are good enough), without adding your tactless comments to the mix.
And please, can someone think of a different term to refer to non-US natives  that does not include a word also used to describe extra terrestrial life not originating from Earth?!

Staying On Track While On The Road

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Traveworkaholic A person who travels very frequently for work, in addition to balancing a very hectic work schedule.  You have it a bit worse than the regular workaholics.

  • You pay bills at home but rarely see the inside of this home. In fact, your body has managed to adapt to the less than comfortable bed of most hotels.
  • From a picture, you can win any game of Name That Airport for every major airport, and some not so major ones. You know which airlines are prone to delays. In fact, you know from experience they are all the same.
  • You not only get a paycheck, you also get paid in frequent flyer miles and free hotel stays.
  • If you’re lucky, you get to fly Business or First class. As a young Black woman, you have gotten used to the disbelieving stares when you make your way to the Premium boarding lane.
  • Some of you travel the same route so often that the airport staff recognize you and may even greet you by name. Lol.
  • Your suitcase stays packed. You have 2 sets of toiletries, one for home which you barely use, and travel-sized versions stored in your suitcase permanently.

It’s hard enough for a Workaholic to stay on track.  It can be doubly difficult to stay on track when away from home. Here are some reminders for while you’re out there:

First of all, be safe! You may be traveling in areas you are unfamiliar with.  Be careful.  God has blessed you with a well functioning intuition. Use it. Years ago, I was required to take bi-monthly trips to a very small town in the Midwest. One you probably never heard of. The nearest airport was 1.5 hours away and I had to drive on a one-lane country road at night in the dead of winter to get to my hotel. Also, I had no cell phone reception the entire drive. In the 6 months I did this, I never saw another Black person. The hairs on the back of my neck would rise every time I made this drive. I refused to even stop to refill my gas tank. Would pay for the full tank of gas at the airport. Maybe I could have been more…adventurous but at the time all I could think was, I’m sorry. I am not trying to be a hero. I do not want to end up on the local 7 pm news.

Be smart about your food and drink choices. This one is hard. You are on the road. Sometimes your team mates want to grab a steak dinner every night. They want to drink wine till 11 pm and be back in a conference room at 7 am. You don’t want to go really.  You have not even decided if you like these people like that. But you have to. You do not want to miss out or be considered the antisocial Black woman.
Here’s what I say. Go. Once.  Maybe even suggest the place. Pick a place that has healthy options. Something  for everyone. Stay a bit and then make a graceful exit. Oh, and I learned this one the hard way…take your own rental car so you don’t have to be stuck waiting for your inebriated coworker to give a you a ride back to the hotel.

When I arrive at my travel destination, I usually make my first stop a grocery store. I grab a few large bottles of water, healthy snacks, fruit, etc and I store them in the hotel fridge. Oh and stay away from that minibar.

Move. Oh, you are not exempt just because you are traveling. Most hotels have gyms now. Yes, there may only be one treadmill and one elliptical. So get there first. Lol. Or use a workout video on  YouTube. Play some Salsa and Reggaeton and do some Zumba (one of my faves).

Don’t lose track of your loved ones. If you travel frequently,  this is a challenge. You have a family, friends, partners.  Their lives do not stop because you are traveling. A friend of mine, a lawyer at a large firm, had to travel to depose a witness. The witness continued to evade deposition. So her one day trip turned into a six day stay. How can you plan for that? You can’t really.

Thankfully, technology has made this more…bearable…with Skype and Facetime. Use it as much as possible.

Try to take it all in. Despite all the cons, I actually like traveling for work. I get to go to some cool places. Although 90% of my time is spent in a conference room,  I take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days for myself. Make it count for something. And if you can, once in a while, take a loved one with you (on yours or their dime, of course). Your family, a friend, a boyfriend, a husband. What better way to bribe them to forgive you for all the long hours you’ve been working anyway 😉

Okay my traveworkaholics.  What else did I miss? Any stories from your travels? Please follow and share your thoughts.

Life Lessons Away From Home: Where There’s a Will…

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I love traveling. It has truly been the most rewarding part of my corporate career. Whether it’s from observing different behaviors at the airport or the varied experiences I have had in different parts of the world, I have learned a great deal.  I have been fortunate enough to visit almost all 50 states of the U.S., as well as most continents. I am appreciative of this, seeing as I couldn’t afford to have such a vast travel repertoire on my own dime. Even though I am there to do the company’s bidding, I manage to take one or two days to take in the sights.

One of my most enjoyable travels was my business trip to Brazil in 2013. ( I wish that I had waited and  gone in 2014 so I could stay for World Cup..oh well). The whole week, including evenings had been spent locked away in conference rooms. By Friday, I was eager to break free and make the most of the weekend. I had so much fun exploring the popular tourist sights like the Cristo statue and Pao de Acucar, finding handmade treasures off the beaten path, and simply basking in the sun while laying on the Ipanema beach.

Amidst all the fun, one thing struck me. In my humble opinion, these were the friendliest people I had ever met. Even though I speak two words of Portuguese and the people I met barely spoke English, I still felt genuinely welcomed by everyone I met.  Whether it was asking for directions or getting a drink at the bar, there was an element of patience as they would try to communicate using one or two English words and mostly hand gestures.

I remember Ana, a middle-aged woman I met while waiting for my flight from Sao Paolo to Rio de Janeiro.  She spoke no English but kept speaking to me in Portuguese even though it was clear I didn’t know what she was saying. After I exhausted my knowledge of Portuguese, getting past the basic desculpa and muito bom,we were stuck. That’s when I whipped out Google translate, aka life saver. We had a pleasant hour-long conversation about life (work, marriage /divorce, family, etc.) in which she told me I was too beautiful to be single (lol), and she wanted me to marry her son.

On the flip side, my experiences in London and France were … mixed at best. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some nice and welcoming people. But I did meet many more that were abrupt and sometimes rude.  Many years ago, I walked into an antique store in Strasbourg and spoke to the woman behind the counter.  I asked her a question in English and she responded in French. I then attempted to communicate using my broken (taught-in-high-school-by-a-Nigerian-professor-with-a-thick-accent) French and she pretended not to understand me. Frustrated, I gave up and just kept browsing.  A minute later, I heard her speak fluent English to someone else in the store! Although I didn’t know of Google translate at the time, I doubt it would have helped me.

I have had shops in Central London look at me, not as a potential customer, but as someone who was lost when I walked into their stores. Even before words were spoken, I was met with impatience, an unwillingness to try.

While language difference can sometimes be a barrier, it is not an insurmountable one . Remember the movie Love Actually? Though fictional, the interaction and ensuing love between Colin Firth’s and Lucia Moniz’s characters exemplifies this. You can sense a person’s spirit, their desire to connect and communicate,  even when you cannot understand their words.  Once this desire is there, you will find a way to understand each other.

I have heard some friends express reluctance to travel to places where English is not widely spoken. They resist going to places outside of the U.S and Western Europe for fear that they will not be able to communicate or have fun. Do not let this stop you. Get out there with an open mind and take in the culture.  You’ll be amazed at how easy it can be to communicate …. especially if you both really want to!