In this blog series, The Global Leadership League is exploring the topic of work and family dynamics for international educators with aging parents. We spoke with four instructors from around the world for a glimpse into their worlds and families.
In our first segment of the series, we spoke with Lakshmi Iyer of New Delhi, India. For this second featured international educator, we caught up with Sarah E. Spencer of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Sarah E. Spencer
Global Educator, Strategic Initiatives & Special Projects
St. Paul, Minnesota, United States
How old are your parents and what are their medical issues?
My mom passed away in December 2018 after living with multiple sclerosis for 37 years. She was bed bound since 1999 and was in and out of the hospital every winter since 2014. I managed many study-abroad emergencies from the ICU. My father recently turned 80.
Where do you live and where do they live? Where do you travel for work and how often?
I live in St. Paul, Minnesota and my parents are based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa here in the United States; it is a 4 ½ hour drive away from my home. In my previous university position, I traveled globally, up to 20% of the time.
When managing a career in international education and dealing with an aging parent, you need a team of helpers. Whether it is a traditional team, like family, or a non-traditional team like friends and co-workers, who is your team and how do they help you?
My Rhode Island-based brother and I were lucky that my father was well enough to serve as primary caregiver and my parents were financially able to hire some respite help. As well, I always had consistent support from my university co-workers and friends, and our amazing professional colleagues (at a conference, many would ask first, how’s your mom?), in addition to my partner and my brother. The hardest thing to remember is to say Yes when people offer to help.
Do you have a contingency plan if you need to attend to your parent?
As an international educator we always think about emergency response protocols for our student mobility programs, and I realized my professional expertise could support this personal situation. Do I have to lead that site visit or is delegation an option? If I can’t travel, which of the staff can cover? What is the go/no go date? Who else needs to know and what is the communication plan? If I’m on-site, how fast can I get home and what would it cost?
Do you have any tips or advice for others dealing with similar situations?
First tip would be always to have a backup plan. If you can’t be there to help your parents, think through who can take your place.
Second, be conscious of time zones. Make arrangements for when and how you will communicate and choose a time that will work for all parties involved. Luckily, communication is a lot easier and cheaper than it used to be with calling apps like WhatsApp.
Another tip, purchase trip cancellation insurance for work flights, just in case you have to adjust and reschedule. This might depend on what your organization buys for you or what airline you are flying.
Lastly, anyone can be considered as a caregiver - from living with a parent to living overseas. A recent Minnesota Public Radio program addressed Caring for the Caregiver, and I highly recommend giving it a listen. You can find a link to the program here.
The mission of the Global Leadership League is to ignite change across the global education field by empowering, connecting, and training leaders. We invite you to reach out to us here or learn more about becoming a member.