Do you play basketball at lunchtime?
From the UK to the UAE and a few places in between, Linda Angell spoke to me about how adapting to change, opening to opportunities and accepting support from family and community, led her on a wonderful life adventure and to her current role as the first Director of International Exchange Programs at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates.
Linda’s academic beginnings started with a love of sociology. A self-support student, she funded college by working part time and graduated with a Bachelor in Sociology, minoring in Women’s Studies. Next step was finding a career to pay back college loans and this led her to applying for an MBA. Having worked since she was 14, she had the work experience required to enrol on an MBA program, and it was this move that led her to her first international experience. As part of her new studies, she completed an internship in London on Baker Street with Horwath and Horwath, a fascinating company that offered consultancy on infrastructural and tourism projects.
Going to an English speaking country was not supposed to be the culture shock that is was! It was here that Linda discovered what a “brolly” and “lorry” were, along with swapping pounds for stones and relearning to use a washing machines and television. Speaking to Linda, it was clear that an early love for international travel started here and following a few months backpacking around Europe, and the seed was planted for living another life outside of the US. Linda’s experience in the UK reminds me of how a semester abroad can really change a young person’s direction in life. Coming from a family that had never travelled much before, that internship gave Linda an opportunity and an insight that we as international education administrators can also give students.
After completing the MBA, she spent several years in Research and Development and also received her real estate brokers licence… just as the market crashed.
Readers, we should be grateful we didn’t lose her to Real Estate; that crash was International Education’s gain in the long term.
Linda’s story resonates with how being flexible to change and being willing to take the risk and make sacrifices can ultimately lead you to where you want to be. It was during her time working with ’rocket scientists from MIT’ in her R & D role that she decided to go back to academia and obtain her doctoral degree. After a long process selecting her subject area, she was offered entry into the Operations Management doctoral program at Boston University… under a full scholarship covering the first two years. After that funding ran out, Linda was again faced with the challenge of securing additional funds and it was this “opportunity” that led her to Germany via the Fulbright Scholarship programme.
Being open to change but also seeing opportunities in challenging times, Linda and her husband moved to Muenster where she studied new recycling legislation recently introduced in Germany, i.e. the German Packaging Ordinance. Remember the ‘Green Dot’ recycling logo that appeared on all European packaging in the 1990’s? That was Linda focus, specifically the impact this all had on the development of green manufacturing practices.
Not only was she completing her PhD research in Germany, Linda and her husband also became parents with the birth of their first daughter during their time there. Their German housemates played a critical role as ‘family’ and support network during that period, allowing Linda to continue her research activities.
After a two-year stint in Germany, it was back to Boston for Linda, where she began writing up her dissertation research results. Her husband had just taken a one-year contract to work in the IT industry when Linda was offered her first academic role at Penn State University, an eight hour drive away. During the next six months, Linda’s mother was instrumental in providing child care support as Linda juggled motherhood, writing up her research to complete her PhD, coming to grips with her first teaching job, and buying a house.
Whilst finishing her dissertation and interviewing across the US for a permanent faculty role, Linda became pregnant again. After defending her dissertation proposal while six months pregnant with her first child, she ended up defending her final thesis when her younger daughter was just six months old. Linda described those years as the crazy years.
The next step in her career progression was completely unexpected. A conversation, a chance meeting, at an academic conference in Barcelona led Linda on to her next adventure. A colleague that was teaching in New Zealand invited her to apply for a position that had opened up. She did not apply for that position but promised herself that if another position opened up she would be ready to take the leap. And when another opportunity did open up a couple of years later, she was ready to commit herself and she and her family packed up their US lives and moved to New Zealand where she took up a faculty position with Victoria University of Wellington
After a couple of years at Vic, Linda became restless again, and felt the need for an opportunity to ‘practice what she preached’. She had the opportunity to leave academia to implement a business excellence program at a quasi-governmental R&D organization, and eventually ended up at the Ministry of Social Development, having come full-circle back to her passion for Sociology. She spent several years there, working for both the welfare arm of the Ministry, and as a manager within the Center for Social Research and Evaluation..
At about the time that her daughters were about to start secondary school, it was time for the next adventure. Again, her next international move came about after meeting a friend and academic colleague at a party, discussing career opportunities available at American University of Sharjah (AUS) in the United Arab Emirates. Although Linda and her family had never even considered the Middle East as a possibility, they had learned that a willingness to take chances often leads to exciting opportunities for personal and professional development.
The importance of remaining flexible and open to change, and to always being open to options, seems to resonate throughout Linda’s career. Her family moved lock, stock, and barrel once again, relocating half way around the world from New Zealand to UAE. The family moved into a villa on the AUS campus, her daughters began attending a British High School, and Linda began her new role back in academia, on the faculty within the School of Business Administration
With 250 families living on campus, all expatriates, the tight-knit AUS campus community really take care of each other. Linda was once again reminded of the importance of support networks when this campus community served as a lifeline for herself and her family throughout a serious year-long illness in 2010, the same year that she took up her dream job as founding Director for the International Exchange Office at AUS. Through this period, Linda learned to open herself fully to the nourishing healing powers inherent in this outpouring of community support.
The theme of support from family, friends and community is a common thread throughout Linda’s story and reminds us that there is a support network around us, even if this network comes to us in non-traditional ways. Linda’s husband has been constant in his support throughout their 30-year marriage, and they have worked together as a team from Germany, to Boston, to Pennsylvania, to New Zealand and now the UAE. Her mother ensured that Linda could achieve her goal of teaching at Penn State, and her community in the UAE supported her throughout her illness and became like family shortly after moving to a new, foreign country.
We work in a very rewarding and privileged field. Our work in international education can contribute to peace and understanding by bringing students from different cultures together in a setting they would never otherwise experience. We help people experience study abroad or internships abroad, we open up the world to so many students. We have the opportunity to experience other cultures, to see ourselves and our own cultures through other lenses. We can travel, we can explore, but we can also be part of a community Our work is challenging, yes, but by supporting each other, we can overcome those challenges.
Linda described another important network that developed during her time at Victoria University. After reading an article about the powerful impact that female social interaction has on improving well-being by increasing oxytocin hormone levels in women, she and her female colleagues set up a ‘Voxies’ Club (i.e. V for Victoria University; Oxies for Oxytocin), and regularly met-up outside work and family to share ideas and provide additional support.
The ‘Voxies’ tradition continued upon her arrival at the American University of Sharjah in the UAE, and remains active to this day.
I can imagine all the readers smiling at this!
Another interesting story Linda told me highlights the importance of ‘Voxies’ support networks. During her time at Penn State, one of her male colleagues – one of the 27 males in her department of 30 - asked her how she could possibly know what was going on around the office when she didn’t join the guys to play basketball at lunch. He went on to explain that this was where he learned about everything that was going on with his colleagues and the university more generally. A very telling comment, revealing how women can so easily be excluded from networks that promote new ideas and opportunities. The exclusion is not necessarily intentional, nor is it part of a conspiracy. Her male colleagues simply had developed a very effective, but exclusive, networking group by way of their daily basketball games Linda was not privy to the information that came out of those informal meet-ups because she was too busy and wrapped up in just trying to stay on top of everything as a young mother and new teacher.
Likely all of us have experience with these ‘basketball at lunch’ clubs that we cannot be part of. We are not partaking in these informal gatherings as we try to stay on top of everything and keep all those glass balls in the air. But what kind of important conversations are we missing out on? Can we replace the basketball at lunch with the Voxies?
After speaking to Linda, the main lesson that I have learned is that we can always find and connect with a support network. Networks may not always be husbands and mothers, families or communities – in fact, you may find the support you need right here in the League. Find the women you think can help you and that are having these conversations. And let’s not forget to share the insights we gain from those conversations.
Linda’s story is a wonderful adventure with unexpected plot twists, made possible by a willingness to accept and embrace challenges and change, by being open to opportunities and by welcoming support.