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I have been invited to visit a professor in a different country. I am very reluctant to go. The government of this country is currently under investigation by the UN for suspicions of crimes against humanity targeted at people of the same ethnic background as me. More generally, people from my ethnic background are legally considered second-class citizens (when they are citizens at all) in this country, and routinely get physically aggressed in the street without the police or army doing anything, even partaking sometimes...

How should I explain to this professor that I do not want to go? Should I get into details, invent a different reason?

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    Are you willing to disclose your ethic background to the professor or do you want to keep it private? Is your reason your personal safety or a broader political statement? – StrongBad Mar 14 at 16:38
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    Related workplace.SE question: workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/119360/… (mentions safety) – shoover Mar 14 at 23:48
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    Moderator’s notice: I removed the discussions about the validity of the asker’s concerns as this is not the right place to debate them. Please assume that them as given for the purpose of this question. PS: For the predominant assumption on the asker’s ethnicity and target country, a corresponding question exists on Travel. If you have any valuable information on this, please take it there. Please keep in mind that the tag on the original question may as well refer to the asker’s country of origin. – Wrzlprmft Mar 15 at 6:29
  • The discussion about the above moderator’s notice has been moved to chat. – Wrzlprmft Mar 17 at 8:35
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    Is the an official travel warning to the country? Then you could state it is your policy not to travel to countries warned about. – lalala Mar 17 at 14:57
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If I were you I'd have the same concerns. In fact, I'm not like you, and I have the same concerns.

But don't confuse the people of Israel with its government. Certainly there are bad actors there, but I also know many Israelis who are more than decent people and oppose the government actions and attitudes that you worry about.

That said, you may be wise to avoid such a trip. But don't assume, necessarily, that the professor would disagree with your true reasons. There is no way to predict, of course, since opinion about Israeli-Palestinian issues come in "all shades of grey" in Israel.

If it is a question of meeting, rather than visiting the professor's institute, you might suggest meeting elsewhere, say at an international meeting.

To flip it a bit, there are quite a lot of people in the world unwilling to visit the US because of recent trends and attitudes here - and some that are not so recent. And I won't visit Mexico, for example, though I love the place, not because the government is bad, but because of the danger of drug gangs and killings and an ineffective government.


Note that I answered the question based on its original form which was tagged . However, the same concerns would apply in other contexts and there might be serious issues for some people visiting some countries. But my general advice still holds. Don't conflate the government of a place with its individual citizens. Some of them would support government actions and others would not. The world currently has far too much of this. I've actually known people who won't visit Germany because of its Nazi past, though, til recently at least, it has seemed completely redeemed.

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    It sounds like your latter paragraph is a major part of the OP's concern. Whatever the issues with politics may be, he's mainly worried about his personal safety and with whether the police and military will protect him if he is assaulted, or indeed whether they'll be the ones assaulting him. Mexico and then some, basically. :/ – Graham Mar 14 at 23:42
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    @Buffy I agree with your comment and I think it may be helpful to just remove the parts of your answer that would only apply to a specific country. – David Ketcheson Mar 15 at 13:32
  • Discussion about politics and antisemitism has been moved to chat. – Wrzlprmft Mar 17 at 9:12
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I work in a country where a few colleagues do not wish to visit, for various reasons. Some of these reasons are based on accurate perceptions and others are not. Some of those colleagues have been willing to frankly discuss their concerns with me, and in some cases I have been able to appropriately assuage their fears; in the end, these people came and were glad they did. But some had legitimate concerns or were simply unwilling to budge -- including some close friends and collaborators. I respect their concerns and opinions, and we have continued to work together even though I know they will never visit. I do not think any less of them for this, and I believe they do not think less of me for working in this country.

My recommendation is to just be honest, but don't let your concerns evolve into a debate over political issues in your colleague's host country.

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This answer assumes that the professor is reasonable. If you know them, use your social skills to judge whether they are reasonable.

Tell the professor that you don't want to go there for the reason you told us. They will understand (since they are reasonable). If possible, make another suggestion how you can achieve the goal you had.

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    The OP's title should suffice. If they wish to expound on it, that's their prerogative. +1 – Mazura Mar 15 at 22:27
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I understand that this is an awkward situation but I recommend being honest about it. Remember that being honest doesn't mean you have to be rude, aggressive or confrontational. Make sure that it doesn't look like you're blaming the professor personally for the situation in their country.

The problem with making up excuses is that this professor wants to work with you, so will try to help you overcome whatever reason you state.

  • "I can't afford to travel there." – "That's OK, I have some spare money on my grant!"

  • "I'm really busy this summer." – "That's OK, let's wait until autumn!"

  • "I'll find it difficult to get a visa." – "That's OK, our departmental administrator (CC'ed) is great at getting visas for people!"

Now, hopefully, we can continue that list with the real reason "I'm sorry but I'm really uncomfortable about visiting your country because XYZ" and the professor will try to help you out with that, too. Maybe the professor can help allay your fears or give practical help to avoid the problems; maybe they can't but you can find some other way of working together.

All of the above is based on the assumption that you know the professor and you're confident that he or she doesn't engage in or approve of the things you object to in their country. If you suspect the professor isn't "on your side", then you presumably don't want to work with them under any circumstances and that's a rather different issue. If you say you're uncomfortable about XYZ and their response is to justify XYZ, that would definitely be a time to disengage.

7

One way forward is to ask the professor for their advice. Put the situation and your fears forward in a non-confrontational way. You could simply say, "Thank you for your invitation, etc. ... I'm concerned about visiting because of my ethnic background, what do you advise?" The professor may say it's unadvisable or it's fine. In either case you are not obliged to accept the advice. You could say, "Thank you so much for your advice ... I have decided on-balance that I would prefer not to visit, etc." Then you can suggest other possibilities, e.g. invite them, set up a live link, etc. etc.

4

You can ask to speak with students of the same ethnicity as you, who study in the university of that professor or in other universities of that country, and ask them whether they feel safe. You may get one of two responses:

  • They may tell you "we do not feel safe". Then, you have a simple explanation to give the professor: "I am sorry, but students of my ethnicity do not feel safe in your country". Nobody can argue with facts.
  • They may tell you "we feel perfectly safe". Then, you may wish to re-consider your presumptions about that country...

As an additional benefit, you will gain new acquaintances, both from your ethnicity and otherwise, which is always a good thing.

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There are no legal second-class citizens or apartheid in Israel, Arabs have the same legal rights as anyone else.

Using any of these false biases when explaining not wanting to visit might very well offend the other professor. If you want to stay on good terms with them, I would suggest not using highly controversial or political reasons.

You could explain that you personally would feel unsafe; nobody can - or at least should - argue with the feelings of somebody else. If you are open to it, this could also lead to a discussion that can alleviate some of those fears. If you are not open to that, that's OK too.

You could also highlight other reasons, if there are any. Maybe you don't like to travel in general, maybe right now isn't a good time professionally (swamped at work) or personally (new baby, family issues, health, money), etc. I would suggest staying close to the truth here though; lies have a habit of coming out. The other professor might eg notice that something is up when you say that you don't like to travel, but often take part in international conferences.

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