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I'm curious to hear from any American professor out there who has successfully done a full-year sabbatical overseas, with his or her family along for the ride. How did you make it work for you financially and personally?

For context: I'll be eligible in 2018 for my first sabbatical in my 20-year career (I changed jobs twice and the tenure clock got reset). I would very much like to take an entire year, and I have contacts at a university in the UK (I am in the US) with mutual interest in me coming to spend a year there doing teaching and research. What I don't have is any idea how to pull this off logistically, since I have three kids ages 7, 10, and 12, and a wife with a full-time job. My university only gives half salary for a full-year sabbatical, so we would have to replace half of my salary plus all of my wife's salary (about $30K US), rent our house to cover mortgage expenses, enroll the kids in schools, rent a house in the host country, etc. I believe I would be given a small salary at the host institution if I taught a class (which I would love to do) but still, that's a lot of income to replace and I am not sure if my wife can take a year off.

I do believe the professional experience would be amazing, and it would be an incredible experience for my kids that would be absolutely worth the upheaval. But I'm at a loss to know how to make this work -- so your experiences and ideas would be most welcome.

I have looked into Fulbright fellowships, but my understanding of how those work is that you can only pick from the universities and positions that Fulbright has in a list. The institution I am referring to is not one of those. Also -- simply squirreling away money to save up for it is not an option for a number of reasons.

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    If you are a US citizen, I am not sure you will qualify for any UK visa. A UK visa that would allow you, or your wife to work, is very unlikely. Some of these questions might be better at expats.se – StrongBad Feb 21 '16 at 20:28
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    I am looking fwd to the answers to this, but I am afraid it may boil down to "this is why most people take shorter sabbaticals". – xLeitix Feb 21 '16 at 20:50
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    @StrongBad Five seconds of Googling turned up: admin.ox.ac.uk/personnel/permits/acvisitors/academic That's only for unpaid visits, but there's also: admin.ox.ac.uk/personnel/permits/tier5/temporaryworkers which sounds a bit more complicated, but the OP is certainly eligible with an appropriate host. – Ben Webster Feb 21 '16 at 23:18
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    Just something to be aware of in your accounting: I've known people doing US->UK sabbaticals have gotten hit at the last moment with unexpected costs. In particular, the UK might demand you buy their health insurance for the whole family up front with a lump sum. – user4512 Feb 22 '16 at 0:24
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    My wife and I (both mathematicians) took simultaneous sabbaticals overseas with our kids two years ago. This was made substantially easier by the Simons Fellowships mentioned by Ben Webster. If we hadn't gotten the Fellowships, we would have gone anyway, and I imagine our experience would have been much like the one JeffE describes. – Mark Meckes Feb 22 '16 at 3:29
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I've taken two full-year overseas sabbaticals, each on my half-salary plus a small ad-hoc stipend from the host institution, the first with just my wife and the the second with my wife and our two small children. Fortunately my wife's job is flexible enough to allow for occasional leaves without pay.

We rented out our house (at a slight discount, because the renters also took care of our dog). We lived like students in a small apartment. We took public transportation everywhere. During the second sabbatical, our kids enrolled in the on-campus kindergarten; that was one of the key reasons we went where we did.

We also burned through several thousand dollars in savings and racked up several thousand more in credit card debt, which took a couple of years to pay off, but the experience was worth every penny. We're looking forward to doing it a third time in a few years, despite the extra complication of older children.

The most important thing I can suggest is to forget the idea of making up your and your wife's missing salaries, or even a significant fraction thereof. It's just not going to happen. You just have to live with less and make it work.

The other important thing is that it has to work for your entire family. No matter how good the experience might be for you professionally, if you aren't visiting a place where your family can actually enjoy living, you are all going to be utterly miserable. I strongly recommend making connections with the families of your colleagues at your host institution, well before the final planning stages.

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    Curious if you can take another bank loan with better interest than a credit card for this. – user18072 Feb 22 '16 at 4:46
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    @djechlin A home equity line of credit would be much lower than credit card rates – y3sh Feb 22 '16 at 18:46
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    That rather depends on what kind of credit card rates he is getting. I don't know what the situation is in the USA but here in the UK 0% deals on credit cards are not uncommon. You have to transfer the balance to a new card after a year or two which can come with a fee but the effective interest rate is still very very low for people with good credit history. – Peter Green Feb 22 '16 at 20:02
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    What @PeterGreen said. The real trick is to bounce the debt between multiple 0% cards every year until it's gone. – JeffE Feb 24 '16 at 5:11
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I can only speak from my experience as a child, but I'll share that perspective since you have children of your own. My father, a law professor at Notre Dame, took a year's sabbatical in Oxford when I was four years old (1960-61) to research a book he was working on. We had four children, and a fifth was born over there. Obviously, a four year old isn't going to mind much where he lives, and will adapt easily to the changing culture.

Ten years later, we took two years in Oxford. My father had one year of sabbatical, and a year teaching in the law school's overseas program. Again, I can't speak much about the financial aspects of the trip. By this time, there were seven children, and the house we stayed in was pretty small, so that will tell you some things! On the other hand, the cost of living was lower there than in the US at that time.

I left the US at the end of 7th grade. This time, there were more challenges for me personally. When I got to Oxford (a month before school was to start) and we got sorted in our house, I took off to look around. I went into a newsagent's and struck up a conversation with Bruce, the older kid behind the counter. (He became a lifelong friend.) He told me about his school, and said I would like to go there. As it turned out, they were looking for someone to deliver papers as well. I must say my parents were quite surprised when I came home three hours after moving in, telling them that I had a paper route (they would say "paper round") and a lead on a school to go to! Dad went and had a chat with Bruce. One of my brothers and I wound up going to his school. So, I guess one of the things I could suggest is to improvise a bit, trust to providence, and trust in children's innate ability to connect emotionally with one another across cultural boundaries.

On the other hand, your children (especially your older ones) will have more than the usual challenges to fitting in. I started school in second form. The kids had already had a year of algebra, a year of French, and a year of Latin. I had a gift for languages, and my mother taught French and knew Latin very well, so those weren't much of a difficulty. However, I had difficulty with algebra and wasn't the sort to ask for help when I needed it. Then, when we got back, I was a high school sophomore, and in second year algebra again. The upshot of all that was that I never really did well in algebra until I took a remedial class in college.

If you have a child who will be 12 on the way out and 14 coming home, he will have gotten a lot of mixed messages about social rules as well. This is a great way to learn that social rules aren't as important as they often appear, but the effect of the confusion shouldn't be minimized as well. Kids learn a lot of their ways to interact with one another during those two years, and having to adjust a lot of them during that time shouldn't be underestimated as a difficulty. The usual adolescent insecurities get magnified, and parents may have to do a bit of extra work to help a child get over them.

When people ask me if I liked living in England, my response is generally "Did you like being 14?" But all kidding aside, as a grownup, I can say that this was a great life experience for me. Exposure to a different culture at a young age gives me a deeper understanding of what does and doesn't matter about my own. Also, I was exposed to an entirely different educational system, which educated me on some of the strengths and weaknesses of our own. Finally, I'm probably the only Oxford United fan in the entire United States. :)

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    I wouldn't be so sure about the very final sentence. – gerrit Feb 22 '16 at 11:25
  • That's great advice and a great story. Thanks. Out of curiosity since you said your dad was a Notre Dame, is your family Catholic? We are, and one option I've sort of explored is Catholic schools -- my kids go to US public schools now but if this happens, putting them in Catholic schools might lessen some of the complexity of navigating a new public school system. Or so I think -- I don't really know for sure. – Robert Talbert Feb 22 '16 at 23:24
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    @RobertTalbert Catholic schools in the UK are generally publicly funded and in the same school system as the other publicly funded schools (public schools are something quite different, and are generally expensive private schools). – Mike Scott Feb 23 '16 at 8:04
  • @RobertTalbert yes, we were brought up Catholic, as you probably know Catholics are in a minority in England. We went to a public school (I think) called the Oxford High School. As I recall, it was publicly funded as well; at least I remember my father saying we didn't have to pay for it. My younger brothers went to a Catholic school called Bishop Kirk, and I don't remember my parents saying that they had to pay for that either. I don't think any of us had more or less difficulty navigating their respective school systems than the others. The curriculum will be the biggest problem (more) – BobRodes Mar 4 '16 at 6:01
  • ...because there are significant discrepancies in the time at which students take up various subjects. I found the curriculum to be more challenging there than in the US (which I think is a good thing, personally). Also, they focus a good deal on drill and rote learning, which I think also is a good thing. For example, we did hundreds of trig problems over the course of a year. The teacher explained a concept, and then started writing problems up on the board. We'd do maybe five problems in a class, and then five more for homework. Languages had a great deal of repetition of (more) – BobRodes Mar 4 '16 at 6:04
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I doubt there's a satisfying general answer to this question. The problems and opportunities are so individual that it's hard to really say anything.

One useful note for mathematicians: the Simons Foundation has realized this is a problem and gives out special grants to pay for an extra semester of leave in a year you have a sabbatical. If you look at the list of recipients, you can see that it is fairly competitive, but you do not have to be a Fields Medalist to get it (though I'm sure it helps).

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I just did a year sabbatical in Japan with my wife and two kids, also at half salary, to visit one of my collaborators.

  • Finances My collaborator and I applied for a fellowship from the JSPS (like the NSF in Japan), which more or less gave me half salary for the year (not quite, but enough). I don't know if EPSRC has something like this, but you might have your colleague look into this (assuming you're in STEM). Besides specific fellowships for sabbatical type visits, look for internal and external general grants which can provide summer salary/travel money to help set off expenses. (My university has some fairly generous internal funding options.) I did not teach for extra money. We did not rent out our house for various reasons, though many people do this, to help cover the "double rent" issue. One place where we did save money was not having to pay for family plan US health insurance, which eats up a huge portion of my paycheck. Financially, I think we came out about even, maybe minus plane tickets for everyone.
  • Logistics For renting your house, you can either try advertising personally (maybe a new faculty member will want to) or use a rental agency, or a site like sabbaticalhomes.com. Check with your colleague/host institution about visas and help with housing. Visa assistance came along with my JSPS fellowship, and we stayed in university housing (not particularly cheaper than the market rate, but convenient). (I hope by UK you don't mean London--housing there is expensive.) Schools we just sorted out when we got there, though it's probably a good idea to check in advance what you need to do to enroll (take birth certificates, health records etc just in case). In general, universities deal with a lot of foreign visitors so your host university should at least have pointers to helpful information for moving there for a year.
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Your biggest issue is likely to be your wife's job- will she be able to take an unpaid leave from the job and return to it later, or will she simply have to resign her position?

I've taken two semester long sabbatical leaves, and both times I went alone since my wife couldn't take leave from her job as a school teacher. Fortunately, I was only a short airplane flight away in Los Angeles, and we visited in one direction another every few weeks, but it certainly was not a pleasant way to handle this.

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Someone in the answers asked for a "where are they now" update, so I thought I'd check back in as the OP to mention what finally happened with my sabbatical.

I ended up not doing a sabbatical overseas. The financial and logistical requirements were just too great. My wife actually found a new job in her field shortly after my post, so there was no way for her to get leave, and even if there were, I think it would have been a net negative for my kids to uproot and leave for a year. And there were no good grant or fellowship opportunities connected with my overseas leads to cover expenses, and there's no way we were going to go into massive debt to do this.

Instead, I managed to develop a really unique sabbatical leave with a local company that's right in my backyard. Steelcase is fairly well-known for design and manufacture of high-end furniture and architectural products, and they have a huge presence in the education market, so I worked with them to design a scholar-in-residence program wherein I was/am embedded with their education group three days a week, doing educational research and contributing to their product design and business planning. They're located in Grand Rapids, MI which is just 30 miles from my house, so there was no uprooting required. I started with them in August (2017) and will wrap up the residency on May 31 of this year. It's been a truly unique, fun, and amazing experience and I have learned a lot that I will be porting back into higher education when I return to my campus in August.

You can read more about this at my website, and starting next week I'll be posting some articles where I'll be looking back over my experiences and discussing the big lessons learned.

This kind of opportunity wouldn't work for everybody, but it turned out to be perfect for me, since my research is in undergraduate math education and I will be moving into academic leadership positions when I return. The takeaway that I think would work generally for others, is that if an overseas experience isn't a good fit for you, there's no need to force it --- there may be a cool and groundbreaking sabbatical experience right around the corner.

I'll be up for a sabbatical again in another 6 years, and at that point two of our three kids will be out of the house --- so that's a much better situation for thinking about overseas extended stays.

Thanks to all who have contributed to the answers here -- I think it's been helpful for me and for many others.

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I’m in almost the same exact situation as you. I’m a US academic wanting to do a Sabbatical in the UK. Wife (not working) and two small kids (4 and 7 years old). I have an invite to get an unpaid visiting scholar at a university in London for a full year. But, because my sabbatical is at full pay from my institution money is less of an issue. The confusing or frustrating part is figuring out the following: 1. To do a full year in the UK not needing pay, what visa do I apply for that will cover my family? 2. How do I register my kids for “public” school? 3. Do we apply for UK health insurance? Can we use our US based insurance? Is that advisable?

Here’s some advice I got:

  1. Don’t buy a car to get around. Public transport is very good.
  2. You need an address before you can do anything, like register kids at school. Get a lease first. If possible, avoid lengthy background check by paying rent for 6 months up front.
  3. Use a visa service to get your travel docs in order up front.
  4. Drop your health insurance in the US and pay for access to the UK NHS. It’ll be more convenient and comprehensive.

protected by Alexandros Apr 8 '18 at 20:39

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