“Home is where the heart is ... or is it?” : an explorative study on the lived experiences of immigrants working as educators at a tertiary institution in South Africa : a qualitative study.
Ngwane, Bongiwe Lydia.
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This research reports on the life experiences of foreign national tertiary educators in South Africa. The study looked at the life experiences of tertiary educators settling into the host country. The study also looked at the way in which foreign nationals compared other host countries with South Africa, which led to interesting responses regarding their perceptions of South African politics and the economy. The study further explored the way in which foreign nationals felt they had established their sense of being “at home”. The research was based on interviews that were conducted with foreign nationals who were tertiary educators at a university in South Africa. In-depth interviews were conducted with seven tertiary educator foreign nationals; the term foreign nationals as used in this research includes tutors, lecturers and senior tutors to prevent limitation of participants. The research produced interesting information regarding the way participants feel as tertiary educators in a foreign country. In our very political and economically volatile country, foreign nationals are faced with tensions that have led to forced acculturation for the purposes of survival and gaining economic muscle that in some cases lead them back to their home countries or cause them to settle and start new lives. Issues such as attaining working and permanent visas have almost made the dream of settling an unattainable privilege. Furthermore, tensions surrounding the inability to use the native language/s have made it difficult for foreign nationals to be welcomed and not discriminated against. Moreover, challenges emerged from the research study such as the fact that there are experiences of unequal opportunities and mixed perceptions of job titles in their current positions as tertiary educators which contribute to current debates relating to allowing foreign nationals to be full-time employees by the South African government. Other challenges that emerged are the ways in which crime and xenophobic attacks have contributed to dissatisfaction in living by foreign nationals and their hesitance to be in public areas as opposed to seeking comfort in the university environment. Conceptualisations of the understanding of „home‟ led to discussions relating to the way in which participants missed their families and the way in which their countries will always remain home regardless of the years spent in South Africa. Discussions surrounding conceptualisations of home also led to an understanding of why foreign nationals sought to immigrate to South Africa, what they wished to gain, and how they feel they have been welcomed by other citizens of the country. Ultimately, this research discovered that there are tensions that have caused participants to want to acculturate into the country. By thematic analysis, seven themes emerged: (1) experiences of living in South Africa; (2) language; (3) economic survival; (4) occupational adjustment; (5) marginalisation and vulnerability; (6) acculturation; and (7) conceptualisations of home. The research study uncovered various challenges and tensions that existed within the lives of foreign national tertiary educators. Participants were able to share and give examples of in-depth lived experiences in relation to being a foreign national with the university environment. Overall, tensions such as feelings of marginalisation and xenophobia impacted on the way in which the participants lived and their working experiences. However, participants were also able to identify key aspects and ways of coping (such as the learning and academic opportunities that were provided by the university in order for the tertiary educators to develop and contribute to their personal and financial development) that assisted participants to overcome challenges and tensions.