May 2010

Coming to America


Coming-to-America,-de-KluyverMoving to the U.S. for a Postdoc, a Partner’s Tale


Rachel and I met while she was an undergraduate student and I was completing my doctoral degree. We married, and, as I had no desire to move from my hometown, we settled in Brisbane, Australia, and began to develop our careers there. The next 12 years were intellectually stimulating for both of us, but fairly routine; the odd trip overseas, holidays on the coast with my parents or in the country with hers. Then, a most unusual Christmas present for me, a glass name plaque with “Drs. Tertius and Rachel de Kluyver” inscribed on it. Our life together was to become interesting indeed.

American Bureaucracy

Four years later, Rachel, doctoral degree in hand, and I stood in the chill of a January evening outside Washington-Dulles International Airport waiting for our taxi. It was the week of President Obama’s inauguration, and the Australian currency had collapsed against the greenback, 60 cents to the dollar. The taxi fare was a shock and our hotel bill more so.

After a week of hotel living and eating out, we were able to sign a contract for an apartment. This, in itself, was no mean feat as most property managers require social security numbers as part of the vetting process of prospective tenants. We had just arrived and were still sorting out Rachel’s National Institutes of Health contract. SSNs?

Of course, a SSN also was required to establish an account with the NIH financial institution. This caused us some anxiety as we were relying on an NIH advance to stop the hemorrhage out of our Australian account. What were we to do? Cash the check and hide the money under our mattress? This was problematical in itself. Our household goods, which had been packed two months previously, were still on a dock in Australia.

When it comes to driving, we are “lefties” in Australia. I signed up for driving lessons to orient myself on American roads. Once confident that I wouldn’t make an ass of myself during a driving test, I sat for the Maryland driver’s license. More money spent, including the driver’s course, the drug and alcohol education course, hiring of the “test” car, photo and the license application fees.

By the time March came around, we were footsore from carrying our weekly shopping about a mile to our apartment and were ready to buy a car. Our financial institution offered us a good deal on a car loan, but now we came across a new and unexpected twist. Although Rachel is the breadwinner, I had to apply for the car loan because I was the one with an American driver’s license. I then had to open up a separate account from which loan repayments could be made, and Rachel had to sign on as my guarantor.

Finding Work

We knew from our research that I would not be eligible for work immediately. As Rachel’s “dependent,” I was granted a J2 visa, which allowed me to apply for an “Employment Authorization Card,” once I was in the U.S. This process can take up to three months.

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et alors?



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