Swapping Jobs and Lives

In the fall 2014 semester, three faculty members participated in a one semester exchange that involved swapping not just academic jobs, but also houses, pets and lives. We would like to promote this as a model for rejuvenating research, sharing ideas between departments and enhancing students’ experiences. Brooke Hansen and Jack Rossen (Ithaca College), afflicted with a case of cabin fever after many years of central New York winters, traded places with Lynn Morrison (U of Hawaii, Hilo), who was suffering from the opposite affliction: island fever. We saw this as a chance for re-invigoration, especially as tenured faculty ensconced in our home universities for a length of time.

Advantages and Rewards

cd_Hansen photo
Jack and Brooke with Kūikapiko, the anthropology club at UHH, heading down for a day of service in Waipi’o valley. Photo courtesy Brooke Hanson

In our case, the advantages of the career-life swap most certainly outweighed the challenges. We were able to invigorate each other’s departments and ourselves. Bringing in new and innovative classes we cannot usually offer was a major benefit, with Lynn teaching Culture, Sex and Gender at Ithaca and Brooke teaching Anthropology of Food at UHH. Jack also taught courses not offered at UHH: People, Plants and Culture and Box Office Archaeology. Alexis Ching, UHH anthropology major (’14), commented on the opportunity to take the food course: “It was the highlight of my final semester at school as my base of knowledge was broadened by our visiting professor’s fresh anthropological perspectives and dialogue!” It was very gratifying to be able to network with other anthropology departments to discuss mutual challenges like enrollment and shrinking budgets. Sharing ideas about new pedagogies of engagement and current theoretical directions in anthropology was equally rewarding.

Each institution had specialists in their field with whom we could align ourselves, resulting in an informal semester-long workshop enhancing both our research and teaching. For example, Lynn, who regularly teaches osteology and primatology at UHH, benefitted from hands-on skeletal analysis with Jen Muller. She also enhanced her knowledge of primatology from Lisa Corewyn at IC while Jack could debate the virtues of flotation tanks and local nomenclature of artifacts with Peter Mills at UHH. Being on a Big Island in a small world, Brooke learned about Lyme disease researchers in her own backyard at Binghamton while connecting with Hawai’i faculty on food research in geography (Kathryn Besio) and sociology (Marina Karides). Processing, digesting and solidifying these collaborations is currently on-going in various permutations.

The top benefits of the exchange, academically speaking, included working with different and diverse student bodies and being able to reflect on our course materials in new environments. The advantages to the students included the opportunity to network with faculty from other institutions and explore research-based exchanges and participation in field classes. The biggest advantage to the institutions is that faculty exchanges do not have to cost anything in terms of salary, benefits or office space.

Disadvantages and Challenges

The major disadvantages of faculty exchanges are the mass organization and effort required to coordinate the approvals, course schedules, office and university access and home swapping. For some, there might be extra work involved with gaining the approvals and letters of agreement, although for us that went very smoothly and all parties were supportive and excited. There was a learning curve with each other’s IT systems, how to get an ID card, where to go for troubleshooting and the logistics of planning student field trips at a new institution (e.g., how to be an approved driver, how to obtain vans, etc.). In general, we experienced the stress associated with negotiating new faculty terrain despite only being there for one semester.

The Home Front

Swapping lives might be the fodder of reality TV but it is also a great way to break out of routines and familiarity. We were invigorated at this personal level to experience a new place and cadence of everyday life. To achieve this we did have to assess each other’s compatibility regarding animal care, car swapping, and how to operate a new house and the associated quirks, be it water softeners, catchment systems or creaky doors. Parties interested in doing exchanges need to be very open and flexible, willing to let go of familiar household organization and routines and embrace what others can show us. A strong element of trust was implicit in this arrangement as each party was privy to personal or financial information that required assistance from the other person. One also needs to be flexible when people rename your pets or your pets learn a different language (Brooke and Jack’s cats now respond to French and Lynn’s dog was renamed Flippy).

We all kept our own kids—although that might be negotiable! Lynn brought her 4-yr old son to Ithaca which involved finding an appropriate pre-school that accommodated her teaching schedule. Her son is still reveling in the fabulous experience of seeing leaves turn colors, visiting pumpkin patches, watching blue jays, squirrels, skunks and deer, and dancing in the snow. Since Lynn is originally from Montreal, this exchange allowed for many visits from Canadian family and friends. On the Hawaiian side, Brooke and Jack had endless visitors from the mainland. Part of the exchange’s success was the way in which we cared for and supported one another academically and personally, and treated one another as family.

How to Orchestrate a Faculty Exchange

The first step is to have the motivation to persist through the planning stages, from finding a compatible department to organizing the personnel logistics and approvals at multiple levels. Our exchange began with Brooke and Jack wanting more extended research time and experience teaching in Hawai’i. Relations were begun and the UHH Anthropology Department was receptive. They discussed who would like to embrace the exchange and Lynn decided this would provide her with numerous opportunities for professional and personal development. Although in many cases exchanges might be a one-for-one model, in this case Brooke was on sabbatical but agreed to teach one course, while Jack taught two. As they are a married couple, this worked out well. Lynn replaced their three course gap at Ithaca College by teaching courses that were not regularly taught. Fulfilling curricular obligations at both institutions was conscientiously planned.

In terms of concrete planning, the following steps are a guideline:

  1. Identify a compatible department and faculty member/s at least 18 months to 3 years prior to exchange.
  2. Obtain departmental approval, including approval of curriculum alterations.
  3. Obtain Dean or Provost/Chancellor approval.
  4. Draft and sign official letters of agreement which function as contracts for faculty members to specify exact responsibilities and allow access to each other’s systems.
  5. All of the above needs to be done by the time of course scheduling, which will vary by department. At UHH it was 6 months of planning ahead; at IC it was 1 year.
  6. Plan the logistics of moving course materials and swapping houses, cars and pets. If you are bringing your children, consider at least 6 months of planning for school and daycare.


Our faculty exchange, even though it was just one semester, had a brilliant outcome: we now have new families, friends and colleagues on either side of the Pacific Ocean. The exposure to another person’s life is a fantastic opportunity to listen to new music, cook different foods and just bust out of humdrum routines. The exchange was a scintillating experience professionally and personally. We strongly advocate that this should be developed into a semester- or year-long model that would incorporate national and international institutions and be part of the AAA webpage posting via a message board or forum for people to pursue swapping jobs and lives.

Brooke Hansen is associate professor of anthropology at Ithaca College and adjunct faculty at U of Hawaii, Hilo. Her research in Hawaii encompasses agricultural and culinary tourism and revitalization of kanaka maoli culture.

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Want to comment? Please be aware that only comments from current AAA members will be approve. AN is supported by member dues, so discussions on anthropology-news.org are moderated to ensure that current members are commenting. As with all AN content, comments reflect the views of the person who submitted the comment only. The approval of a comment to go live does not signify endorsement by AN or the AAA.