While in New York a few months ago, SabbaticalHomes.com founder Nadege Conger met up with Suzann-Viola Renninger, our newest “Member Spotlight” profile! Suzann-Viola arrived in New York City earlier this year with two goals: to move forward with the book she had already started in Zurich and to check off “living in New York” on her bucket list!
Visiting Scholar in New York
Now that she’s on her sabbatical at Columbia University, Suzann-Viola has shed the day to day administrative demands and the heavy load of teaching she was responsible for at the University of Zurich as well as Zurich’s Open University. Paradoxically, coming to fast-paced New York has enabled her to slow-down and focus on writing while fully exploring Manhattan. As many of our members find, her Swiss life responsibilities are suspended for the time she has carved for herself during her sabbatical.
While at Columbia, Suzann-Viola is enjoying focusing on writing the book which will forever recalibrate her professional contribution to the field of Philosophy of Science. She and her adviser Philip Kitcher meet weekly to discuss her newly written pages. Her intense and steady focus is resulting in concrete progress on the book; as any academic or author will agree, having the end in sight of a long-term writing project is inspiring! To date, she has written about 180 pages, more than two-thirds of the book. She will come back in January 2020 to finish it and to discuss the last version with Philip.
One wonderful benefit of being an official Visiting Scholar at Columbia University is that Suzann-Viola has her own Columbia ID card and email address with full access to the library and to the numerous talks and conferences this renowned Ivy school has to offer. This makes the process of living and working there much more enjoyable and her sabbatical that much more productive.
How does a Visiting Professor Afford Housing in New York City?
Since life in New York is expensive, making good use of each converted Swiss Franc meant that Suzann-Viola needed to find reasonably priced housing. Like many international academics, she used SabbaticalHomes.com to find the perfect housing solution.
She posted a home-wanted listing on SabbaticalHomes.com, titled “Being a philosopher with a home in a New York.” Wisely, giving herself four months of lead time, she posted her listing in September for availability in January. Soon after, she was contacted by a couple of local university professors who invited her to share their home during her entire sabbatical. They got to know each other and decided they would each be a good fit for the other, and now Suzann-Viola is enjoying staying in her own room with an en-suite bathroom and access to the living room and the kitchen where she makes fresh bread every few days.
International House of New York or SabbaticalHomes.com?
For Suzann-Viola, sharing a home is the perfect solution as she sought to immerse herself into a domestic academic life and have the comforts of being “at home” during her sabbatical. Another option she looked into was renting a place at the International House of New York as it is a viable option for international faculty and post-docs to rent temporary housing in a pricey city. In this case, however, the institutional alternative wasn’t as attractive to Suzann-Viola.
Suzann-Viola has always been fascinated by New York. She had longed to live in the Big Apple for twenty years, and now that she is living here, she wants to explore it all street by street, park by park! Two of her passions are photography and dancing, and luckily opportunities to enjoy both of these are in abundance in the city.
Without the normal hectic activities required in her life in Zurich, Suzann-Viola suddenly has had time to take long strolls. She is able to listen to each noise which make up the cacophony of this incredible energizing city. She also enjoys observing the fascinating diversity of its inhabitants. She finds that people are remarkably open-minded here.
She is taking everything in through the lens of her camera. She doesn’t admit that she could be a professional photographer but one could think otherwise. With her dancing shoes on, she ventures to clubs, dance houses and Milongas. She just walks in the streets and follows people who she intuitively knows will lead her to the music which will fill her soul. She found a great dancing place near Times Square, has started taking classes there and has made good friends with the affectionate couple who are her dance teachers.
How do you get a Scholar Visa to the U.S.?
Visiting Scholar positions require a Scholar Visa – and Scholar Visas are not easy to come by – but these positions can provide exactly the change of scenery and resources an academic, writer or scholar needs to start or complete or a big project, whether it’s delving into research, writing a book or something else entirely that requires a focused effort over time.
Coming to the United States as a visiting scholar required determination and the right connection. Suzann-Viola met the distinguished American Philosophy professor Philip Kitcher from Columbia while he was giving a series of talks at Universität Zürich. They had much in common professionally, and he agreed to serve as her Faculty Sponsor to start the application process for a Scholar Visa.
Once she started, it took about three months for Suzann-Viola to navigate the process of obtaining her Scholar Visa. There was a lot of paperwork, fees, and possibly most important – patience involved. After finding her Designated Sponsor Organization (usually the university your Faculty Sponsor is associated with), that organization will help you obtain a certificate of eligibility. The certificate of eligibility is a prerequisite to apply for the Scholar Visa itself (officially called a J-1 Scholar Visa). Again, for Suzann-Viola, this step involved paperwork, waiting, paperwork, fees, waiting, paperwork, waiting…
Finally, with her J-1 Scholar Visa in hand, Suzann-Viola was invited for an in-person interview at the U.S. Embassy in Bern. Finally, a trip to the US-embassy in Bern for an interview was in order. The official looked into her face and didn’t ask her anything, he just stamped the document and said: Approved!
You can read more details about the process and find links to help you research your own future Scholar Visa in our article How to Apply for a Scholar Visa to the U.S. Columbia University has its own website to assist with the process: International Students and Scholars Office of Columbia.