The international academic mobility that we hear about most often concerns moving from the non-West to the West. It is far more rare for academics to go the ‘other’ way, i.e. from Western to non-Western academia. While I have been both ways, I owe the really transformative experience of my academic mobility to Tajik academia. This essay describes three of the many aspects of this formative experience, referring to the issues of mistrust, mutual favours and the culture of mediocracy. By being confronted with new academic conventions and practices, Tajik academia made me question my own positionality. It forced me to reflect on privilege and precarity which I simultaneously embodied, and offered a new perspective on Western academic culture.