I am currently on a three-month visit at the Center for Human-Computer Interaction in Salzburg, Austria. The Center is located in the northern part of the city, in a building separate from but close by the Computer Science department of the University of Salzburg. The Center is home to a research group of about 30 people led by Prof. Manfred Tscheligi.
After one month on site, I have noticed some interesting differences between the Center and my home environment:
- There are no students in the corridors. Because teaching is not conducted at the Center itself but at the department for Computer Science some 200 meters away, there are no students walking by our offices. This makes for a calmer work environment. It also provides a stronger feeling of ownership and control over this environment – everyone contributes to keeping it clean and tidy.
- There is cool research equipment in the basement. The Center has been working on futuristic projects, such as self-driving cars. They even have a fully-fledged car simulator in the basement! In addition, since the building is pretty new, it is also very modernly equipped. The basement also has a ‘workshop area’ with whiteboard tables (also: tables with a whiteboard surface). Practical!
- Teaching ends late. At 18! In Uppsala, we are not allowed to schedule classes after 17, as part of a parent-friendly policy. On the other hand, we sometimes have to start at 8:15, while here it seems that teaching starts at 9.
- There is no academic quarter. Surprise! After five years at Uppsala University, it is easy to forget that other universities do not have the academic quarter. Meetings and courses start on time here in Austria!
- Social hierarchies are very pronounced. Whereby I call my supervisor Åsa Cajander and my other senior colleagues by their first names in Sweden, here at the Center the hierarchy between senior and junior team members is much more pronounced. For instance, the head of the group is called “the boss”, and the most senior team members have their own bathroom…
There are also some differences outside of the Center…
- You can buy a lot of cheap alcohol in the stores. I get a shock every time I step into a store! After five years in Sweden, you also you also forget that, in other European countries, alcohol is much more accessible. And drinking some beer and wine during the day is not frowned upon! In fact, last week, we had Prosecco with a student having just completed his Bachelor degree. Drinking alcohol in a workplace felt very transgressive!
- People are openly friendly. Not later than this past lunch break, a man I had never seen wished me a good meal as I passed him in the hall leading to the Center. Also, people say “Hi” to each other when passing each other – even if they have never met before! When a woman greeted me in the locker room at the gym, I was very startled. But now I have started greeting others, too – I’ll have to remember to stop when I come back to Sweden. (This does not mean that Swedes are not friendly, but just that they usually are much more reserved. Neighbours generally do not greet each other!)
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