What can U.S. academia learn from other countries?

Curator's Note

From kindergarten to PhD, all my schooling has taken place in the United States, with the exception of a semester of college in Prague. Moving to Sweden for a postdoc at Stockholm University has been both unsettling and enlightening, as I wrote in my Cinema Journal essay, "Transitional Eras." I discovered that many of norms I took to be inherent to "academia" were in fact specific to U.S. academia.

There is a lot U.S. academia could learn from academic cultures in other countries--in my case, from Sweden. In my essay, I discuss the following:

  • Swedish academics engage much more with the public.
  • There is greater transparency in hiring.
  • Syllabi draw from new scholarship produced in many parts of the world.

(I will defer, for now, the lessons Swedish academia could also learn from the U.S.)

Since I wrote that essay, I have noticed a few more features of Swedish academic life worth emulating.

  • Collaboration. Intra-departmental and international collaborations alike are supported financially and valued in hiring and promotion decisions.
  • Work-life balance. Scholars are expected to work hard, but also to spend time with family and friends and to take real vacations without bringing a laptop or pile of reading.

And, my current favorite:

  • Ritual community celebration of earning a Ph.D.-- a.k.a. the disputationsfest. I know many in the U.S. have little parties after their Ph.D. defense, but in Sweden these parties are akin to a small wedding. After the defense, the new doctor's extended family, friends, and department celebrate over dinner, drinks, and dancing. The dissertation advisor, the examiner, and the head of the department all make congratulatory speeches about the new doctor, as do family and friends. While finishing a Ph.D. can sometimes feel anticlimactic or even traumatic in the U.S., the disputationsfest offers a powerful, communal recognition of the work and sacrifice required to complete a dissertation and the value of the knowledge produced.

I'm curious to hear more ideas from you. If you have studied or taught outside the United States, what do you think the US academy could learn from other academic cultures?

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