I am writing from my balcony, lit by the last rays of the sunset. It is almost 10:30 pm. Late sunsets are one of the unique beauties of the Swedish summer. With a bit of help from the weather gods, I will be sailing for the next few weeks along the Southern coast of Sweden, away from my office, my students and my coworkers.
This picture is very familiar to most academics based in Scandinavia and I would guess a very close approximation of what vacations look like in other parts of Europe, perhaps less sailing, but definitely a lot of travel. Either on private trips or to conferences, European academics tend to be away from their desks during the summer. The university calendar allows for a combination of hard work and periods of recovery, a welcome change from the rhythm of a packed schedule during the rest of the year.
When I was attending graduate school in the US, I realized that the idea of a summer vacation was a strange concept for many Americans. Academics in the US seemed to spend much more time at their work in comparison with the Europeans. I always wondered why this difference existed. It appears to me that having the time to relax and change the pace is a good move not only on a personal level but also for one’s intellectual performance, creativity and energy necessary for teaching. Why is there such a difference in the approach to vacations on the opposite sides of the Atlantic? And what do vacations look like in other parts of the world?
Seasonal rhythms in the academy have been discussed in the blogosphere, both by Kris Olds at GlobalHigherEd and in our own pages (from Meg and from Heather). Academics must have an eye on the future at all times. Vacation is a time off from this and the benefits of a regenerative period are hard to challenge. Beyond the personal level, the difference in vacation times is consequential in today’s globalizing of higher education. How do institutions with different schedules cooperate? How are their expectations aligned when employees must collaborate during the summer time? I have found that there can be difficulties in gathering interest among French professors to teach courses in August. How are international students’ own expectations met during exchange programs or semesters abroad? An American student would find it confusing when she did not receive an answer to her questions emailed to a Swedish administrator during the month of July. The globalization of higher education pushes for more coordinated procedures ruling the academic seasons.
A downside of this harmonization may be that it will involve not only synchronized vacation periods but also a drastic reduction of such holidays. We might simply have to work all the time in order to fit the various schedules of our international partners. July may be the classical free time for a Swede but if she has to cooperate with colleagues in a Japanese or an Australian university, she will have to be accessible during the active seasons of their universities. We have to be “always on,” always available and have calendars that are flexible enough to fit the global networks within which we participate. Is it the case then that academics simply cannot leave their jobs behind for a little while?
While this debate is going on, I will lean back and enjoy the evening sky.