EGU2020-16743, updated on 12 Jun 2020
https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu2020-16743
EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Moving from Latin America to Germany: Culture shock and challenges faced by a geoscientist family

Liseth Perez1 and Matthias Bücker2
Liseth Perez and Matthias Bücker
  • 1Technische Universität Braunschweig, Institut für Geosysteme und Bioindikation, Braunschweig, Germany (l.perez@tu-braunschweig.de)
  • 2Technische Universität Braunschweig, Institut für Geophysik und Extraterrestrische Physik , Braunschweig, Germany

Geoscientists are often highly mobile, making them attractive candidates for academic positions. Nevertheless, changing your country of residency can be very challenging, and such challenges are amplified if one has small children, and especially if both parents are active researchers. We are both geoscientists, with specialties in paleolimnology and geophysics, and have a 2-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter. We are originally from Guatemala and Germany, and our children were born in Mexico, where we worked for seven years before moving to Germany.

Culture shock is often expected to be severe when moving from Europe to a developing country, like Mexico or Guatemala. In our case, however, we experienced serious cultural shock when we moved from Latin America to Germany. It became apparent that conditions were harsh for couples that try to live equitably at home and at work, and attempt not to neglect either family life or science. We identified multiple challenges in our daily life, such as: (1) the well-known lack of sufficient childcare options in Germany, (2) cultural differences at work, such as family-“unfriendly” scheduling of important meetings, (3) a lack of flexibility with respect to financial support for families whose members participate in professional symposia or fieldwork, and  (4) policies of granting institutions that sometimes, unintentionally, preclude family-friendly work in academic research.

Our personal experiences may help to elucidate why the gender disparity in science is larger in wealthy, central European countries such as Germany (28.0% female researchers, UNESCO 2018) than in many Latin American countries, such as Mexico (33.0%) and Guatemala (53.2%). By identifying key issues, we hope to improve the situation for parent researchers - both female and male. Changes will be required of universities in Germany and elsewhere in Europe that intend to improve the quality of research and teaching at their institutions by attracting young, talented, international scientists. We acknowledge that every case is different, but encourage universities that are building strong programs through internationalization of the faculty to consider the needs of families of incoming foreign researchers, and actively support dual-career professional couples.

How to cite: Perez, L. and Bücker, M.: Moving from Latin America to Germany: Culture shock and challenges faced by a geoscientist family, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-16743, https://doi.org/10.5194/egusphere-egu2020-16743, 2020

Comments on the presentation

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Presentation version 1 – uploaded on 04 May 2020
  • CC1: Thank you, Marine Lasbleis, 04 May 2020

    Thank you so much for highlighting this problem!

    We did France > Japan > France with kid(s), and this is such an important issue that is always not considered. When both parents are academic, being able to attend some meetings (why would someone want to start a productive meeting at 5pm?), or conferences (especially when you are on a different continent than the grandparents). My institution in Japan was very comprehensive and developed family-friendly policies, but this was mostly thanks to some high-ranked scientists with families, and this should definitely be a more common occurrence.

    • AC1: Reply to CC1, Liseth Perez, 05 May 2020

      Dear Marine,

      thanks for your comment. Nice to hear that you were given support! it is really difficult and it takes a lot of time to share your experience and problems by participating in activities from your university, and so on. But, just like you said, by doing this and the help from high-rank scientists all can be improved. I only wished that more women and academic couples would talk about it and try to make a change for future generations. Therefore I find this session incredible and worth supporting.  I wish you all the best!

  • CC2: Comment on EGU2020-16743, Lonneke Roelofs, 05 May 2020

    Thank you Liseth and Matthias for sharing this. I have never really thought about these specific problems but I can imagine the struggles. I, as a member of the Young Women of Geosciences of Utrecht University, will take your story with me to the committee and see if we can find out if similar things are happening at our faculty and if we can implement some of the suggested solutions.

    • AC2: Reply to CC2, Liseth Perez, 05 May 2020

      Dear Lonneke!

      that would be awesome! please feel free to write me an email in case you need more information or ideas. I would be really happy to help! I suppose this happens all around the world. The most important thing I believe it not only focus on young female students (of course it starts there! and it is so important), but also middle-career women (who are the ones that have young children and struggle the most, even though they want to work), and also experienced scientist. Most initiatives seem to forget women that are not ECR anymore and have not become professors...this is what I suppose needs to be done now ;) good luck with that and please never stop supporting this cause! 

      • CC5: Reply to AC2, Lonneke Roelofs, 06 May 2020

        Dear Liseth,

        It is certainly a valid point to not forget the people in between junior and professor positions. We will definitely take it with us and if we need any advice we will contact you!

        Kind regards,

        Lonneke

         

         

  • CC3: my experience in Germany, Maria Bostenaru Dan, 05 May 2020

    I moved as a student to Germany at the age of 22. People were admiring me for having learned the language, but I found that the language was the easiest. Habits were more difficult to understand, both privately and professionally. Professionally I was studying architecture and thought drawing was the same, but actually the cities are different in Germany (church and shops less necessary than in Romania). I learned that requirements at the university are different. Privately the time around Christmas was the most difficult, as, despite having already support to integrate international students, Germans spent that time exclusively with family and I felt very alone. I could go home 3 times a year for each 1 month. Now there are more funds, also at universities and integration is pretty good, which makes it even more difficult to leave. Yes, I agree that women are doing worse there that also in Eastern Europe.

    • AC3: Reply to CC3, Liseth Perez, 06 May 2020

      Hi Maria,

      yes, additionally to the insufficient childcare issue in Germany, I also experienced there other aspects you described. Cultures are really different, and you need time to adapt. Thanks for sharing your experience and I'm glad to hear that things are going better. ciao!

  • CC4: Yes to more (flexible) kindergarten places and getting involved!, Alice Lefebvre, 05 May 2020

    Dear Lisbeth and Matthias,

    Thank you for sharing your story. As a women's representative at Bremen University, Germany (and also mum of 3 kids and French), I can definitely relate to the problem of finding Kindergarten places when moving to Germany - or even when already leaving here! This is such a big problem here and I regularly discuss this issue with parents.

    I certainly agree that one way to change the system is to get involved. Being a women's representative takes a lot of my precious science time, but it is definitely worth it. It feels good to (very slowly) improve how things are.

    Good luck with the habil and hope you both make it to become permanent!

    Alice

    • AC4: Reply to CC4, Liseth Perez, 06 May 2020

      Thank you Alice for the so encouraging words! I really, really hope that it will work for both of us to get permanent positions so that we can continue (in a more relaxed situation) supporting this cause and helping women and dual-career couples in science. Cheers!