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Changing Places in a Small World

Natalie Allen
The University of Western Ontario

Our visiting Changing Places columnist in this issue of TIP is Boris Baltes from the Department of Psychology at Wayne State University. Boris recently spent 10 months on sabbatical at the Humboldt University in Berlin where he continued his research on biases in performance ratings. It appears that Boriss time in Berlin was both enjoyable and productiveat this years SIOP, his name appeared on no fewer than six presentations! In what follows, Boris offers some thoughts about the personal, scientific, and professional benefits of his IWE, as well as some practical tips. 

Detroit to Berlin: A German American in Germany

Boris Baltes
Wayne State University

Where and when was your IWE? 
My sabbatical was spent in Berlin, Germany in the psychology department at the Humboldt University. My host and sponsor at the Humboldt was Dr. Peter Frensch, who is a cognitive psychologist with whom I am working on a paper focusing on the cognitive mechanisms underlying race biases in performance ratings. The Humboldt University is one of three large universities in Berlin and is also the oldest. Interestingly enough, all three of the universities in Berlin offer a PhD in I-O psychology, so there is plenty of opportunity for I-O researchers and graduate students for collaboration. The time frame of my sabbatical was May 2004 until March 2005. Partial funding of my sabbatical was made possible through the Humboldt Foundation (no connection to the Humboldt University). The aim of the Humboldt Foundation is to grant research fellowships and research awards to highly qualified scientists and scholars to enable them to carry out research projects in Germany and to maintain the resultant academic contacts. One of the main purposes of the fellowships is to foster international research collaboration. The fellowships not only provide stipends for visiting researchers but they also help with most aspects of getting settled, as well as paying for language courses for both the fellowship recipient and his/her spouse. It is a wonderful program, and I would encourage any person that is thinking of spending time in Europe (Germany must be the home base but multiple institutions in Europe can be visited) to consider applying for one of the Humboldt programs. More information on the Humboldt Foundation can be found at http://www.humboldt-foundation.de/en/.

What motivated you to choose this location? 
The reasons I had for spending a year in Germany were both scientific and personal. From a scientific perspective I believe that my American research on the role of ethnic stereotypes in performance appraisal and evaluation of work performance has the potential for intercultural transfer and collaboration. On a personal level, I was born in Germany and felt the need to expose my son and wife to the culture that is important to me.

Tell us something about what you worked on. What was your typical workday? 
The only responsibility I had while in Germany was to carry out my proposed research project and to interact with German scholars as much as possible. To accomplish the second goal, I gave talks at several German institutions (i.e., University of Giessen, Free University of Berlin, International University of Bremen, and the Humboldt University).

My research project explored whether research in the United States that has found support for the notion that Whites are in general rated more favorably than Blacks is generalizable to similar situations in Germany. Specifically, recent research has begun to examine the negative stereotypes that Caucasian Germans may have against certain ethnic groups, such as people of Turkish descent. The findings from this research are very similar to what is found in the United States. That is, negative stereotypes were found to exist in Caucasian Germans with respect to Turkish people. Given the ever increasing heterogeneity of the German population as well as recent research that points to real job discrimination against people of Turkish descent, it seemed important to conduct research that would examine the relationship between these stereotypes and outcomes (e.g., performance ratings) in Germany. Thus, the main purpose of my research project in Germany involved examining the effect of negative Turkish stereotypes on work-related outcomes. The preliminary results of my study do indeed support the hypothesis that individuals with negative attitudes towards Turkish individuals demonstrate discrimination against Turkish job applicants.

Speaking as an I-O psychologist, what did you get out of the experience? 
One thing that struck me was the lack of knowledge I had about what was being done in German I-O psychology. Specifically, it was disconcerting to find out that one question I was interested in doing research on, because it had not been done in the English literature that I was familiar with, had been addressed in the German literature. It really just points out the inefficiency in how research results are disseminated, especially when one is talking about results in two different languages. In any case, it led me to spend more time reading German journals. In several instances, I found articles that demonstrated to me how large a disconnect there can be between similar lines of research in two countries. I think this helped make me realize that, although the main research language of the world is still English, there is very relevant research in foreign language journals that seems to often remain unknown to English-speaking researchers. 

How did your family react to the IWE? 
My family was, to some extent, the main reason for taking my sabbatical in Germany, and they had a great time. I was lucky in that I already spoke German and my wife had been taking courses before we left, as well as while we were there. We also made sure that our 4-year-old son was put into a German daycare as soon as possible and, thus, his German was fluent by the time we left. His learning German so quickly was perhaps the most amazing part of the sabbatical and one main reason I would encourage everyone with young children to consider spending a sabbatical in a foreign country.

What were the best and the worst aspects of the IWE?
The best aspect of our experience in Berlin was that we lived in the heart of the city without the usual safety concerns of many larger American cities. We had everything (e.g., shopping, restaurants, parks) within either walking distance or a short ride on the excellent mass transit system. Living without the need for a car and the long commute from the suburbs is wonderful, and I wish it were a viable option for families in more American cities.

The worst aspect of the experience was probably the fact that I felt somewhat disconnected from my colleagues and graduate students at Wayne State University. Even though I made an effort to stay connected through telephone and video conference calls, it was not always easy to maintain these relationships. Of course, this feeling of getting away is what some people would argue is the best part of a sabbatical.

What advice would you give to SIOP members interested in IWEs?
My trip was relatively easy from a cultural viewpoint because I had lived in Berlin before and spoke German. I think people considering a foreign sabbatical/assignment should be aware that although it is fun, and in my opinion well worth it, it can be very stressful for both them and their family. Taking language and/or culture courses before going is a definite must. Also, having help with setting up living arrangements and navigating ones way through the bureaucracy of a foreign country is a great help. Again, this is one reason to apply for a fellowship such as I mentioned above. Usually, these fellowships come from foundations that have support staff to help researchers when they arrive.

Note: Boris Baltes is an I-O psychologist (PhD in 1998, Northern Illinois University) and an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Wayne State University. He can be reached at: b.baltes@wayne.edu.

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