Stanford Insights from Michael Meyer, WU Vienna

Q: How did the article series about your visit to SCANCOR and life in California for DER STANDARD come about?

A: WU Veinna has a long lasting cooperation with DER STANDARD. To reach a broader public, we regularly report about our research results in this Austrian daily newspaper. When I decided to go to SCANCOR, Karin Bauer, the senior editor for the career supplement of DER STANDARD, asked me to write a weekly article about my experiences at Stanford. And so I did. The title “Stanford Insights” was Karin’s idea. As usual at DER STANDARD, the article is in the printed weekend issue and then published on the web four days later.

Q: What was the initial reaction to the article series in Austria?

A: Quite often friends of mine contacted me and told me how they like my “Insights from Stanford”. This was a way to stay connected and to share experiences. Not everyone is on facebook. Thus the articles helped many friends and colleagues at our university to keep track of me, and many of them wrote me that reading my articles became part of their Saturday breakfast ritual.

One of my most beloved steady followers is the mother of a good friend and colleague of mine who was a SCANCORIAN himself two years ago. She has become a regular reader and has regularly asked her son whether he has made similar experiences in Stanford.

Since the articles are also published in the e-version of DER STANDARD, I also received feedback from many anonymous posters. Some of them have been very constructive, adding aspects from their own experiences, a few of them rather weird posters that you must not take seriously.  Most of them, however, entered into an interesting discussion about Stanford, the Silicon Valley, California, and the US.

Q: What do you hope people in Austria take away from the series?

A: My hopes were twofold: First, to inform about how a top university like Stanford works. I’ve been in university management for the last four years, and I’m sure that European universities can learn much from US research universities, though I’m aware of the enormous gaps in funding and legal constraints.

Second, I wanted to tell stories about daily life in the US, and how it differs from Europe. This is something that emerged during my stay here. There are so many cultural differences between Europe and the US that you only perceive when you are living in the US for a longer period of time. Being in Silicon Valley for half a year helped me to get familiar with many peculiarities: the exorbitant prices for housing, the high prices for all services, the openness for foreigners, the welcome culture, the high standards in public schools, etc. There is a kind of arrogance in Europe towards many aspects of the American way of life – my hope was to dismantle this arrogance.

Q: Which article received the most attention? Why do you think that was the case?

A: The postings were between 3 and 152 views per article. The highest attention was acquired by an article on US private banking. The reason is that I wrote about my first experiences as a customer with a very complicated private banking system. Many readers defended the US system – and to be honest, many of their arguments were right and my criticism was not fully justified. Two further articles that received very high attention were on the discursive restrictions at US universities (‘safe spaces’, ‘trigger warnings’, ‘microagressions’), and on bureaucracy and red tape in the health care system.

I suppose that this was caused by the still bipolar picture of the US in Europe: Part of the population, at least in Austria, is very critical against the US, part of it is full of admiration and praise for the US.

Q: What was your favorite part about writing the series, or which article reflected your favorite experience in California?

A: I cannot decide on a single article. I very much enjoyed writing about the Californian politics towards undocumented immigrants, as this serves as an antithesis to the current restrictive politics in Europe. I appreciated writing the articles on Stanford University, which is so different from our schools. I also liked the more daily-life reports. What I generally enjoyed most was the necessity to condense and structure my experiences. As I’m not a diary guy, this was new for me and helped me a lot in making sense of my experiences.