Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Thank You to Sweden

International conferences serve as a venue for scientific exchanges, reconnecting with colleagues from around the globe, and often bring back a flood of memories. I have written several posts on this blog about the ALIO-INFORMS conference, which took place recently in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The intensity of professional conferences, coupled with their fascinating locations, enrich one's professional and social networking experiences greatly.

At the Buenos Aires conference, one of my many highpoints was the international collaborations panel, sponsored by WORMS (Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences), and organized by Professor Sadan Kulturel of Penn State Berks.

In preparing my presentation, it became clear how important it has been to my career to not only take active part in international conferences, but to also live abroad. Sweden, in particular, is a very special country to me since while living there I wrote two books, Financial Networks: Statics and Dynamics with Stavros Siokos, and Supernetworks: Decision-Making for the Information Age with June Dong.

The former book I wrote while I held a Distinguished Chaired Professorship at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, Sweden and the latter while I was a Visiting Professor there several years after. During the writing of both of these books, my family and I lived at the Wenner Gren Center on Sveavagen in Stockholm.

The Wenner Gren Center is an apartment complex for a community of 150 families from around the globe, consisting of researchers, scholars, and medical professionals. It borders the gorgeous Haga Park. While I worked at KTH, my husband held an appointment at the Department of Electrical Systems Construction in Kista, which is also part of KTH.

Our daughter was only 2 years old the first time we lived in Stockholm and we enrolled her in the local daycare. In her daycare group there were children from her age until 7 and the care that she received there was outstanding. The children spend tons of time outside (remember that the Swedes have a saying that there is no bad weather, only bad dress for the weather). They climb rocks and trees in neighboring parks (believe me this raised my anxiety level a bit, but I guess these are useful life skills), go on excursions, including to musems, play, and just thrive. The daycare cooks prepared meals that included salmon, carrots, and dilled potatoes; Swedish meatballs, and delicious soups, and every child's birthday was celebrated in a lavish way with ice cream and lit candles. (Coming back to the US and the local preschool was a bit of a shock to my almost 3 year old at the time, when she had to brown bag her lunch).

Several of the daycare providers spoke English and there was one child from Japan who also was living at the Wenner Gren Center in my daughter's group. A boy of 7 named Sebastian, who originally was from Colombia, took special care of my daughter and also would often greet me at the door when I would come to pick her up and would motion to me as to her whereabouts. We would run into the parents and children in Stockholm outside of daycare hours and that helped us to feel part of a larger community. We were even invited to the homes of several of our daughter's fellow "classmates" years afterwards.

Above I have posted photos of the Wenner Gren Center, Stockholm, and my daughter's former daycare in Sweden.

The New York Times recently had coverage about the excellent parental leave policies in Sweden (which we observed while living there) and fathers taking advantage of them in an article entitled, "In Sweden, Men Can Have it All." This blogpost was partially inspired by that terrific article (plus who could have missed the publicity surrounding Princess Victoria's wedding that took place in Stockholm yesterday).

Sweden, I thank you for creating a society and system in which those who live there (even if only for a few months) can better balance work and family!