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Making the Rounds with Founding Dean Dr. Barbara Atkinson
 Issue 196 - May 28, 2019
Friends & Colleagues,

It seems like only yesterday when we learned that Dr. Katherine Hertlein, our Couple and Family Therapy Program Director, had won a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship. But it’s actually been more than a year since she learned that she would be able to study the role of cellphones and technology in couple and family relationships outside the United States. Now in Austria, where she’s also teaching two courses, Dr. Hertlein has been kind enough to stay in touch and let us know what some of the challenges are in doing research miles from home. Today, I trust you’ll enjoy getting a sense of what the life of this visionary thinker is now like.
Barbara signature, first name only
School of Medicine Fulbright Scholar Teaching, Conducting Research in Austria
Dr. Katherine Hertlein, seen here in her office at UNLV, has spent the past four months teaching and conducting research at the University of Salzburg in Austria.
Dr. Katherine Hertlein, the first member of the UNLV School of Medicine to win the prized academic distinction of Fulbright Scholar, had a well-established research career prior to being awarded in 2018 the Fulbright Scholarship that has taken her to Austria and the University of Salzburg.

Two years ago her book, “A Clinician’s Guide to Systemic Sex Therapy,” was honored with the 2017 Book Award from the American Association for Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists. That volume and another of her works, “Systemic Sex Therapy,” are used in over 20 couple and family therapy training programs in the U.S.

In Austria now for more than four months with her husband, Scott, a software engineer, and 11-year-old son, Adam -- they walk or use mass transit to get around -- Dr. Hertlein quickly found some very real differences between life in Austria and the U.S. without formally collecting data in either a quantitative or qualitative fashion.

“People bring dogs into malls without thinking about it or worrying about allergies or getting sued,” she said in one of several emails. “The school takes my son on trips on buses through the city and I don’t even know about it. I was surprised that such activity didn’t come with a flurry of permission slips and waivers, but everyone trusts that the kids are safe...They trust each other here and you trust them back. In many ways, it is more efficient.”

Another profound difference, she says, is the reliance on oneself.

“There are not things in the way of disposable bags. You are expected, when you go shopping, to bring your own bag to haul stuff out. There are few things in stores that are designed for one use only. They do a pretty good job of wanting to protect the environment.”

Though the language spoken by Austrians to each other is largely German, Dr. Hertlein, who is highly critical of her own German, hasn’t found language to be a barrier to her work: “Everyone here speaks English.” 

Still, work is different.

Teaching an undergraduate course on technology and relationships with 111 students and a graduate level modern sexology course with 22 students, she is supposed to offer three opportunities to students to pass an exam. “Grades in a class don’t really mean anything here -- all an employer cares about is where you got a degree.”

It didn’t take her long to appreciate her students -- “they ask wonderful questions…they are very interested in my tales of clinical cases…” She also enjoys a custom at the university: “After a lecture, students knock on the desk if they appreciate it.”
"We’ve had some hilarious scenarios where I have memorized lines in German, and then the moment arrives and I say them, and whoever I am talking to gives me the most horrified look."

Dr. Hertlein also found the work schedules of Austrian faculty -- she says they have full lives outside of work, including playing in bands -- much different.

“They come into work at 9 and leave at 5...I must admit I still have not been able to make this transition -- I still show up to the university at 6:30 in the morning...They have asked me if people in the U.S. really work 50-70 hours a week. I say absolutely...They also take breaks together once a week in the afternoon, just to get together for coffee or a cigarette...the university cafe in my building has beer and wine…” 

The research Dr. Hertlein’s undertaking is focused on testing her model of how people use cell phones in their couple and family relationships.

“Part of what I’m exploring is what are the roles, rules and boundaries around technology usage. That may be the same or different from those in the United States...So far I have already conducted 20 interviews and they have been so helpful in refining my ideas about the role of emotion and anxiety management... I learned there are areas of my model which do apply cross-culturally, but other areas which need to be refined for different audiences.”

Outside the University of Salzburg, Dr. Hertlein has found her lack of German language skills occasionally challenging.

“I would spend up to 1-2 hours in the grocery store just trying to Google Translate to read everything, and once I would get home, I would have to take a long time to read directions on a package...It took me two months to figure out I was using the stove wrong because I could not read husband noticed I wasn’t reading it right -- I would still be broiling everything to this day if it weren’t for him calling it to my attention.”

She says she learned the word, “ Entschuldigung ,” which means “I’m sorry” or “Excuse me” on the way to Austria. “l learned it in the German airport on the way here when I accidentally hit their version of the TSA agent in the face...We are lucky we got here at all after that.”

Dr. Hertlein says people often tend to approach her in Salzburg in German. 

“When I say I don’t speak German, they say their English is not very good or they only speak a little. And then they proceed to have a full out conversation with me in basically perfect English. I always tell them that as little English as they think they know, my German is even worse. We’ve had some hilarious scenarios where I have memorized lines in German, and then the moment arrives and I say them, and whoever I am talking to gives me the most horrified look and has no idea what I am saying. I have since learned to...just apologize profusely for my lack of language skills.”

Dr. Hertlein’s son, who attends a bilingual school, is learning the language. “Adam has picked up the language quite well and can converse, order in restaurants and ask for directions where I cannot do those things. I’m pretty sure he has said some unsavory things...and then snickers, but since I can’t understand them and I’m just happy he’s using the language, he doesn’t get in trouble.” 

Making the transition to life in Salzburg was easiest for Dr. Hertlein’s husband. “He was working from home in Las Vegas so he has continued to do the same work.” She says after an initial bout of homesickness, her son enjoys school more in Austria. “Rather than taking the same classes every day as in the States, he is taking many courses but they are offered at different times during the week. Sometimes he is out by 12:30; other days he is there until 4 p.m; some days he does not go in until 9:45; other days he is there at 7:40. It operates more like a college schedule, which I think is exciting and new to him and keeps his attention.”

The Austrian view of the world is more global than what Dr. Hertlein finds in the U.S.

“What I hear most about is the interconnectedness between issues affecting the European it pertains to politics and economics. There is little time spent on celebrities and more time on stories about climate issues, diversity, Brexit, etc. I also can now say I have watched enough ski jumping to have a couple favorite skiers.”

Scheduled to return to the U.S. in mid-summer, Dr. Hertlein has had time to travel with her family to Venice and Prague and was accepted to deliver a presentation at the Interpersonal Relationship and Technology Conference in Annecy, France.

She says there’s no doubt that her travel to Austria has helped her research -- in part because of all the walking she does.

“Since we don’t have a car, I have a lot more time to follow a thought through without being interrupted by an incoming email, knock at the door or a phone call.” And she says the cross section of people she’s met and interviewed from Croatia, Ukraine, Italy, Hungary, Germany, Ireland, Austria, Poland and Mexico has helped her learn “so much more about how people make decisions about phone usage in their relationships.”
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