Tag Archives: sabbatical

Planning a sabbatical from the beginning

Several professors asked me for sabbatical planning advice and how to get started. I’m not sure what the best way to plan for a sabbatical is, but I am more than happy to share my experience along with lessons learned from my sabbatical at RWTH Aachen in Germany. Your mileage may vary.

Two years ahead of time, I started thinking about where I wanted to go. In the back of my mind, I always wanted to have an extended stay in Germany. I speak German and even earned a minor in German in college, when I studied abroad in Darmstadt, Germany for a summer. Additionally, my children could take German as a foreign language in school before and after the trip, and that was the deciding factor. I also considered the Netherlands after giving a couple of talks there and meeting many excellent faculty members at Dutch universities. Germany borders the Netherlands, so collaborations across the border would be doable.

My colleague Jim Luedtke was the source of inspiration. He took an academic year sabbatical to Chile with his partner and three children, two of whom attended Chilean schools. He was positive and adventurous, and he gave me the confidence to take my family with me on a sabbatical. Others I talked to were overwhelmingly positive about their experiences overseas with a family.

I looked into applying for a Fulbright scholar award early on. The application requirements are country specific. I used that the Fulbright guidelines as a template for overall sabbatical planning. Jim Luedtke lent me his sabbatical application for Chile, which was helpful in understanding what to include and what level to write about my proposed Fulbright project. Fulbright scholar awards in general have a maximum length of four months, which could be wrapped into a longer stay overseas. This would allow me to do a semester long or academic year sabbatical.

Fulbright applications are due in August a year before the trip starts. The spring before the Fulbright was due, I contacted Marco Luebbecke at RWTH Aachen about the possibility of a sabbatical. He said yes and asked me if I would be willing to teach a course in the summer semester (April – July). At this point, it became clear that an academic year sabbatical would be too long, because I would stay for the academic year and summer. This helped me narrow my scope for the sabbatical timeline, and I committed to a Spring semester sabbatical.

The Fulbright application was due in August 2018, and my university sabbatical application for the 2019-20 academic year was due a month later in September 2018. I could work on both applications at once. I proposed a sabbatical to start in January 2020, almost a year and a half before leaving for Germany. A few months later after I submitted my Fulbright application, I was delighted to learn that I was selected for a Fulbright award and that my university sabbatical was approved.

Living in Germany for more than three months requires becoming a resident and embracing German bureaucracy. U.S. citizens who visit Germany can stay on a tourist visa for 90 days. A longer stay requires applying for a residence permit, registering with immigration, and other requirements. This meant that I had to have a lease (not have an extended stay with Air BnB), arrange for health insurance that is required by law, open a bank, and have all sorts of documents for my children.

The Department of State and the Fulbright Commission were fantastic. The Fulbright Commission helped me with health insurance and gave me checklists and verification letters for all the requirements. I cannot say enough about the support I was given. They helped me acquire necessary international health insurance (required for residence in Germany) and helped me understand the residency requirements in Germany. They also provided a letter that I needed to register as a resident, register with immigration, and open a bank account. And importantly, they were extremely helpful during my sudden return to the United States in March 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Read more blog posts about my 2020 sabbatical here and see my tweets using the “PunkRockORinGermany” hashtag on twitter. I have posts about my sabbatical plan and how I prepared for a semester overseas. I had to end my trip to Germany early due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Auf Wiedersehen Wisconsin, Hallo Deutschland!

This post is about my first month getting situated on my sabbatical in Germany. The second month was consumed by the spread of COVID-19, and I had to return to the U.S. in less than two months. This post should be entitled “Auf Wiedersehen Deutschland, Hallo Wisconsin!” but I will save the COVID-19 related experiences for another post.

My two few days was solely dedicated to moving into my apartment. In my last post, I wrote about how I preemptively placed an order for IKEA furniture a week before leaving the US so that the order would be delivered right after we arrived. This plan worked perfectly. Additionally, it felt satisfying to put together our furniture and get settled into our new home. We also made a couple of trips to grocery stores to stock up on necessary food and water. We brought a few tote bags to carry our groceries home. Luckily, we have two discount grocery stores within half a mile of our apartment. I highly recommend taking children to a grocery store and letting them pick out a bunch of new food to try, even familiar favorites like Oreos. We made an effort to try new things up front, and that helped us discover a few favorite new foods early on. Everything was new, and this was more difficult for the children than it was for me, but we enjoyed sampling the many types of pastries, cakes, and chocolates available in Germany.

Eventually we picked up a few things to make life in Germany easier: a water cooker for boiling water, tupperware, a hair dryer and curling iron, a big European drying rack, dishes and kitchenware, notebooks, and a mop.

Thanks to the documentation from the Department of State, who manages the Fulbright, and the RWTH Aachen Welcome Center, I printed out all the documents we needed. I had a huge binder full of documents. But the paperwork was overwhelming. The children were almost entirely shielded from the bureaucracy, and I was relieved that the stress of moving to Germany fell on my shoulders. Bureaucratic tasks for adjusting to German life included:

  • Resident registration and related tasks
  • Immigration
  • Cultural integration / education of the children and related accounts (all day care, bus tickets)
  • University registration as a visiting professor
  • Public transportation and train accounts
  • Bank account
  • Cell phone SIM card activation

Registering with the citizen’s office in Germany was a pain. This was something everyone must do within two weeks of when they move to a new apartment, not just newcomers to Germany. Appointments can be made but there is a one month wait, so the only way to register is to arrive at the office at 7:30am with the children, pull a ticket (like at the DMV in the US), and wait. On our first try, the central computer for our region of Germany used to register everyone in the region went down, and we had to come back the next day first thing in the morning.

After registering our address, we applied for a residence permit with the immigration office. Again, the children came with me. We could complete this step at the university, and it was very easy. We had all of our papers ready and brought passport photos that we printed out ahead of time at a drugstore in the US. The photos needed in Germany are basically the same but cut to a smaller size. The person working in the office cut our photos to a smaller size, so we did not have to come back with new photos.

I needed a bank account in Germany for my Fulbright. It was easy to set up an account with the N26 bank.

Once the children were in school, paperwork was never-ending. One week I hypothesized that German bureaucracy is like a marathon because I had hit the “wall” the previous week. Another time it felt like a series of nesting dolls, with each task leading to another smaller sub-task that I could not see earlier. I thought I had checked something off my list (registering the children for a bus pass), but then I had to take the form to a city office. That didn’t end the registration process. Instead, I was told to wait for something to arrive in the mail, fill it out, and return it. Finally, it seemed like an Escape Room. You keep think you’re getting close to figuring out how to complete the paperwork, but then there is another puzzle (or puzzling form) to figure out. I did better once I accepted that I needed to devote a few hours per week to paperwork. Sadly, we had to return to the US just after I figured everything out and was ready to settle into my research routine.

Getting used to public transportation was another step in the adjustment process. I find it easy to navigate with public transportation. I used two apps: google maps and the AVV app to find real-time bus route information in Aachen.

News media

I discovered some news sources. I subscribed to the Local (expat friendly German news in English) and Deutsche Welle. I listened to the weekly podcast/radio program “Inside Europe” from the Deutsche Welle. “Slow German” was great for practicing German. Paying for a subscription to the Local was well worth it, especially to keep on track of COVID-19 news.

I was glad I had these items with me

  • Buffs/multi-functional headwear The knock-off versions are about $1 apiece and have a lot of uses.
  • A deck of cards and/or Uno cards.
  • Travel yoga mat.
  • Smartphone apps: google maps with downloaded maps of places we visited, google translate, and public transportation apps
  • First aid kit: thermometer, band-aids, Tylenol, children’s Tylenol, children’s Advil, Neosporin, Aquaphor, and Hydrocortisone. I used all of these items, and each time I was relieved I didn’t have to make a special trip to the store. I’m proud to say I had no mishaps with the electric bread slicer in my apartment.

First days were fun too

The first few days were full of fun discoveries. We discovered the endless supply of chocolate at area stores. We also purchased an annual zoo pass for the zoo that was a quarter mile walk from our apartment. We visited 3-5 times per week, usually for a long stroll through the zoo by each of our favorite animals.

In my next sabbatical post, I will blog about how I got started with sabbatical planning.

Read more blog posts about my 2020 sabbatical here and see my tweets using the “PunkRockORinGermany” hashtag on twitter. I had to end my trip to Germany early due to the COVID-19 outbreak.


Angst: Preparing for an overseas sabbatical

Preparing for a six month sabbatical overseas was daunting. My sabbatical takes me to Aachen, Germany from January until July, a span of six months. In addition, I had to prepare for my daughters for this trip. This blog post is about how I moved with my family to a new country, focusing on month leading up to the sabbatical once I knew where and when I was going. A post about the longer-term planning will come arrive.


Thanks to Sara Zaske (author of Achtung Baby, which I highly recommend), I knew I should print out and prepare folders full of important copies of documents to navigate German bureaucracy. This was the smartest way I prepared. Some of the documents I packed include various forms and instructions from the Fulbright Commission.

  • Copies of Fulbright documents, including the letter indicating I could work in Germany for longer than 90 days
  • Copies of the invitation letter from RWTH Aachen
  • Copies of health insurance (required for living in Germany)
  • Birth certificates (with extra copies)
  • Copies of passports
  • Copies of report cards (for my daughters)
  • Copies of all travel documents

Deciding what to pack

It became clear that I would need a lot of outfits for work, conferences, relaxation, and running. I also needed shoes for all these activities. I used the Set Cover problem to decide what clothes and shoes pack that could “cover” most of my outfits across these activities I would take part in. It became immediately clear that my shoes and wardrobe would have to be compatible with the color black if I wanted to fit my clothing into one large suitcase. I had to pack shoes for many occasions, and I decided that my outfits should mostly go with a series black shoes (sandals, flats, pumps, booties, boots). Gray was a second choice for color compatibility. I left a pair of jeans at home because they did not go with enough outfits or shoe choices. My kids packed a few small games for us to play in Germany. It was nice to have some entertainment.

Preparing my devices (phone and iPad) for the sabbatical was one of the most important ways I prepared for the trip.

  • I downloaded a map of Aachen on google maps.
  • I downloaded the google translate app on all of my devices, and I downloaded German so I could translate when offline.
  • I downloaded the latest version of google voice on my phone so I would have access to a stable US phone number that could make phone calls and receive SMS texts.
  • I downloaded a few books on the Kindle for my children to read.
  • I created a WhatsApp account that I started using with folks in Germany.
  • Other apps included Deutsche Bahn, a conversion app (for distances, temperatures, etc.), and Aachen’s public transit app.
  • I forwarded all of my travel confirmations to Trip It.

I purchased and/or a few items that were extremely useful before my trip:

  • Outlet adapters with USB adapters (Six was about right for the four of us). We like the ones with USB ports.
  • I bought a discount Deutsche Bahn card (the Bahn 25) for discount rail tickets. I purchased a flexible, discount ticket for my trip from the Frankfurt airport to Aachen ahead of time.
  • I bought a new Amazon Kindle Fire for my kids to read books abroad, since English speaking books would be hard to find. We checked out copies of digital books from our library in Wisconsin, and we bought a few e-books as needed.
  • I bought a packable water-resistant, wind-proof Primaloft jacket from Lands End for a prior trip that was perfect for my sabbatical as an all-purpose coat in Aachen, where it has been cold, rainy, and windy.
  • A small wireless bluetooth speaker. It was nice to carry around a speaker and helped me stream podcasts and audiobooks while at home. But I could have lived without this.
  • A copy of Rick Steves Germany. I could not live without this.
  • Samsonite compression packing bags. I basically zip-locked my belongings in these large bags and squeezed the air out to pack more of my belongings into my suitcase more tightly. This was helpful for sweaters and other bulky items.

I packed a few extra tote bags and backpacks that could be laid flat in suitcases. These ended up being very useful, since we did not have a car and had to walk home while carrying our heavy grocery bags. I decided to purchase lotion, hair products, hand sanitizer, and other heavy toiletries in Germany to keep my bag lighter. This was a good decision, mostly because it was fun to shop for new items in Germany. I packed a few travel size shampoo and conditioner to tide me over. Toiletries and cleaning products are significantly cheaper in Germany. I also packed a few old towels, hot pads, sheets, fleece throws, and pillowcases to be able to use beds in the new apartment (and not make the return journey). In retrospect, I should have done some research on where to purchase thrifty towels and sheets near my flat. But it was nice having some immediate towels and hot pads to use. There are many discount stores in Germany, so it was extremely easy for us to buy what we needed in Aachen with very little effort. We bought all sorts of things at Aldi, including fleece sock liners, hoodies, sneakers (we quickly wore out the sneakers we brought due to so much walking), and even a coat when my daughter’s zipper broke. We are lucky that Germans like a bargain. There were several discount stores within half a mile of our flat.

COVID-19 broke out in Germany before I was able to stock up on disinfecting wipes and gel. That was unfortunate, but that was a fluke event that I could not anticipate. We are still able to wash our hands and use cleaning products. I will likely write a blog post just about COVID-19 at some point.

I decided to get a SIM card for my cell phone in Germany. My research indicated that Aldi Talk was the best plan in the country, but the registration process was difficult. I had to register for the SIM cards in Aldi with my passport, and the set up process took was confusing for me. It took me a few days to set up the SIM card, mostly because the PUK code did not work the first time I tried it, and I was confused on how to get my phone to recognize the new SIM card. It was a long time without a cell phone.

Preparing for life overseas.

I had to prepare to live overseas. I made a list and I started to think about changes months ahead of time. One of the challenges was to ensure that I could access all of my accounts that require two factor authentication (my university, google, dropbox, Paypal, Box, Amazon, others). I did not yet have a cell phone in Germany, so I changed the mobile phone number associated with my accounts to my google voice number. I signed up for as many email statements instead of mail statements for my bank, credit cards, insurance, and utilities. I unsubscribed from email lists for shopping in the US. I let my bank know I would be traveling. I made sure my credit cards and insurance accounts were set to auto-paid.

I suspended my car insurance for six months. I called to cancel various activities that my daughters were involved in (Irish dance, after school care, gymnastics).

Preparing my home for the move was easy, since my partner could not spend the entire sabbatical in Germany. He was able to look after the house and the cats aside from his planned trips to Germany to see us.

Preparing my children for overseas.

I had a plan for the children to take online classes while we were away. I was in contact with the children’s school teachers the year prior to moving. Fall parent teacher conferences in November was a good time to have a personal conversation with all teachers and sketch out a plan for the January transition. This made it easy to touch base to discuss follow up issues with teachers right before we left. I planned to fly to Germany the week after my oldest took her high school finals in January. This allowed the children to have a few days to transition to online courses before we moved. The children each brought a chromebook for school, headphones, mechanical pencils and pens to Germany.

I set up an appointment with folks in Germany (through the university and the cultural integration office) to find classes and extracurricular activities for the children. I found it helpful to be in touch with everyone involved and to be patient. Online school and life in Germany were different, and as a result, I was not always sure what questions I should ask. It took me awhile to wrap my head around what routines and schedules would look like.

Making the trip.

My children and I each packed one big suitcase and one big carry on.

They liked having a say in what they packed. A packing list helped, since that provided the guidelines for them. I packed a second carry on bag for extra items that was only half full. This way, we could manage our luggage from Madison to Aachen by plane and train. My daughters deviated from the packing list and added a few extra dense items (games, books, and lots of liquid toiletries). Two of our bags were overweight by a few pounds. My set cover approach was thwarted! But it worked out. I was able to tuck a few items into the half full carry on. When we picked up our luggage in Frankfurt, everyone was able to manage their own bags on the trains, and we made it to our new home in one piece.

Our new apartment was not fully furnished. I had to come up with a plan to furnish it ahead of time. I placed an order for IKEA furniture a week before I left and chose a delivery time for the day after I arrived. IKEA in Germany does not have next day delivery, and orders are delivered about a week after they are placed. I was incredibly nervous about my plan, but it worked perfectly. It was thrilling to get the delivery. We could get settled into our new home. The best part was that when my kids put together furniture and arranged their rooms, it helped them feel like it was their new home. I’ll write more about our first steps in Germany in another blog post.

In summary

The title of this post refers to Angst, because there was so much to worry about and so much in the air. This weight was most acute when it came to my concern for my three daughters. I felt the weight of this uncertainty and angst the most the month before leaving for Germany. I knew I would be find and could roll with the punches, but this trip was entirely new to them and was a stressful new experience. I was relieved when pieces of the planning fell into place.

In my next sabbatical post, I will blog about first steps in Germany. Read more blog posts about my 2020 sabbatical here.


STOR-I Masterclass at Lancaster University

Last week I traveled to Lancaster, England to teach a research masterclass at the Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) in Statistics and Operational Research (OR) in partnership with Industry (STOR‐I) at Lancaster University. STOR‐i was established in 2010. It is funded by EPSRC, Lancaster University and a wide range of industrial partners. It’s goal is to use industrial challenges as catalysts for innovation, and the Centre’s primary aim is to develop future international research leaders in statistics and OR. A masterclass is a series of introductory talks on an area of contemporary research given to the PhD and Masters students enrolled in the program.

My masterclass was entitled “Public sector operational research.”

A brief description:

Public sector applications, such as those in fire and emergency medical services, are complex systems that span people, processes, vehicles, and critical infrastructure. Researchers have been developing optimization models to locate vehicles such as fire engines and ambulances and spatial queueing models for analyzing public safety vehicle deployment decisions for nearly 50 years. A body of literature for locating and dispatching vehicles has grown to lift simplifying assumptions and address important issues overlooked in the early research models in this area. Public sector applications such as homeland security, disaster preparedness and response, and critical infrastructure protection have received a growing amount of attention from operational researchers in recent years. However, many research challenges remain.

In this STOR-I masterclass, we will study the evolution of operational research in the public sector with application to public safety, homeland security, and disasters. Technical topics include network optimization problems, facility location and covering models; network design, restoration, and interdiction models; spatial queueing models; and discrete event simulation. Policy insights as well as issues relating to putting the results into practice in real-world settings in the United States and abroad will be discussed.

Readings I used in my lectures:

  1. Larson, R.C., 2002. Public sector operations research: A personal journey. Operations Research, 50(1), pp.135-145.
  2. Green, L.V. and Kolesar, P.J., 2004. Anniversary article: Improving emergency responsiveness with management science. Management Science, 50(8), pp.1001-1014.
  3. Reuter-Oppermann, M., van den Berg, P.L. and Vile, J.L., 2017. Logistics for emergency medical service systems. Health Systems, 6(3), pp.187-208.
  4. Albert McLay, L., 2015. Discrete optimization models for homeland security and disaster management. TutORials in Operations Research (pp. 111-132). INFORMS.
  5. Simpson, N.C. and Hancock, P.G., 2009. Fifty years of operational research and emergency response. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 60(sup1), pp.S126-S139.
  6. Ansari, S., McLay, L.A. and Mayorga, M.E., 2017. A maximum expected covering problem for district design. Transportation Science, 51(1), pp.376-390.

The masterclass was given in three two hour classes. While I was able to cover a lot of ground over six hours, I had to keep the scope relatively narrow so that we could discuss in depth. I decided to mainly focus on facility location models for siting resources for responding to routine and large-scale disasters.

Goals for the masterclass

Class 1: Public sector OR overview

Understand the history of public sector OR (in the US)
Evaluate when and how to apply public sector OR models
Understand features of emergency medical service systems and identify how these features can be represented in OR models

Class 2: facility location for emergency medical services

Understand and interpret facility location problem features
Apply facility location models to locating ambulances
Model how to locate ambulances by including increasing levels of model realism

Class 3: large-scale emergencies and disasters

Understand disasters concepts
Understand and interpret emergency management concepts for OR modeling
Apply OR models to disasters situations

I enjoyed getting to know faculty, lecturers and students. For example, I found out that there were three Slytherin in the class of about 40.

Six hours of teaching is a lot of teaching, and I’m grateful for the students who gave me their undivided attention for so long. One student had studied at RWTH Aachen (my host institution in Germany) and gave me a list of recommended things to do.

Read more blog posts about my 2020 sabbatical here.

Achtung baby, my sabbatical is finally here!

This is my first sabbatical. I moved to UW-Madison when I was due for my first sabbatical, so my sabbatical clock started over again in 2013. Having a first sabbatical as a full professor is not the norm, but I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a few months in Germany. I was delighted to be invited to visit RWTH Aachen’s fabulous OR Institute by Prof. Dr. Marco Lübbecke. I had the pleasure of visiting Aachen in 2014 when I gave a talk at the German OR Society Conference, and it is nice to return for a longer visit. My sabbatical is supported by a Fulbright Award.

I have some connections to Germany. I am of the granddaughter of German and Scottish immigrants. I also have some German heritage on the other side of the family. I took German in high school growing up, and I completed a minor in German in college. I studied at the Technical University of Darmstadt as an undergraduate student in pursuit of the minor. A picture of me at my college graduation 20 years ago at the University of Illinois is below. The university provided me with a stole with the colors of the German flag to wear at the graduation ceremony, which would be strange for Germans to do due to their uneasy relationship with patriotism and their flag.

My three children are with me on my sabbatical (ages 8, 12, and 15). They will take part in the German experience and (hopefully) learn German. So far, they like the many opportunities for discount shopping in Germany, recycling our water bottles in the machine at Aldi, public transportation, the many nearby playgrounds, and the thermal baths in Aachen. In the next few months, we will discover much more to like.

I will be blogging during my sabbatical. I will tag all sabbatical related posts to make the series of blog posts easy to find, and I’ll use the “PunkRockORinGermany” hashtag on twitter. Stay tuned for more information about my sabbatical and about sabbatical planning/logistics.