Sunday, February 17, 2013

Turkey Day in Sverige

Candied Sweet Potatoes
In the United States, Thanksgiving is a time for family members to fellowship together, eat lots of yummy food, maybe watch some football, and definitely have lots and lots of fun.  Until this year, I had never missed a Thanksgiving with my family, so it was a little difficult for me this past week, thinking of all of the candied sweet potatoes, greens, green beans, mashed potatoes, stuffing, etc. that I was missing, but the people I work with really helped to make the day special just the same.

As untraditional, and against my apparently very strict ideas of what Thanksgiving should be, some of the members of my lab and I went out to eat.  But we didn't just go out for some turkey and cranberry sauce.  We went out for Indian food.  It was a riot.  It was so much fun to be with my lab mates that the fact that I was eating palak paneer instead of macaroni and cheese didn't really matter.  I had a lot of fun with all of them and I am really thankful and grateful to have them as a support network over here.  It can be hard sometimes to adjust to all of these cultural (and climatic) differences, but it is nice to have some people to talk to.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Dark, Dark, Dark

This time of year is always a little depressing in Sweden.  As the winter arrives and the days get colder, the night starts to creep ever so slowly into the day.  Not enough to be oppressive, just enough to say, "I'm here."  At around 2:30 PM you can start to see the horizon become that sweet shade of orange that lets you know that it is almost time to go home.  Only here, it's not.  There are still four more hours left in the workday; unless you are a scientist, and then there are six more hours.  By 5:00 PM it is as dark as if it were 10:00, so my perspective of time is completely skewed.  Luckily, I so rarely leave the lab before nightfall, that this phenomenon has little effect on me.  It is sometimes hard to function in the afternoon however, when I feel as though I should really be winding down.

It will get better as the Christmas season catches up with the winter darkness, because Christmas in Sweden is FULL of light.  Here, the darkness serves as a negative canvas for the beautiful tapestries of light that adorn the buildings of Gamla Stan (the Old Town), the brilliantly lit shop windows of Hötorget (Haymarket), and the tall clocks that can be seen from miles in Stockholm Centralen (Stockholm Center) and Medbogarplatsen (Citizen Square).  It will be beautiful, but it can't come soon enough. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

A few weeks ago the Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology was awarded to Sir John B. Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka.  It was announced to the world in five languages right here at the Karolinska Institute in the Nobel Forum (pronounced Faw-room) and it was quite a sight to behold.  People from the KI were queuing all the way around the side of the building to get a chance to see the announcement in person.  There were cameras and reporters, famous researchers, not-so-famous researchers, and me right in the thick of it!  For me, it was like waiting for a roller coaster.  I felt so excited to be able to watch history being made.  Once we started going in, a rush of excitement went through me.  I guess it's not really that big a deal to see the announcement; I suppose I could have just watched it on the internet, but there was something about being in the same room where it was actually announced that filled me with a sort of energy that I can only call excitement.
The people who won were groundbreaking researchers studying the potency of dedifferentiated adult mammalian cells. So basically, they were able to prove that some adult cells could be reprogrammed to turn into different cell types by this process called ''dedifferentiation''.  With this technique, the hope is that, sometime in the near future, physicians would be able to use a patient's own cells to be able to regrow damaged tissue.  This sort of tissue engineering is still in its nascent stages, but for instance, when people have
heart attacks, the number of functional heart cells drops significantly and there is a lot of scarring.  This scar is made up mostly of cells called fibroblasts.  Imagine, if doctors could dedifferentiate those ''scar cells'' and tell them to be heart cells instead!  Maybe they could save that person's life!  There are obviously a lot of technical and potentially moral and ethical hurdles to this type of cellular engineering, but it could be really beneficial in the long run.

Anyway, as I was standing there in line waiting to hear the decision, I began to get really excited about my own research.  I mean, I probably won't make any discoveries as groundbreaking as these, but I could potentially use my research to help a lot of people.  I guess that's why I'm doing this...maybe one day I'll really be able to make a difference.  

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Kanelbullens Dag

On the way to work this week it smelled so good!  As I was walking down the street a sweet,  tangy, somewhat familiar scent was wafting towards me.  With the opening song of Beauty and the Beast playing in my head, I continued to walk down the street, guided and motivated by this wonderful smell.   The scent intensified as I passed the numerous bakeries along the way, and I realized that this sweet scent was cinnamon.  It smelled so good that I didn't really stop to think why ALL of the bakeries smelled so strongly of cinnamon until I came across a hand-written sign in Swedish that read, "Kanelbulle 3 för 20:-", and underneath was a picture of a beautifully glazed cinnamon bun sprinkled with rock sugar.  Ok, so now it was clear that these bakeries are making heaps and heaps of these delectable buns, but why?!  It was not until I got to work and checked my email that I realized that it was National Cinnamon Bun Day in Sweden.  Yeah, they have a day completely dedicated to cinnamon buns!!! Is this country amazing or WHAT!?! 
Apparently, October 4th is Kanelbullens Dag (literally Cinnamon Buns Day) in Sweden.  It is a recent holiday that was instituted in 1999 by Kaeth Gardestedt, the project manager of an association of yeast, flour, sugar, and margarine manufacturing companies.  It was initially an attempt to stimulate the yeast, flour, sugar and margarine consumption in Sweden and now it has become a bona fide cultural phenomenon.  It is also celebrated among expatriated Swedes in New Zealand. 

For me this was really cool, and also really dangerous!  I have already fallen in love with the bread and pastries in this country.  And now you tell me that there is an entire DAY dedicated to eating these carbs!?  What are you trying to do to me Sweden?  I am supposed to be studying the beneficial effects of exercise on the body.  I don't want to end up becoming a high-fat, high-sugar diet control experiment myself!! 

Friday, September 28, 2012

You'll never believe this.

Ok, so I HAVE to tell you about the crazy experience that I had this past weekend...

So, I had heard about Zipper Nightclub from a friend of a friend, but what with unpacking, trying to understand the t-bana, getting a PhD, and realizing that I live WAY too far away from civilization, I didn't really have a chance to check it out.  But, this past weekend, I decided that it was time to start exploring.  So, I put on my best dancing shoes (which are apparently converse all-stars) and set out.

The club is a really nice 18+ spot situated at the corner of Sankt Eriksgatan and Alstromergatan.  It's easy to miss, but if you see spikily cropped hair and skinny jeans...wait, you might just be anywhere in Sweden...nevermind.  It's easy to miss if you don't know what you're looking for.  It is a little pricey to get in, and drinks are expensive, but the bartenders are nice and the music is good.  There is a pretty wide age range there, but, while it's not what I'm used to coming from the extremely age-segregated Boston theater district, it had a really nice vibe.  The dancing really started to pick up around midnight/one o'clock and it was FUN, just what I needed to start feeling a little bit more connected to this big, foreign city.  But, in the midst of all this sweat, adrenaline, and fist-pumping realness, I lost track of time...

I completely missed the last commuter train back to the 'burbs I (not so fondly) call home.  Luckily, the train station where I was stranded is close to my lab so my plan was to go to the lab for a few hours to nap and then catch the first train home in the morning.  I suppose I could have taken a cab, but cabs in this city are DUMB expensive, and honestly, where's the fun in that.

So I was walking to the lab, when out of nowhere I hear this beautiful voice coming from an apartment window about two stories above me.  Maybe it was the night air, or maybe it was just that moment, or maybe it was that cathartic feeling you get when you finally feel accepted by a new city, or maybe I'm just actually going crazy, but I stopped to listen.  

She really was amazing.  It was like she was just up late talking to the night through song.  I felt like this was one of those poignant moments people tell about when they are regaling loved ones with tales of their travels in Europe.  Like in the movies, when the main character is contemplatively strolling along, having just had some sort of life-changing experience and then comes across a stranger who puts everything into perspective.  It was like that. 

Then she stopped singing...

Maybe it was the night air, or maybe it was just that moment, or maybe it was that stupid catharsis, but I called up to her, "Don't stop!", at which she looked out her window and started to laugh. 

"What are you doing out here?"
"Well, I missed the last train home..."
"Where are you from?"
"The US."
"Oh yeah?  I lived in New York."
"Oh cool, where are you from"
"I'm from here, but my Mom's from New York and my Dad's British."
"Oh, yeah, you don't really have a Swedish accent."
"Yeah, I really don't...haha.  Well, what are you doing in Sweden?"
"I'm here getting my PhD."
"Oh yeah? In what?"
"Biomedical science."

(uncomfortable silence due to the fact that I'm creepily standing outside her window like a creeper)

"This is seriously the most surreal thing that's ever happened to me."
"Yeah, me too!  I'm like, just walking home from a club and hear this AMAZING voice and next thing you know I'm talking to a stranger in her window!"
"I know!  This is seriously crazy!  But...where are you going?"
"Well, my lab is pretty close so I was just gonna go there for a few hours until I can catch the first train home."
"This is really weird to say you want me to drive you home?"
"What?!  Would you really do that?"
"Well, I'm awake, and I have a car right around the corner..."
" know what? Yes.  Yeah, that would be really great."

So it turns out that it wasn't the night air or the catharsis.  I'm just crazy, but that is how I met Sarah Dawn Finer.  She came downstairs and we got into her car and she drove me all the way out to the middle of nowhere Sweden.  We chatted all the way and decided that we had to be friends.  I actually didn't find out who she was until I got home and looked her up.  As I was asking her stupid questions like "What do you do?" and "Oh, what kind of music do you sing?" she was trying to politely tell me that she's a famous singer/songwriter/actress, but I guess my feeble mind just couldn't grasp the concept... But, I guess, on the bright side, I wasn't starstruck until I got home. We had a few great laughs on the way, and she helped me find a good place to get my hair cut, and she was just a generally nice and positive person to have met.  It was a great end to an already great night.  It would be great if we could remain in contact, but...I don't know, she's famous and I'm...well...not, so you know how that goes.  I guess we'll see.  

In any case, thanks Stockholm, I owe you one.

I'm here!

Well, I'm here.  I said I was going to do it, and I did it!  I'm living in Sweden.  I've come here to do a PhD in biomedical science at the Karolinska Institute and, so far, it has been quite a ride.  I came at the beginning of September so I've been here for about a month, and in that time I have already seen a lot of cool things: things that have made me appreciate the US, and things that have reenforced my belief that Americans as a people have a lot to learn.

The idea behind this blog is to chronicle my experience in Sweden during my PhD.  Though, I'd like it also to be a sort of resource for any Americans who are interested in moving to Sweden.  Periodically, I'll probably just write some informative posts regarding visa applications, good sites to go to for help finding housing, information on good Swedish courses, and the like.  I will say this though: the translate function of google chrome is VERY helpful.  But leave comments with questions, and I'll try to answer them as best I can.