Month: March 2018

Unexpected “treats” from the supermarket – By Pau

I’ve been in Sweden for almost three months now. I consider myself pretty familiarized with how daily life in Sweden works: I’ve got a routine, I know what and where to buy the things I need, I know how to dress according to the weather… But it is in the most unexpected moment when you can still get surprised or even go through a funny incident. This happened to me last weekend.

It was Sunday evening, and my friend and I were very tired of a long day of studying, so we decided to bake a pizza for dinner. We went to ICA, and while we were buying all the ingredients, I got the crazy idea of telling her about this dessert they started to sell quite recently, and that I really wanted to taste it since it looked yummy. Here is a picture:

Cool, right? A muddy chocolate cake! With such a cute yellow box decorated with a bird. We bought one and headed to prepare dinner. When it was time for dessert, we opened the box and we were quite confused: It looked terrible (like poop, to be honest), and didn’t smell like chocolate AT ALL. Only until that point we thought of googling what was this “Memma”. Turns out it was a traditional Finnish dessert consumed during Easter period, and its main ingredient was rye! It just didn’t sound logical for neither of us. We also learned that Memma is eaten with milk, cream or ice cream and sugar, but first I tasted it by itself.

The reaction? Let’s put it like this, now I have a box of Memma in the fridge, which I do not look forward to eat, but luckily, I have a Finn roommate who can eat the rest. We learned our lesson: Never buy this ever again! This was such an unexpected cultural shock for both of us, but also a funny story, and an advice for all of you who are (just like me) not familiarized with Finnish customs!

I should also warn you about Swedish candies, especially Djungelvrål. I don’t even understand how they can be considered as candy when they are so salty! You may start suspecting something weird by its appearance: They are small black gummies covered in salt. The first time I tasted one, I was not even able to finish it, and I had to spit it out in the garbage bin. I consider them disgusting and I do not like them at all, but I guess it is just a matter of getting used to the flavor.

So next time you are at the supermarket and you think of buying something new for you, remember that nothing is what it seems! Life is full of surprises, and these incidents are the ones that make your exchange much funnier, and by which you learn the most.


Class trip to Dorset – By Halie

“What are you doing in the UK?” the border patrol officer asked me as I handed him my passport. “I’m on a fieldtrip with my Paleobiology class from Uppsala University,” I replied. The officer dully and sarcastically chuckled “thrilling” in response before stamping my passport, handing it back, and yelling “next!” to the long line of people behind me. I quickly grabbed my passport and shuffled on my way. I couldn’t help but ponder the officer’s less-than-enthusiastic response. Before coming to Uppsala, I signed up for the “Principles of Palaeobiology” course solely because of the fieldtrip to Dorset, UK. Being a neurobiology and pre-medical student from the United States, fossils and rocks were an entirely new territory for me, and as the fieldtrip quickly approached, I became skeptical as to how thrilling a weeklong trip focused on fossils could really be. As I continued through the airport, I apprehensively hoped that the trip would be more exciting than the tone of the border patrol officer.

There were 13 people total on the trip: 8 Uppsala students (3 Swedes, 3 Brits, and 2 exchange students), 1 professor (Graham Budd), 2 postdocs (one at Uppsala, the other at Cambridge) and 2 Uppsala Ph.D. students (both from Greece). Once we retrieved our luggage, we split up into two rental vans, with both of the Ph.D. students driving. On the day we arrived, we drove from the Gatwick airport to our accommodation at Whitechurch Farm in Dorset, stopping at an English pub and to see Stonehenge and Jane Austen’s house along the way. From the enthusiasm of Graham as he explained the history behind each stop, to the quaint and cozy feel of the pub and the amusing mix of classic rock and Greek rap music in the car, I already knew that the patrol officer could not have been more wrong.

Jane Austen’s House

Each day started with a group debriefing of what to expect that day at 9:00 am, after which we all piled into the vans with our backpacks full of hammers, hardhats, notebooks, pencils, and plastic bags for collecting fossils. In one day, we would visit 2-3 outcrops, or areas of beach with rocky cliffs. Here, we would draw the rocks, identify their characteristics, look for fossils, and try to recreate the prehistoric environment. We often ate a packed lunch on the beach, with the occasional pub lunch where you had the opportunity try the infamous British fish and chips. After lunch we visited more outcrops and then headed home around 6 pm to cook dinner and end the day.

Left: Example of an ammonite fossil
Right: Example of an outcrop

My favorite outcrop of the trip was one known as Durdle Door. In addition to its fun name, we got lucky with the weather at this outcrop, as the sun was shining, and it was a comfortable 15 degrees Celsius, making the beach and landscape quite lovely. Here, we did mapping, which entailed drawing a detailed map of the rocks that depicted their characteristics and their transition between time periods. Often the beaches we visited entailed more than a casual stroll down a boardwalk. They required climbing down steep slopes, maneuvering along rocky edges to avoid wet boots, and tiptoeing through mud. Yet, these adventures were rewarding because it meant that we were visiting non-touristy beaches whose natural beauty was still untouched by man. At Durdle Door, we ate lunch on the shore of a small coastal inlet with still blue water and flat stones, the perfect combination for skipping rocks. Since the sun was out this day, we all tried to make up for our vitamin D deficiency that developed in the Swedish winter months. At the end of this outcrop, we hiked up a large hill where we experienced breathtaking views of the coast – the kind of views that make you realize how incredible it is to be alive.

Panorama of Durdle Door arch and the beach

Left: Coastal inlet where we ate lunch
Middle: Rock bedding at Durdle Door
Right: View for the top of the hill

It is impossible to capture the essence of the entire trip in just one blog post. The endless laughs in the car, the shared experiences at dinner, the cozy dinners in the pub are all memories that will last a life time. While I may not be pursuing a career in paleobiology, I have a new appreciation of rock formations, authentic British lingo in my vocabulary, and, most importantly, twelve new friends who shared the same Dorset adventure!


Women in Tech – By Audra

March 8, 2018. International Women’s Day. A day dedicated to celebrating the achievements of women of the past, present, and future.

How did I spend the day?

Well, it all began back in January. I saw a Facebook event for something I never heard of before – WIT Stockholm. Women in Tech Stockholm, #WITsthlm2018, was a conference to be held in Stockholm on International Women’s Day. There were to be panel discussions, speakers, and breakout sessions – all led by women in technology.

Over 4,000 people said they were interested in attending the free event, but there were only 1,500 available tickets. Yikes. Tickets were to be released on a first-come-first-served basis on February 1 at 12.00. I was one of the lucky ones. Within 120 seconds, the tickets were all claimed. I got one!

The Day of the Conference
It was about 09.30 when I arrived to the conference hall in Stockholm (had to take the SJ train, y’know?). The conference was set to begin at 10.00. Upon arrival, I received a nametag and program. I had the opportunity to grab coffee and breakfast snacks, and wander around to mingle with different companies (Google, SEB, EY, and more). How cool!!

There were speakers from all different areas of tech. Topics covered robotics, virtual reality, sustainability, augmented reality, and more. Joy Buolamwini, the first speaker of the event, spoke about her work studying the dangers of supremely white data and dominantly male analysis in face recognition algorithms. Helena Samsioe, one of the last speakers, spoke about her work in using drones and AI to transport medical supplies in third world countries. You can read more about the speakers here.

There were nine breakout tracks that the audience could choose from – a difficult decision. I ended up going to the one titled, “Using Frontier Technology as a Catalyst for Ideas and Innovation,” led by employees of Doberman.

In this breakout track, we explored the idea of considering technology first in the design process. We explored different types of technologies, like machine learning, virtual reality, and wearables. Then, we were tasked at designing a better public transport system in Stockholm with this in mind. We were given a technology to base the design off of, and a few minutes to create a design. Below you can see me preparing to tackle this challenge with the help of my little Android stress ball.

I left the conference inspired and empowered. I heard from over 43 women, from professors to refugees to PhD candidates to CEOs, about their work and experiences in the technology sector. I can’t think of a better way I could have spent International Women’s Day 2018.


What to do in Fjällnora? – By Paulina

I have never been a fan of going outdoors and doing activities like hiking and camping. Nevertheless, it seemed ridiculous for me to keep this mentality when I arrived to Uppsala (it has been almost two months now!) and discovered that it is surrounded by beautiful forests. I decided that I should step out of my comfort zone and start exploring and doing things I have never done before, or never thought I would do. And there is no better place to do that than Fjällnora! In this recreational park, located approximately half an hour away from the city, you can do plenty of activities such as ice-skating in a frozen lake, skiing, grilling and just enjoying nature.

The first time I went there, I tried sauna for the first time in my life, only because my friend from France convinced me. A Swedish guy (her roomie) also joined us. I don’t know if it was just me, but the idea of spending time just sweating in a small room with people seemed awkward. At least it was not a naked sauna! (hehe) I tried not to think too much, bought a swimming suit in a hurry (that is exactly the last thing I thought I would need in Sweden, especially during winter) and hoped for the best.

Our adventure started early on a Saturday morning, involving taking the bus 809 in the Central Station and then walking through the forest for about 20 minutes before reaching the cabin with the sauna. The price was very reasonable! 90 Swedish crowns between three people, and we could stay for quite a long time. The process is simple: You start with a freezing cold shower, then enter the hot sauna, stay there for some minutes until you sweat the get out again to the cold shower, and repeat!

I was surprised about how hot the room can get! According to my friend, a proper sauna must reach 90 degrees (Celsius), but only with half of that temperature I already felt like burning. During the time I spent inside the sauna, I got to know these friends better, and I also got a grasp of the Swedish culture. Apparently, going to the sauna is a common activity in this country, but not as popular as in Finland.

The second time I went there, I tried ice-skating in the frozen lake. It costed 60 Swedish crowns for one hour. Many aspects shocked me, starting with the ice skates: They were not the regular ones (or at least not like the ones you might use in an artificial ice-skating rink, for example for figure skating or hockey), but they consisted on some boots in which you had to tie a very long skating blade. I thought this would made skating extremely difficult, but in the end, it was not. It is just a matter of getting used to the size of the blades, but I also believe that my previous experience in skating helped me a lot.

If this is your first time skating and you feel that you are just looking ridiculous while even kids as young as 3 years old can at least keep the balance, my advice is just have fun! Laugh a lot, even about yourself, and enjoy the nature surrounding you! Also think about the delicious fika you can get after all your effort, since the park has a canteen in which you can purchase snacks, coffee and sweets. I recommend the waffles with jam and whipped cream, yum! If you prefer to stick to the typical Swedish pastries, you can also find kanellbullar and chockladbollar.

The greatest lesson I learned after these two amazing trips is: Don’t be afraid to try new things! Especially when you are an exchange student here in Uppsala, because you know you won’t stay there forever. I can guarantee you will have lots of fun 😀 What are you waiting for booking yourself a day off to this magical place?


The Lapland Trip – By Audra

From 17 February – 22 February, I traveled with Scanbalt Experience on their Lapland Express trip. With about 70 other people (mostly students from Uppsala and Stockholm), we ventured north via a coach bus.

Bright and early on 18 February, we arrived in Kiruna, Sweden. The day was dedicated to exploring the city and participating in optional activities. After enjoying a big breakfast, I went onward to go dog sledding and snowmobile riding! We had a chance to meet the dogs and puppies before and after the excursion.

There were 12 dogs pulling the sled I was on. It was particularly fun when we would go downhill! After a short coffee and tea break around a fire, I switched over to the snowmobiles. Never having rode one before, I was quite nervous and scared. I didn’t crash though! I made it through in one piece – woo!

On 19 February, the team departed for the Ice Hotel and a Sami village. It was very cold out, maybe -21°C. Even with my many layers and snowpants I was freezing. I ended up putting on sunglasses because it was so sunny – it still blows my mind how cold it can be while the sun is shining! It was surprising much warmer inside the Ice Hotel (but still very cold)! We saw Ice Hotel #28 (because they melt and are rebuilt each year).

After the Ice Hotel, we went onward to Rensjön to visit Sami people and reindeer! The reindeer were quite smaller than I imagined. It was fun to feed them though! As the sun was setting, we gathered around a fire in a Sami tent and learned more about the Sami ways.

Later that evening, we arrived at our hostel in Abisko National Park. We gathered around a fire in a huge tent to roast marshmallows and enjoy mulled wine. Some of us went out searching for the Northern Lights, but had no luck.

Bright and early on 20 February, we departed for the fjords and Narvik, Norway. The fjords are beautiful! The town on Narvik is unique in that it is built around and within the mountains.

Later that evening, we did as the Swedish do and enjoyed some time in a sauna. It was a bit of a trek away from where we were staying, but it was worth it! We saw the Northern Lights on our way over!

On 21 February, we prepared to head back to Uppsala. Most people spent the morning exploring the national park and snowshoeing. I, however, decided to spend the morning indoors. Naturally, I developed a cold during the trip, despite my efforts to stay warm and wear a ton of layers.

Around 08.00 on 22 February, we arrived back in Uppsala! I made a quick trip home to drop off my luggage and grab breakfast before heading back to campus for a full day of classes.

In conclusion, if you have the opportunity to travel to Lapland, DO IT!! Bring layers and dress warm!