What is your educational and professional background? At the University of Maryland I studied psychology and neuroscience. I volunteered for two years in the University of Maryland Crustacean Neurobiology Laboratory. Most Swedish people eat crayfish; however, I worked with the team to study their escape circuitry in response to evoked threat. I constructed microdialysis probes for taking out crayfish inner fluid. I also volunteered on a yearlong organizational psychology project at the University of Maryland investigating trust. I am most interested in the biological basis of behavior and while studying in Umeå I hope to use FMRI during my thesis project.
Why did you choose to enrol in your degree programme at Umeå University? I came to study in Umeå because they have had quite a lot of experience researching the brain and brain function. I also thought that it would be an adventure to be studying so far north in Sweden. I have visited Sweden many times and have fallen in love with the culture and the way Swedish people act with one another and incorporate their lives with visitors. I cannot ski or ice skate; however, I competitively raced road bikes and now in Umeå I have gotten into ice biking!
What do you like most about your programme? The part I like most about my program is the fact that I am with the same students throughout my whole program. At my last school, I did not know anyone in any of my classes. I simply knew students for a short amount of time and when the class was over I did not see them again. There is a lot of support in a Masters program here because it is a small family. It is very easy to make friends going to school here because if you meet someone from a program, they often invite you to hang out with the rest of their classmates. This extends a person's network of friends here because each student becomes very close to the people in their program and visitors are always welcome. The most interesting thing I've learned about my program is that there are a lot of opportunities to receive credit for independent studies and community interactive learning. I learned very well outside the classroom and I really like this about my program.
What is the most interesting thing you learned in your programme or courses so far? The most interesting thing I've learned my program is that FMRI can be paired with many techniques in order to investigate brain function. I have learned a great deal about integrative research. It is very interesting how many different types of research can be combined in order to find a well-rounded answer to a question about brain function.
What do you do when you are not studying? This is a good question – when I am not studying in the Umeå I am building fires by the lake, sitting with others waiting for the Northern lights, sitting in great awe when I see the northern lights, studying Swedish out of my small Swedish textbook, watching Swedish cooking shows and assuming what ingredients are being used, cooking Swedish dishes (spinach soup, pork fillet with potatoes, liver with potatoes, fish with potatoes and if you slice the potatoes really been you can make a stack of potatoes which is really quite nice). Sometimes I have gone to dinner parties, casual visits to the pub, short walks in the snow, and clothing shopping with classmates. I always have a good time riding my bicycle in the snow, going to the guitar store and playing guitars that are astronomically expensive, practicing my Swedish at the grocery store checkout line and inviting classmates over for food and beverage. I have also started a hobby of rebuilding old bikes for people.
What is your impression of Umeå and the surrounding areas? My impression of this town is a very good one. I enjoyed the ways in which the people here share their culture. I have been to Stockholm, Gothenburg and have visited the South of Sweden many times. From my experience I believe that the people in Umeå have done an excellent job of creating a fun lifestyle in such a cold dark place. To me it seems like the people that are here, really want to be here because it requires a strong heart to wait for sunshine.
What do you find as the biggest cultural difference, both socially and educationally, from your country with Sweden? The biggest difference here is the flexibility of my program. There is a high amount of interaction between instructors and students in my masters program. It is an integrative learning structure. At my last university there were no changes in the schedule, however at this school in my program our class makes decisions together and works with the professor in order to spend additional time on harder concepts or use personal time to learn about concepts that should be only reviewed.
What you would say or what advice would you give to another international student thinking of attending Umeå University? I would say... "Be bold and come to the North!" I would tell them that it seems like the darkness and snow would keep people inside; however, the darkness and the snow keep people together! Relationships become strong because people need to be social to get through the dark times. Additionally, if a person would rather spend time in an introverted setting doing things like reading, playing an instrument or making art alone, this is also a great place for that as well.
What are your career aspirations? My career aspirations are to investigate unknown biological systems within the brain. I also think that it would be very fun to be a college professor. I have been studying my Swedish because my new goal is to be a professor in Sweden teaching about the brain at the Masters or PhD level. I believe that learning and investigation takes place when people are highly motivated, but also relaxed and enjoying teamwork. I believe that even the most advanced kinds of research can be fun! Hopefully I will be the kind of professor that creates this sort of atmosphere in the classroom and laboratory.
Favourite thing about Umeå University That there is a pond in the middle of all of the buildings.
Favourite Swedish word or custom My favourite Swedish word is, "kaffebryggare" and my favourite Swedish custom is all "obligatory" schnapps drinking during a meal!
Three words to summarise your time in Umeå Relaxing, beautiful and productive.