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Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Exploring the Essence of Stockholm – DISCOVER STUDY ABROAD

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Wherever you may be reading from … välkommen (welcome) to my first blog!

Session 3 is finally here, and with it, the beginning of my summer adventure in Scandinavia with DIS! Over the course of the next month, I’ll be taking Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience in Stockholm, which is home to thousands of islands boasting their breathtaking beauty, a plethora of cultural traditions, and a rich history of scientific breakthroughs and intellectual exchange. In the much smaller world of my dorm room in New Haven, studying abroad with DIS in Stockholm offered the tantalizing prospect of an endless adventure amidst furthering my passion amongst world-class experts.

Djurgården, only one of 14 islands that Stockholm is built upon! I was able to see it in passing on a boat the past week, but have yet to explore all of the unique islands that each lend Stockholm a part of its identity.

Some things about me…

Back at Yale, where I’ll be an incoming junior in the fall, I study neuroscience (surprise). The hope is to pursue medical school after graduation and use what I learn to make a positive difference in others’ lives, a goal I’ve been aiming for especially after volunteering and outreach in the New Haven community. This semester, I’ll be much more involved with extracurriculars, test preparation, and specialized neuroscience electives, meaning that it’s quite a jarring challenge to be away for a semester. In this way, being able to take this DIS class offering in the summer was a perfect option for me in terms of its flexibility, timing, and how well it encapsulated my interests.

My academic interests have always been with the intersection of biology and computer science, so I had never thought I would be majoring in neuroscience. I’ll elaborate more in a future blog specifically on what got me into the field, but in a nutshell, I am fascinated with all of the different ways that you can look at the brain, whether behaviorally/computationally or from the microscopic neuronal level to its entire, grapefruit-sized structural architecture. I’m especially interested in how structural or chemical changes in one part of the brain (such as in protein levels) might impact local or distant function and activity. Through the class, I hope to learn more about how data science and visualizations has been used in cutting-edge techniques used to map the brain in potential use for therapeutics and clinical applications.

An image of the connectome, a structural “wiring” map of the brain. Learning about this brain atlas first got me into neuroscience, and I hope to get to explore more of these fascinating techniques through the Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience class this month!

Outside of class, I want to make the most of the resources that are available to me as I begin projects in the lab portion of the class. At school, I write for the Yale Scientific Magazine, where we interview researchers on their recent publications and communicate them to a wider audience. Most of the work I’ve written about is American-centric, though; now that I’ll be here in Sweden, I’m hoping to learn more about and communicate scientific research conducted at the world-famous Karolinska Instituet!

Serenity and Sweet Surprises:

I hail from Chicago (yes, the city proper), so I’ve always been surrounded by the boisterous noises of cars during rush hour, people shoving to get past the crowds on the streets, and the weary groan of trains coming to a grating halt. Everything is down to a flurried sense of control and urgency. But Stockholm delivers a sense of serenity and calmness, and none of the chaos that I’m used to at home or school. Despite having more modes of transportation (see: commuter rails, ferries, buses, trains, and trams) than Chicago, transit seems to be much more straightforward, orderly, and clean than what I’m used to. Transit is also very much accessible from everywhere in Stockholm, which was reassuring and extremely convenient for a lost tourist like me the first day I arrived.

I spent two hours at Arlanda Airport after landing on the first day trying to figure out how to get to where I was supposed to be, but I soon learned that transit is convenient and accessible wherever you are in Stockholm!

The sense of tranquility is not just within the moving in and out of spaces, either — there is a calmer way of doing. The days are long and leisurely, and time doesn’t seem to slip away like it usually does — not like at school, where it’s always a frantic scramble to get a paper in or study for an upcoming midterm. That’s not to say that Stockholm is quiet by any means; the city is lively in its enjoyment of the small, sweet, and special moments of life every day (emphasis on sweet: there are glass (ice cream) parlors and troves of candy to be found everywhere!) With the help of new friends and the afternoon coffee breaks known fondly as fikas, I’m slowly learning how to relax and soak in the sensations of enjoying a freshly-brewed latte and sunlight without the pressing urge that I need to be doing something. Fika is not just a break from a stressful and strict schedule — it is a fundamental part of Swedish culture, and I wholeheartedly hope to embrace that and incorporate it into my studies in my month abroad here.

Since our first fika at Karla Cafe, which Brianna and I found spontaneously in Östermalm near DIS Stockholm, I’ve been able to enjoy and experience several more. Each café has its own charms and special touch — Karla Cafe gave off an autumn and rustic feel; Dirty Coco was hip, artsy, and floral; Lillebror Bageri evoked a sense of nostalgia and butter-glazed wonder. Over the next month, my goal is to also experience as many things as I can that I might necessarily not have back home, so trying more traditional Swedish desserts such as Princesstårta (marzipan layer cake) and drinks such as egg coffee is next on my list!

Scenes from Stockholm:

In just the span of a week, Stockholm has delivered on its promise of endless exploration several times over. I’ve seen a robot pile on a delight of toppings and syrups on creamy vanilla ice cream and serve it flawlessly. I’ve walked the opulent, bejeweled halls of Drottingholm Palace, the summer residence of the royals. Twice I’ve strolled the cobblestone paths and inhaled the comforting scents of kebabs and ice cream at Gamla Stan, the Old Town, but I feel as if I haven’t even scratched the surface of everything Stockholm holds in her entirety. Four weeks is certainly not enough time to discover all of Stockholm’s elusive secrets, but I’m determined to see and experience as much as I can, and not just of Nordens venedig (the Venice of the North), but also the rest of Sweden, such as the legendary academic city of Uppsala and the country’s myriad of islands.

Besides touristy spots, though, it’s on my list to visit some of the local spots, ones that are part of the daily lives of Swedish citizens. I could get lost in bookstores and libraries for hours, and I’m excited to enjoy these ordinary moments of life in this new and breathtaking environment. Sweden is home to some of my favorite musicians, such as Zara Larsson, and I’m excited to check out local concerts in the parks and discover new music. I am also an avid player of video games (League of Legends and Genshin Impact), which I’ve always believed are a universal staple, so I hope to visit a gaming cafe in Stockholm during these weeks as well!

Sustainability in Stores, Sushi in Solna, and Strawberry Samples!

Perhaps what I’ve loved the most about this city so far is the small surprises that I stumble upon every day. For one, there is a great emphasis on sustainability and green-friendly practices in Stockholm. There is a line of large green bins outside our dorm carefully labeled and well-organized with each type of material to be recycled, which is dutifully followed. In the Hemköp (a grocery store that is a short walk from our dorm), there is a shelf devoted to combatting food waste by selling items with damaged containers or products near expiration date at a greatly discounted price. Recycling is also a major practice emphasized in the city —for example, the H&M’s collect millions of unwanted secondhand clothes and transform them into stylish garments!

I’ll admit I’m a bit of a foodie, and I thought I would be following a strict list of restaurants to try, carefully curated by Yelp reviews. I never imagined I would sample the amazing Jordgubbstårta (one of my now-favorite desserts) in a basement Gateau bakery adjacent to the train station. It might have to do with using the sweetest jordgrubbe (strawberries) that I’ve ever had anywhere, which Sweden produces 15 million kilograms of every year. Nor did I ever imagine that Swedish-Japanese fusion cuisine would be so popular, fresh, and delicious! I’ve had sushi and poke three times in Solna, a city just north of central Stockholm. I spoke earlier on wanting to immerse myself in the ancient, traditional loved foods of Stockholm —but I’m also fascinated by how the blend of ideas and cultural exchange has shaped modern Stockholm, and it’s something I aim to spontaneously experience more with my peers over the coming weeks.

Sunsets in Södermalm, and the Start of the Study Tour

For now, though, I will have to say a brief goodbye to Stockholm. Every class has a Study Tour built into it so that we can experience firsthand what we’ve been learning about in real world applications. Our class will be going to Budapest and Vienna — two hubs for pioneering neuroscience research and classical music— and this unique experience is what sealed the deal for me to study abroad with DIS this summer. To be able to explore three different countries this summer to accompany my studies is an opportunity I would not be able to find elsewhere, and I am so excited to embark on a completely new adventure next week!

When the sounds of Stockholm drift into a sleepy lull, new life blooms across the sky in a symphony of vivid oranges and blushing pinks. These are views from our room in Södermalm, an island just south of Stockholm City. My roommate Ali and I are always blown away by the view we have of Riddarfjärden’s waters from our window. To put the long hours of summer sunlight in Scandinavia in perspective, the photos were taken at 10 p.m. and 1 a.m..

Next week, I’ll be blogging about my Study Tour and the Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience class, my passion and interests in neuroscience (with a brief interlude on a fascinating connection between music and the brain). Thanks for reading my first blog — I am so excited to share more of my upcoming experiences with DIS Stockholm!

Song Recommendations:

  • Stockholm Sonata I by Attilio Ariosti, during a well-deserved fika after class
  • The Days by Avicii, on the train rides through the city
  • Long Live (Taylor’s Version) by Taylor Swift, while strolling down Gamla Stan’s ports

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