Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bike escapades

My bike was stolen.  While I live in one of the safest countries in the world with extremely low violent crime, the petty theft is high in my town.  And it all boils down to bike theft.  Since being here, I have been told by most everyone I meet that you don't keep a bike long before it gets stolen.  Multiple people in my program have also had their bikes stolen in the last month.  It's pretty terrible.  I didn't really think it would happen to me so I never invested in a heavy-duty lock.  This was my fault.  The little wire lock must have been cut and my bike charted off to be sold in distant lands (they say the Eastern European market is full of Nordic stolen bikes).

So this weekend I went to the city police auction to try and get a cheap bike.  My Finnish friend came with me and gave me a crash course in Swedish numbers on the bus ride there.  Many bicycles were parked in a lot and you had 1 hour to walk around making note of the bike(s) you wanted to bid on.  They were numbered and you were suppose to remember the numbers you were interested in to later bid on the number.  I had already decided my new strategy for maintaining a bike for a prolonged time period would be to buy a rusty children's bike.  Who would steal that?  So, I found a little boys bike and hoped no one else would bid on it.

Auctioneer in high-heeled boots using a gavel to point to people as they bid
The bike I wanted was number 76 and since the auction went in numerical order it was near the end when I finally had my chance to participate.  Most people had gotten their bike and left.  The auctioneer opened the bid for my bike and I called out a confident, "femtio!" (Fifty) No one said anything and my heart began to race as I got excited about getting a bike for $8.  But then an old Middle-Eastern man said, "etthundra" (100).  I stared at him incredulous.  How dare he bid against me!  Clearly, the bike wasn't for him and I had seen him bid for several other bikes over the last hour and knew he must own a bike sales shop.  He was probably getting them for cheap at the auction then going back to sell them for a profit.  I, on the other hand, was going to use the bike for myself right then and there.  I needed that bike.  Why wouldn't he let me have it?!  So I raised my hand and said, "etthundrafemtio" (150).  Without missing a beat he raised his hand "två hundra" (200) and I realized he could keep going a lot farther than I was willing to go.  So I bid him up a bit more and then let it go.

My Finnish friend won a bid for 500 krona ($78) and she happily took off on her "new" bike as I got back on the bus lamenting my misfortune and wishing for a bike.  Another friend had told me of a bike shop not too far from my house so I decided to check it out.  My day turned around at this point and I met a very nice Middle-Eastern man (who may also have gotten his bikes from the auction) who showed me the perfect bike.  It is a girls bike complete with stickers and plenty of rusty.  I don't think any thieves will want this one, or at least I hope not.  I also talked him down to selling it to me for 300 krona ($46)!

My "new" bike! 
Rusty with stickers - perfect:)
New sturdy u-lock to, hopefully, help me keep this bike for a while
Fat wheels to get me safely through the winter
I'm back in action now!  And just in time for "reading" week.  I think some trips to the public library may be in order.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Home tour

Since I have been receiving a large number of requests to see my little Swedish apartment, I will indulge.


Everything is white!
I have lots of cupboards which is great, though limited counter space.  My oven is in celsius and I'm still figuring that out.

 The contents of my small Swedish refrigerator - largely from the farmers market

 Kitchen and dining room in one!
I love my big windows that let in a lot of light.

 View from the bedroom, study, and living room

Bedroom, study and living room:

Bed and nightstand (old box I got in the mail wrapped in cloth) 

Desk - where I spend most of my time
Bookshelf and deck
Living room with chair and bookshelf
Deck looking at the exercise gym where I watch people do aerobics as I eat at my kitchen table
Sometimes I hang my laundry out to smell like sunshine.  
This is not a Swedish thing to do and I think my neighbors may believe I lived in a Chinatown before moving here.


Full-flush/half-flush toilet where I can sit and shower at the same time.
Very annoying shower that sprays water over the WHOLE bathroom.
Towel warmer!  Love the Europeans for that feature.
Where I hang my jewelry and view out into my bedroom/study/living room
Well, that's it.  That's where I eat, sleep, study and relieve myself.  It's perfect for my life as a student.  I'm slowly getting to know some of my neighbors and enjoying them.  Tonight, I am invited to a potluck at my upstairs neighbors apartment.  I've been asked to bring an American desert.  I'm thinking I might attempt to make pumpkin donuts.  We shall see.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Library

Malmö public library

I have an affinity for public libraries.  I love the old or interestingly architected building they are usually housed in.  The smell of books, eye contact with other book lovers and public notice boards advertising poetry readings, yoga classes and children's art therapy sessions make me smile.  The structured shelves with clear systems in place bring a peace and familiarity to my life as I easily navigate any library in the world.

I went to the Malmö public library, or Stadsbibliotek as it is called here, very near the beginning of my time in Sweden.  As I walked into this castle-looking building I applied for a library card at the front desk.  The woman who helped me may be the only Swede who doesn't speak English.  We discovered the most common language we had was Spanish.  Nombre?  Amanda. Número de telefono? 076... When I asked her where the books in English were (¿dónde están los libros en Inglés?) she pointed in one direction and I took off to find something to use my new library card on.  After scouring the 4 eastern floors I went back to the front desk asking where the books in English where.  This time, a man listened to my question in English and pointed west to the steps next to the desk.  It turns out, the first woman and myself may not have really understood Spanish that well.

I took some time perusing the few, and I do mean few, shelves with books in English.  I think I may be able to go through all the books in English during my 2 years here.  I also took time to sit and look out at Kungsparken, or the Kings Park, and watch all the people enjoying the sunshine.  I decided this was going to be a great library for me and I would be back often.

I went to the library today to return some books, check out new ones, and to do some studying.  I like the change in scenery and opportunity to stretch my legs before getting lost in a case study on tobacco use prevention in South Africa.  However, what I hadn't noticed the last few times I was at the library, is that it is actually really loud.  People speak in normal voice levels and there are no designated quiet areas.  I looked around expecting the noise to be coming from children during the middle of the day on a weekday but found the library buzzing with a wide range of ages.  Women wearing hijab's chatted in an aisle, white haired men used wide hand gestures to explain something in the foyer, women pushing prams talking loudly, students around a table debated something - the public library in Malmö is a gathering place for the community.  I love that.  Even if it makes studying difficult.

So, this time, I picked new books to read and headed out to Kungsparken to do my reading in quiet.  I have to soak up the sun while it is still out.  Don't worry, I still love the library.  I'll be back.  Just, maybe not to study.

My library card and receipt 


Sunday, September 22, 2013

I threw a party

Today is the first day of autumn.  Last week it really started to feel like it too.  The air became more crisp, the wind has picked up and the sun is disappearing for longer stretches.  While the temperature hovers in the mid to low-60's, it is still pleasant to be out and about.  The Swedes assure me that though they complain about the long cold and dark winters, they still get excited about the beginning change in each season so I shouldn't worry about winter yet, just embrace the fall first.  

So, I threw a party.  Partly to celebrate the coming of fall, partly to work on my social life and partly to soak up these remaining warmish evenings.  I carved out a pumpkin from the market and used the inside to make pumpkin bars.  For a country obsessed with cake, no one had every tried pumpkin cake. I used the shell of the pumpkin as a vase to hold flowers and put it as the center piece.  I asked people to make their own pizza to share.  Most made very interesting home-made pizzas but a few brought frozen pizzas or bought one from a pizza joint.

We stayed late into the night talking over candle light.  I had invited everyone from my program along with my neighbors in my building.  It was nice to talk to people outside of our normal contexts.  Naturally, the weather came up as a topic of conversation and everyone spoke of pumpkins, apple picking, leaves changing colors and sweaters.  There was general apprehension (fall will go all too fast into winter) but also excitement for something new.  So, maybe, I am beginning to feel ready to embrace the fall.  Happy 1st day of Autumn/Fall!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Learning from each other

If you know me, it might not be hard to believe how my class went today.  I was scheduled to have a class on malaria.  I was very excited about this lecture since it is a topic I have worked with in Uganda.  Unfortunately, or fortunately, our professor never made it to our class.  Since we were already there and some students had traveled a bit far (Copenhagen) it seemed a shame to leave without learning anything.

So I took over.  I organized a panel of students who had experience with malaria and asked them questions about how their countries address the issue, what medications are used, what traditional methods people try, their opinion on why malaria was still a problem, their own personal times of having malaria and so forth.  Other students in the audience also asked questions and our panelists shared their thoughts.  It was really fun.

We have so much to learn from one another.  The experiences and wealth of information each of my colleagues has can be worth more than an hour lecture by a professor who has done extensive research.  While I value my professors it was also nice to have an impromptu change and learn from my fellow students.

After this class several people came up to me saying they liked what we did.  A few told me I should be a health professor.  I was quick to tell them not to tell my mom.  She always wanted me to be a teacher.

Sunday, September 15, 2013


This weekend I went to Helsingør, Denmark with friends.  In Helsingør you will find the castle Shakespeare used as Hamlet's.  Shakespeare never actually went there but he used the castle as his setting and immortalized it every since.  There was a time the Danish kings charged a tax for any boat or ship to pass Øresund, the sound between Denmark and Sweden that goes into the Baltic Sea.  This made the Danish kings very wealthy and they became known throughout Europe for their lavish lifestyles.  Shakespeare probably knew of the castle because of this and was able to use it as his setting.

My two Finish and six Thai friends and myself got up early and took the train to Helsgingborg, Sweden where we boarded the nicest ferry I have ever ridden on and crossed the water to Helsingbør, Denmark. It was a drizzly and cloudy day which set the scene perfectly.  I now understand Hamlet's dark brooding temperament.

We soon lost most of the Thai friends as they stopped every 2 steps to take pictures of themselves.  Sometimes, stereotypes are overwhelmingly fulfilled and you just have to laugh.  The few of us who were interested in the castle went on and met up with the others several hours later, still taking pictures of themselves.

Kronborg, as the castle is officially known as, started as a fortress guarding the straight and imposing taxes in the 1400's.  It was added to throughout the years and became a castle for the king and queen of Denmark.  The Swedes conquered it in their last war and pillaged the great art.  What remains of the castle is largely the structure.

It was a great trip.  It was nice to be out and about, even in the rain, and learn some new history.  I'll probably pull it out someday around the dinner table at the farm.  Be warned fam.

The sun peaked out for a second

Surrounded by water, of course

 The oldest part of the castle

The inner courtyard

Long Dining Room

My friend Kim in the dungeons

Canon's they still fire off once a year for the Queen's birthday 
(Ok maybe not these exact ones but they looked like the ones they fire - I just didn't get a picture of those)

Plaque to Shakespeare

Kronborg Castle

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


I went to a Taizé service tonight.  When I lived in San Francisco I went to a Taizé meditation service most Wednesday nights.  It was my time to let go of the emotions of my job, hear beautiful voices around me and sit in silence letting the business of life fade away for 1 hour.  I think my expectations may have been a bit high going into tonight.  I had assumed all Taizé was led by a professional soprano opera singer, the reader should have a deep soothing voice lulling you into the silence and the chants not in Latin should be in English, of course.  The service tonight was in Swedish - imagine that!  They even translated several of the Latin chants I know by heart into Swedish.  I must have sounded like those pre-Vatican II Catholics diehards who insist on mass in Latin.  Only this wasn't even a Catholic thing.  But there I was chanting and singing away using the Latin words I know.  I also should mention I was one of seven people there making my contribution very obvious.

I think it's human nature to take a subject we have experience with and feel uneasy when seeing the subject done differently.  Sometimes we find faults, sometimes we find things we like and sometimes we just can't pinpoint it but know the difference makes us feel unsettled.  I'm feeling a bit unsettled this week: teaching styles are different, most foods come in plastic tubes, the whole bathroom gets soaked when you take a shower, meatballs are eaten with tart lingonberries, and Taizé is in Swedish.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Oh the shame

My professor is very hard on the American health system.  This makes me laugh a bit at his obvious passion on the subject.  However, to my sympathetic Swedish classmates, this blatant disrespect for my home country's health system is upsetting.  Several of my Swedish classmates have intentionally come up to me to see how I feel about our professors comments.  They are afraid I will be offended.  I find their care for me very sweet and I appreciate it.  As for my professor's derision, I agree with him!

While I do agree with my professor's critique, sometimes it's a bit embarrassing to be the representative from the worst health system in the world.  When your text book reads, "The United States is the only high-income country that has a healthcare system that is not founded on the principle that everyone has the right to health care," (Skolnik) and you discuss the fact that the US spends almost 18% of its GDP on health making it the highest percentage with some of the most unhealthy citizens, it's hard to be proud of your home country.  It almost makes me want to renounce my citizenship.

A large part of why I decided to study in Sweden was because I wanted to learn in a system that addresses and views health in a very different way than the system I grew up in.  Now that I am here, I'm finding some lessons are harder to be part of than others.  But I'm surrounded by good people who care about my feelings too making it a bit easier.

Friday, September 6, 2013

My First Exam

I passed my first oral exam yesterday.  We were broken into smaller groups and had to discuss a case study.  The case was of an illiterate Indian woman who died giving birth to her 10th child at the age of 30.  We had to discuss the medical reasons for her death, socio-cultural, human rights issues involved, economics, etc.

I did a few oral exams in college that I loved.  When you hear others speaking it sparks ideas of your own.  I liked the informality of oral exams.  I was excited to originally hear we'd be having oral exams but as the preparations began I was more nervous.  It's a different system of education here and our instructions sounded more rigid and pressure filled.  This is what we were told:

     This is formally an examination.  You should have prepared to have a good enough understanding
     of the case without needing it for the discussion.  In order to speak you will need to raise your hand
     and wait until you are given the opportunity to speak by the moderator.  Active participation implies
     that one contributes with new perspectives and lines of thought to the discussion, or that one
     structures and summarizes the discussion for the benefit to all participants.  Merely repeating earlier
     statements is not active participation.  You are graded on insightful and original thoughts.

Well, this sounded much too subjective to me!  How can you determine if each person says something insightful?  The case wasn't that complicated and it sure wasn't controversial.  It didn't seem like there would be enough to say.  Most people were nervous about this exam because it was our first and there was so much unknown.

The doors of the research center are electronically coded to open only during your assigned times.  When my group got to our room there was some technical difficulty with our door and my professor/moderator was concerned about closing the door and getting locked in.  I suggested he put the small trash can there to allow for the door to almost be closed and block out some of the external noises but also allow us to get out again.  He looked at my name placard (yes we have name placards) and told the class I (using my name) had used my problem solving skills and that is what he liked to see.  My classmates insisted I had fulfilled my insightful comment and was guaranteed a pass.  If only it had been that easy.

But it did go well.  We had a professional discussion and I was able to contribute.  At one point I may have said something a bit controversial to spark some fire.  I said something about the possibility the woman may have been from a lower caste even though the caste system is dissolved it may still be played out and if the doctors were of a higher caste, or men, they may not have tried to save her life because they didn't value her as much.  I saw a slight nod and smile from the moderator for that comment.

It was also very interesting to see how our own cultural backgrounds came out in our discussion.  Those from the Nordic countries did a great job of saying thoughts that left opening for the next person to add on.  Some students who come from more individualist and rote-memorization cultures spewed a long, clearly memorized, talk saying everything there was to say.  And there were others who contributed with thoughts they heard from others during previous conversations but which they didn't know themselves.

Now that exam is over but the reading and preparing never seems to end.  We have another oral exam next week, a course paper to start for my final and daily reading assignments to be up on so I can actively contribute to class.  The sun is shining, I have new friends to study with and I'm learning.  Life is good.

Studying with a latte.  Is there any better way?

My friend got too hot so went to sit in the shade. Too hot in Sweden?  Is it possible?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Perks of Being in Academia

Yesterday I went to a lecture given by Jan Eliasson, the Deputy-Secretary General of the United Nations.  He spoke on, "United Nations Prevention and Peaceful Settlement of Disputes."  In light of the present reality of Syria, I was interested in this topic and hearing from this man.  From the title you may guess it was a very positive view of the UN and their ability to settle conflict.  While the first segment may have been a bit optimistic and diplomatic, it was the candid moments he spoke of his murdered friend and colleague Anna Lindh that revealed a thoughtful and caring man.  It was also during the Q&A that the speaker showed real emotion and remorse for some of the actions, or lack there of, the UN has done over the years.  Jan Eliasson spoke of the limits the Security Council have with the way it is structure currently.  He spoke of his disappointment with the Security Council's lack of movement regarding Syria.  Of course he is a diplomat so things were said with sensitivity and in a diplomatic way.  It was great hearing him speak.

The lecture was hosted by the university and free for all.  It is these opportunities I love about being in an academic world.  The recourses and scope of opportunity to be influenced by great minds and powerful leaders is enriching in a way professional development in the workplaces doesn't always accomplish.  

Tomorrow, the Nobel Prize Laureate for Chemistry in 2009, Ada Yonath will be speaking.  It's being hosted by the Faculty of Medicine so there is slight expectation I attend.  While I may not be as interested in her topic, how often do you hear a Nobel Prize winner speak?

Jan Eliasson

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mom and Dad Visit

My mom and dad spent some time chugging across Russia on the Trans-Siberian railroad over the last month.  At the end of this epic trip, they flew to Copenhagen to visit me for the weekend in Sweden.  We had a good time exploring Malmö (because it's new to me too!) and I showed them where I go to classes.  Dad took several embarrassing pictures.  Mom was impressed with my apartment.  We stumbled upon a confirmation service in a cathedral, found the world's oldest steam icebreaker (dates older than Titanic), and had $5 latte's from my new favorite coffee shop. Just your everyday adventures with mom and dad.

Dad in Lund.  Does he have to wear the camera around his neck?
 Mom and I on a canal tour around Malmö

Mom and Dad in Folkets Park, my neighborhood amusement park

School Starts

It's been an overwhelming few weeks in Sweden.  Orientation was full of hearing the worst case scenarios: x% of international students get suspended for plagiarism, x-number of international students get run over by a car while on their bike, x-amount of international students will not pass their thesis dissertations, etc.  In my spare time I had to figure out where to buy a fully-illuminating light for my bike, how to translate the Swedish on ingredient lists in the grocery story so I don't buy something that'll make me sick and run around town registering at the Migration Board and Tax Office - you can't do anything in Sweden without a personal identification number that comes from the tax office.

But I made it through the beginning.  And I even began to make friends.  My program is filled with some of the most incredible, inspirational people from around the world that I have ever met.  I now know a Scottish doctor, Thai army nurse, Spanish pharmacist, Swedish midwife, Indonesian natural disaster worker, Zimbabwean rural health worker, South Korean health outreach coordinator, Pakistani ICU doctor, Danish physical therapist and many others.  

Last week some of us decided to have a picnic at the beach.  We navigated the grocery store together, threw our selected food in our bike baskets and took off for the Western Harbor.  It was a great night of sharing food, learning about each other and watching the sun set over the area the Baltic Sea meets the North Sea.
New friends enjoying the evening

Øresund Bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark

Yesterday was my first official day of class.  It wasn't unlike a first day in the States.  We went over the course objectives and syllabus.  School is a little different here in that we take one class at a time.  My first class is 5 weeks long with 4 oral examinations and a final research paper.  We have mountains of reading to do with much of it being technical from medical journals.  With my undergraduate work in English Literature, I feel prepared to read but not prepared to take in all the technical terms.  Though, I do feel a slight advantage on my doctor friends for whom English is their second language.

The Clinical Research Center, where I will spend the next 2 years

I had forgotten the feelings that come with being a student.  My type-A, perfectionist, "failure is the end of the world" mentality has resurfaced.  This doesn't fit with my laid-back, no rush, I lived in Uganda and California personality.  As much as I want to take each moment as it comes, it is very easy for me to become overwhelmed and want to march off taking control of something.  When I hear some of my classmates have already read all the course literature before we even started class, my heart races and I feel behind.  A good friend from the States sent me an email reminding me to calm down and breath.  (She knows me well!) This is good advice for me.  As much as I am after the education, it is also the experience and the knowledge I will gain from others that I am after.  I will work hard and I will enjoy my life too.

In college my dear friend Bridget used to think I had magic powers to stop time.  During the stopped time I would do all my work while everyone else was frozen.  Then when I was finished I would resume time and everyone else would just be starting their homework.  I used to laugh at this but now I think I might be the one frozen while my classmates read all the course materials.

So I must be off, back to the mountains of reading that will hopefully make sense to me.  But don't worry, I have social plans for tonight too - living and learning as best as I can.