Discovering the Beauty of Home and Away

Living abroad for an extended period of time has been an eye-opening experience that has challenged my preconceptions and taught me many valuable lessons. When I first left Sweden to live in Italy for six months, I did not expect that I would start to appreciate my own culture more. Before leaving, I thought Swedish culture was rather bland and unexciting (”mellanmjölk”). But being away from home has given me a new perspective, and I now see that there is truth to the saying that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

One thing I missed about Sweden is the fresh smell of the forest, and how clean the air is in Stockholm. The rain in the Nordic region seems to keep the air less dusty. I wanted to go to a sunny and warm country, despite this I found myself missing the autumn and winter seasons. It gets colder in Padua, Northern Italy, during the winter months, and the leaves do change colors, but it’s just not the same. In Stockholm, there is a different vibe with the fall and winter seasons. There is snow, slush, and gray weather but in a cozy way — it makes you want to want a hot cup of tea and some fika.

Since leaving Sweden, I have been reflecting on what characterizes the Swedish culture. My list so far includes fika, IKEA, being reserved and introverted, making decisions together, ’lagom’ and everything it entails, orderliness, the archipelago, countless small lakes, crispbread, semla, midsummer, ”fredagsmys”, punctuality, and flaggpunch. Not bad, right? I have gone from not appreciating any of these things to finding them beautiful and special. I have even started listening to Swedish music, something I almost never did before.

Part of my newfound appreciation for Swedish culture comes from enjoying sharing it with others. Whether it’s explaining what midsummer is or baking chocolate balls and seeing my friends’ reactions when they try them, it feels like something special to share and learn about different cultures and traditions. I love making my friends laugh by explaining that Swedish people have a frog dance they do around the midsummer pole…or humorously say that I never get cold because I have viking genes.

Despite the many differences between Italian and Swedish cultures, I have noticed many similarities. For example, both cultures have a shared love for nature and the sun, an appreciation for food (both have meatballs!), the importance of being well-read, and a love for coffee. Living abroad has allowed me to understand so much more about Italian culture. Before coming here, my knowledge of Italian culture was limited to pizza, hand gestures and gelato — but that is only the tip of the iceberg!

Compared to Sweden, Italy has an immense amount of art and architecture. From the ancient Roman ruins to the Gothic cathedrals, there is so much history and beauty to explore. More than what can be seen in one lifetime. The north of Italy, where I lived, has a particular charm and atmosphere. The streets are lined with cute cafes and shops, and the cities are dotted with beautiful piazzas and historic landmarks.

One of the things that struck me about Italian culture is the importance placed on family and community. It is common for families to live in the same town or village for generations, and people are very close to their extended family members. This is very different from Sweden where people move out earlier and tend to be a bit more distanced from family. I have also noticed that Italians have a strong sense of pride in their regional traditions and cuisine. Each region in Italy has its own unique culture and culinary specialties, and Italians take great pride in sharing these with others.

One of the things I believe that north europeans should learn from Italians is how they express their feelings. They are more open with it and not scared of conflict. I wonder what communication would be like if everyone applied the best parts from all cultures, if that’s even possible. On a similar note north europeans could also learn to become warmer and communicate in a more loving way. I wonder why cultures evolve to be a certain way — maybe that’s a future blog post.

In conclusion, living abroad has been an enriching experience that has allowed me to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for both my own culture and Italian culture. It has allowed me to challenge and broaden my own perspectives and has given me the opportunity to connect with people from all over the world. Although there are differences, there is far more common ground that brings people together. While there certainly are challenges that come with living in a foreign country, the rewards and personal growth that come from the experience are truly invaluable. It changes you for the better and I can’t wait to do it again.


My Best Writing Tips

”I’ve done my fair share of reading, writing, and editing. Last year, I started writing articles for the chemistry chapter newspaper at KTH, and this year I’m the editor-in-chief. In addition, I also write for the student union newspaper, Osqledaren. From these experiences, I’ve gained some insight into what makes a text sparkle, giving it that extra flavor. I am by no means an expert in this area, but I have some tips to share!

The secret to a great text is amazing editing. Be critical and ”kill your darlings.” Re-reading a text is not the most exciting thing in the world, but it makes a huge difference in the end. A warning here is due to all the perfectionists, don’t go overboard. If you tend to go overboard, I would suggest asking someone else for feedback, revising, and then releasing your creation into the wild.

Let the text rest and return to it. Writing is like baking bread; it needs time. In this case, it’s not about fermentation; it’s about letting your brain process and make novel connections by giving it space. This should be done several times if the text is important to you – iterate, iterate, iterate.

One of the most common errors I see when editing texts is a mediocre finish. Be clear about the implications, main points, and further questions for investigation. In the case of a longer text, build up to it by summarizing what you have written so far. What’s the takeaway?

Make your life easier by checking your spelling and grammar with some kind of app or extension. Of course, you could do this yourself, but why not simplify your life if you can? This step saves you effort that can be put into the finishing touches.

Make sure that you collect lots of inspiration every time you come across it. Write down anything that surprises you and store it in some sort of system. Personally, I prefer a variant of Zettlekasten (if you want more info on this, I would suggest reading How To Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens). This will make sure that you always have something to write about and that you can make insightful connections.

Get out of your own head. Talking to someone else about the topic you are writing about can serve the same function as in tip #5, making insightful connections. In addition, it can help reveal blind spots in your thinking, as well as challenge your thoughts. This should not be underestimated.

Write about topics you care about. This is not only a question about what you want to write about; most people would be much more inclined to read a text written by a person who is invested in the subject.

If it’s a long non-fiction text, I would outline it. This makes it easier to get an overview in the beginning. This is only a rule of thumb, but gaining structure is seldom a bad thing – especially for writing. Even if you are writing fiction, it can be good, but there are different schools of thought on this matter.

Aim for smooth transitions. Writing is a bit like driving in this respect; you don’t want to be jerked between information. Guide the reader gently, make it a journey of exploration!

One thing I’ve started recently is reading it aloud. I use the built-in speech synthesizer (you can have fun selecting different voices). This makes you engage with the ideas from a different angle. I find it easier to be critical and process the text by doing this once or twice for longer articles.

In the future, I’ll look into style guides, storytelling, copywriting, and maybe some online courses to develop my skills. If you want to continue reading about this topic I would suggest this article on the same subject.

Carrer Paths in Life Science

Ever since I started studying at KTH, I have been thinking about what I want to do for work after finishing my master’s in medical biotechnology. When I started my bachelor’s, all career paths sounded abstract and far away. But gradually, they have become more distinct and easier to grasp. I would like to find something that requires continuous learning in an area that feels stimulating. I want work to be a puzzle piece for improving something, perhaps a pressing problem of our time.

A few years ago, I was certain that I wanted to pursue a doctorate. But nowadays, I’m questioning that. Being a scientist and researcher has always sounded like the most amazing job to me, for as long as I can remember. The joy of discovery and exploration is alluring. What made me doubt pursuing a doctorate? Currently, I want to work in different areas of life science first to explore what is out there. I’ve also heard very mixed things from different people about the whole experience. Pursuing a PhD is still an appealing thought though.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I reached out to people working in the life science sector as a course assignment to discuss work experiences and culture clashes. This was helpful to get a clearer picture of what a career path can look like. In total, I had meetings with three different people: one who is pursuing a PhD, one who works as a consultant, and one who mainly works with innovation. For privacy reasons, I will not disclose specific information.

Now over to the interesting part, what did I learn from them?

Let’s start with the person who is pursuing a doctorate. She described it as a stimulating environment with a lot of freedom to structure the work. The main challenges were a lot of personal responsibility to do the work, finding a balance between work and spare time, and a big emphasis on continual personal development within the field of research. According to her, one of the best parts is attending conferences, both meeting people who are enthusiastic about the same field and the travel. Other aspects that motivated her were finding the work meaningful and learning new things. When weighing the options of pursuing a doctorate or not, she said that working in the life science industry with a master’s didn’t feel that stimulating in Sweden currently, in her experience.

When asked about cultural clashes in a research-driven environment, the conclusion was that the scientific community has its own culture. For instance, publications are very standardized. She added that it’s always important to look up customs when traveling to new countries. Her experience was that one of the few differences was regarding presenting at conferences, the attribution of who did what, and the credits for that work. When asked about what to consider at the start of my career, she said that it’s important to ”strategically position yourself”. She elaborated on that by saying to choose your master’s thesis work with careful consideration, create relevant contacts during your studies, and try to become an intern for a research group. In the end, we also discussed the future of biotechnology, and her closing remark was that the future of Life Science is data-driven – that’s where both the big problems and solutions will be.

The second person I talked to works as a consultant and recruiter at a large company. His work was centered around managing a trainee program. He gave some good advice to people at the start of their careers: showing interest in a workplace by showing up and asking for five minutes to speak with a relevant person there about the company, and then talking about what you want to bring to the company with humility. He emphasized the importance of trying different things at the start of your career. Another point he made was reflecting on career choices, such as whether you want to become a generalist or specialist.

We also talked about the importance of mentorship. His philosophy in this area was asking for a few minutes of the potential mentor’s time – clearly stating why and then asking for more minutes the next time if it goes well. An example of how to ask would be ”You seem to know a lot about [insert topic]. Do you have ten minutes to chat about it with me sometime?” One of the great insights he had was, when asked about good leadership, he said that he had heard about 10,000 different answers to this question, and that there is no simple answer – but that you should choose your boss with great care. Another interesting thing he mentioned was the importance of interaction between different bubbles – technology, science, soft skills, entrepreneurship, etc. This ties in nicely with an additional point he made; the weight of letting people develop a broad range of skills to make these bubbles overlap more.

The third person I spoke to started by doing a Ph.D. and worked with Pharma research for a long time. After completing her work in Pharma, she began working with innovation in the Life Science industry. Her vision for the industry is to make pharmaceuticals affordable for everyone globally. When asked about the biggest challenge, she answered that it was communicating clearly. The example she gave was that saying one thing can be interpreted as something completely different depending on the other person’s perception. I also asked her about what she would have done differently if she had started over. She answered that she should not have stayed for more than three to five years at a single company at the beginning of her career. With this, she highlighted the importance of trying different things.

One particularly interesting thing she said was that the best advice she had received from mentors during her career was talking about the questions they discussed one level above. In her current role, she works with both academia and the industry. She described the biggest difference between them as working by exploring to understand, versus working towards a distinct goal. When working with innovation, she describes it as two phases; the exploration of solutions and development. Her biggest insight for working with innovation is having close contact with the client.

In conclusion, Life Science is a broad field with plenty of options. If you want to become a generalist, then a Ph.D. might not be the right path. However, if you want to specialize and do research, a Ph.D. can be a great advantage. The one thing they all highlighted was the importance of inclusion in the workplace and trying out different roles at the beginning of your career. Another common point was the importance of strategically positioning yourself in a favorable position. In the coming year, I will try to implement as much of the advice I received as possible. Stay tuned!

Four Months of Yoga

At the start of 2021, I began doing yoga every day. At first, I only planned to do it for 30 days, but during that initial period, I expanded my practice. How did I manage to do this from home? As a beginner, I turned to Yoga with Adriene on YouTube. Previously, I had done yoga a few times. I even attempted a 30-day challenge at one point in 2019, but other commitments prevented me from completing it. In the beginning, it was more challenging than I had anticipated. Four months ago, I wasn’t the most flexible person, and that was my main goal with all of this. To my surprise, it made a huge difference. For me, every day didn’t have to be a specific time or intensity; as Adriene says, just showing up on the mat is enough. My goal is to continue this habit until the end of the year, and possibly even longer. I’m excited to continue experiencing this journey.

So, what results have I seen so far? As previously mentioned, I’m a lot more flexible, and I feel more at home in my body since it’s less rigid. Of course, different types of yoga give slightly different results, but the mix of types I practice has made me stronger in terms of muscle definition. Becoming stronger also makes you move with more precision. There is also a mindfulness aspect to yoga, which should not be underestimated. It’s difficult to measure or estimate how it affects mood, but let’s just say that there’s a slightly positive difference. The only downside to this is that it can be challenging to carve out half an hour to forty minutes every day. At one point, I had a cold, which made showing up to practice feel more difficult. But in the end, I showed up on the mat and did some very light yoga for that week. One of the best things about yoga is its versatility. It can be whatever you want it to be: flexibility, strength, mindfulness, etc., or a combination. One thing I did not anticipate before starting was how much my posture would improve. I believe this is a function of better core strength and being more mindful of posture in general.

I tried to implement this habit by taking inspiration from the book Atomic Habits. Doing a little bit every day gives huge results in the long run. The improvement compounds. Going forward, I’m combining yoga with running. The plan is to do yoga every day and go running a few times a week. I still feel like I have a lot to learn about yoga. It’s a gradual process, and it takes time. If you want to start doing yoga every day, I would recommend starting with one of the 30-day challenges on YouTube. There are lots of great options. Also, think about sensation over how the pose looks and give it time. Be patient. Personally, I keep my mat rolled out on the floor most of the time since I practice every day. It also serves as a reminder and makes it easy to start. Consider what you want to achieve and why. Best of luck!