By Hannah Beck
My first international collaboration has been an educational experience indeed! Here’s a list of some of the lessons I’d like to share with future LOREX students, other pre-career scientists, and anyone looking to travel to Sweden.
Never be shy of asking for help! The worst they can say is “I’m busy”, and they just might say, “I have exactly what you need!”
Spend as much time outside as you can. Even if you’re just answering emails on a park bench, the fresh air will make it feel a little like a tiny vacation.
A sunset on Lake Torneträsk.
Seize every opportunity to learn about other countries. If you’re working or rooming with anyone from somewhere that you’ve never lived, talk to him or her as much as you can. Learn card games and cooking techniques, ask about school systems and colloquial vocabulary. If you’ve set up a good dialogue, I urge you to also discuss more serious social issues like cultural stereotypes and political climate. I found that a lot of students in my dorm were just as curious about the United States as I was about their home countries and we spent countless meals having fun comparing cultures. My favorite question that I was asked was “Do you eat mac and cheese, like, all the time?”
Limnological fieldwork might actually be less stressful than oceanic fieldwork. I don’t mean to make a sweeping statement that applies to all aspects of either discipline, but in my experience so far oceanography fieldwork happens on a few very big, expensive excursions, where keeping equipment safe from pressure and salt is a constant battle. On the other hand, sampling a lake requires reserving a car and remembering to grab an inflatable raft from the garage, with the possibility of hiking between the road and the shore. I’m now convinced that I like both experiences equally, and am motivated to become a scientist who can spend time in both disciplines.
Have a backup plan for getting your samples and equipment to and from your collaboration location and your home institution. I brought everything in a suitcase, then mailed my samples home and brought the equipment back in the same suitcase. BIG MISTAKE. I mailed my samples and left Abisko over 5 weeks ago and am currently in a very slow and rather heated dispute with a certain international shipping company. I’ll consider it a miracle if I ever get my samples and a double miracle if they’re still intact and usable after all this time. In retrospect, I should have mailed my equipment home (tubing, pumps, etc.) and used the extra suitcase space to pack my samples with me. That way, I could deal with customs in person and guarantee that my samples could only be delayed by my own travel schedule.
Speaking of travel, getting around Sweden is delightfully simple. The bus/train system that operates within the entire country is incredibly easy to use. Take 10 minutes to review timetables for long distance and bus routes for short distance, grab some pocket cash for a ticket, and go anywhere. Try not to let this powerful freedom go to your head!
Essential Swedish vocabulary:
Bastu. This is the Swedish word for sauna. Saunas are almost as prevalent as fika! Ideally, a sauna-goer will spend many evening hours in a sauna at a time, bonding with friends and taking the occasional dip in the nearby lake. Saunas not on the edge of a lake are equipped with cold showers in a side room.
The view from the lakeside sauna at the Abisko field station.