Exchange report - incoming students
Home university: Universiteit Leiden
Study programme: Biomedicine
Exchange programme: Erasmus
Semester: Spring semester 2012/2013

Arrival and registration

Goodbye US, Hello Sweden


Packing was the most difficult aspect of preparing to leave for Sweden. I would be there for five months, which means I would have multiple seasons of weather to dress for. Also, I rented out my apartment at my home University so I had to move most of my stuff out and into storage, which made it that much harder to choose clothes. In the end, I ended up with too much stuff and had to send some home with my boyfriend from the airport. The flights were very long, and I was happy to finally be off the plane when I arrived.


My arrival in Stockholm was not as smooth as I had hoped. I believed that it would be a seamless transition, but I did not realize how terribly I would miss my family and boyfriend. I had studied abroad in high school, but I have changed a lot since then. I arranged for the pick-up service through KI, and had a student meet me at the central station who could show me to my apartment and who had my keys. She was very friendly, but not too terribly knowledgeable about the location and information I needed. However, it was nice to have someone to help me arrive. I was picked up at the same time as another exchange student who happened to be living on the same corridor as me in my building, so it was nice to meet someone who would be living nearby. I was very depressed for the first couple days that I arrived; missing my family and because the weather was so cold and gray, but I soon was able to stop crying and to start working in the lab. Once I had something to do everyday, I was much happier.

The introduction day I thought was very useful, especially the afternoon lecture on the culture of Sweden. I felt that that lecture really helped us to understand Sweden better, even if we hadn't been there more than a day. It was also nice to meet all of the other exchange students so early on. After the lectures we went to the Medicinska Föreningen, which is the KI student union, for the Friday pub. It was a great time, and a great way to meet all of the other exchange students, some of whom I am still friends with.

My first day in the lab was a little scary because I did not know anyone going into it, but I was warmly welcomed and given a good idea of what I would be doing. I got a tour of the building and a lot of papers to read to begin preparing for my project.



Apparently, it is very hard to get an apartment in the Stockholm area. Therefore, it is beneficial for the EuroScholars program to guarantee housing through the University Accommodation Center. There were two options for me, the apartment complex Strix or Pax. There is a grocery store next to Strix, but Pax is closer to the metro station. I chose to live in Strix because of the proximity to the grocery store, but I regret that decision. In this year the majority of the exchange students lived in Pax. I visited friends enough in Pax to realize that the building is nicer, with newer facilities and bigger spaces. I would recommend Pax over Strix. The room itself in Strix is very basic, and a little run down, but the real adjustment was the kitchen. The living situation was that of a corridor that shares a communal kitchen. The problem with this is that the different people and cultures define the term clean. I like my kitchen to be very very clean, but not everyone shares this view. Also, everyone had a shelf in a shared fridge. This gives people the opportunity to take other people's food, as I had happen to me about half way through my experience. This was very distressing, and I felt very disrespected. Having people that you are close with on your hall can be very helpful, but unfortunately the other exchange student on my hall left after three months and I was in Sweden a total of five months. Overall, I would have to say that the housing was the worst aspect of the trip. However, other exchange students had a great time with their housing, so it may just be chance.

Leisure time and social activities

Crazy Swedes!

In Stockholm

The student union, known as the Medicinska Föreningen at the KI Solna campus, has a lot of activities going on. They have weekly pubs where a lot of students hang out, and they have a variety of activities. Exchange students are also invited to an event for new students called the Amphiox, which is composed of daytime activities around Stockholm, an evening catered dinner, and an after party. 

On the introduction day, all of the exchange students go through the day together. This gave us a chance to get to know each other a little bit, and even form friendships. I went on a lot of adventures with other exchange students in different programs. The only downside is that not everyone stays for such a long period of time, and many of my friends left after 3 months. However, I formed a strong bond with another one of the exchange students, Sean, who lived across the hall from me. We arrived on the same day and were met at the train station by the pick-up service at the same time, so we really had been together since the beginning. Since the corridor where we lived was so unfriendly, we truly relied on each other for support and companionship. We went to the grocery store together, ate dinner together, and went on excursions with each other, like to the Amphiox, Solna Centrum, and the Ikea in Kungens Kurva. I am glad that we became such great friends.

My research lab is composed mostly of doctoral candidates and post-doctorates, and they tend to go out with other doctoral candidates, so I did not do too much with the people in my lab, but I had plenty of friends my own age to do activities with. However, we would have dinners together sometimes and do some lab activities, which were enjoyable. It was very nice to get to know the people in my lab outside of the lab setting.

One of the appeals of Stockholm is the vibrant museum life. There are many museums which are open for free during certain times in the week, and it is very fun to go with friends. It also is a chance to learn more about Swedish history, a subject rarely taught outside of Scandinavia. One could spend all of their time in Stockholm just visiting museums. My favorite was the Vasa, a Swedish warship that is on display.

I made a very good friend at my apartment complex named Lotta. She would show me parts of Stockholm that only a Swede would know, and knowing her enhanced my trip greatly. Swedes are generally hard to get to know, as the culture is pretty reserved. However, once you become friends with a Swede, they are incredibly loyal and a lot of fun! Lotta and I still keep in touch, and she will be coming to visit me next summer in California.

Outside Stockholm

Another interesting place to visit in Sweden is Kiruna, north of the Arctic Circle. It is the place in Sweden to see the Northern lights, and is worth the trip. I went the second weekend in March and went dog-sledding, snowmobiling, reindeer herding, and went on a moose safari. I saw the Northern lights, fed a reindeer lichen, and so much more. Unfortunately, no other students could make it that weekend, but a lot of them went later in March. It is a fun activity to do with friends and get away for a long weekend. 

My Mom came to visit me at the end of my trip and we went to visit her old friends in Jönköping on Lake Vättern. The Swedish countryside is stunning, especially during early summer. It was nice to get away from the city, and it really isn't a very far trip.


My Program

As opposed to what the title says, I am not in the program Erasmus or from the Netherlands. They just don't have the listing for my program given that it is so new. I am from the University of Maine in the United States and I am in a program called EuroScholars. It is through the company GlobaLinks, and it is tailored for students who have a strong background in their field of study. It is a program in which instead of taking courses at a foreign university, you apply to a research program within your interest and it is the professor of the lab who decides if the applicant is accepted. In my case, I did not really choose KI, the research project at KI chose me.

Choosing a Lab

I have recently been very interested in molecular neuroscience and neurobiochemistry. However, my university does not have either. I knew that I wanted to study abroad since before I began college, and when the study abroad advisor told me about this program, I knew it was the one for me. Knowing before about the Karolinksa Insitituet and its reputation in the medical research community, I decided to look at the research options first at KI. I found a project that suited me adequately, and applied. It took a long time for the lab to reply, so long that they sent my application to other labs in the building with research that was not listed on the website as project options. The lab that responded turned out to be perfect for my interests, and exactly what I wanted to do.

Getting Ready

In preparing for the trip to Sweden, there is obviously quite a bit of paperwork. I did not need any vaccinations other than the ones I already had, and I did not need to even go to the doctor. I did have to apply for a residence permit, which was very complicated, but thankfully I was able to acquire one without an issue. I do wish there had been more information on how to complete all of the paperwork, given that I would have to email multiple people and wait anytime I had a question. However, once all of the paperwork was done, the hard part was deciding what I should pack to bring!

Courses during the exchange period

IEE075 : BACH-Biomedical project for exchange students
As I have already explained, my research project is on the molecular mechanisms underlying the visuo-spatial memory and learning deficits in a mouse model of Parkinson's disease. My days consisted of lab work without any courses, and a Swedish class once a week. I enjoyed the lack of distractions and being able to focus exclusively on research. I felt that I was able to get more done because all of my work was in one focus.


The End

Overall, I am glad that I decided to come to KI. The research experience that I gained was invaluable to me and my career. I learned an incredible amount about science and the research world. Beyond that, I really enjoyed getting in touch with my Swedish ancestry. I learned about my heritage, what my last name really means (Alder Tree Mountain) and where I came from. I fell in love with the country and people, and will always return in the future. KI is a wonderful university with many opportunities and I would recommend anyone to study here!

Language and Culture


The Swedish language is terrifying if you have never heard it before. I was so incredibly confused when people would talk to me in Swedish, and even phrases used everyday were sometimes hard for me to learn. I took a Swedish for beginners class when a couple weeks after starting my course which was once a week for two and a half hours for 10 weeks. On the first class, the professor did not show up, so all of us left after 20 minutes. Not exactly the best way to start a course! However, the following week the course started and went quite well. The instructor was quite lovely, and she seemed to enjoy teaching Swedish. As far as the atmosphere, it seemed that we are all exchange students at KI and that made it very comfortable since we all knew nothing of the Swedish language. In this way, none of us were embarrassed by getting something wrong, since we were all there to learn. The third week there was a national holiday, and we did not have class. Therefore, by one month into the class we only had two lessons. While I did feel like I had been learning, the course itself went very slowly. Swedish is a hard language, but I felt like I was in high school again! After a while I could recognize more words, but the major difficulty in learning in a class versus total immersion is that you may learn the words, but you will not become fluent.

KI is a very international university, and I spent my time speaking English since only one person in my lab spoke Swedish. I learned enough to get around, but I mostly learned more Italian. The majority of the people in my lab were Italian, so they would speak Italian to each other and given my fluency in French, another Latin language, I could pick up what they were saying. However, once I made friends with more Swedish people, I picked it up faster. I can now say multiple phrases, but I am not even at a conversational level. I have decided to seriously study Swedish and hope to pick it up as a third language eventually.

Studies in general

Fisone Group

My program includes biomedical research, methods and literature review, and a Swedish introductory course. This program is very unique in that the topics are very broad, and therefore the work that is done is tailored to each individual's interests. In that, it is hard to compare to my university since I have been taking normal courses and here I am simply doing research. However, this type of program would not be available at my university in that classes would have been required. The project that I am working on is about the underlying mechanisms of the non-motor symptoms of Parkinson's disease, specifically looking at cognitive function such as learning and memory in the Fisone Group in the Neuroscience department. The research facilities at KI are outstanding, with the finest equipment and staff. It makes the lab that I work in at my University seem like a play-set for little kids. It is obvious that the school takes pride in their research facilities and staff, given that everyone in the Neuroscience building seems to be incredibly pleased.

I was immediately assigned my own portion of the overall project on a topic of interest, which I appreciated. I began designing my own experiments. I appreciated the availability of my professor and post-doctorate, as they were continuously present if I had a question or needed help. There was an incredible amount of support for me during my work. By two months into the program, I had developed a workable protocol and significant repeatable results from my first experiment, and shown that there is a difference in learning between the Parkinson mice and the control mice. I was very pleased, and the next step was to find the molecular correlation to the behavioral observations.

By the end of my research, I had produced publishable results that my lab will use in the future. I wrote a 29 page paper on my research, which I will be using for my thesis at my home University. I learned an incredible amount in a very short time, including what lab work on a daily basis truly is. I feel that what I learned in this program was invaluable to my career and knowledge base.