Category Archives: Studying abroad

First time skiing

I admit I have complained about winter in Sweden, but there are plenty of fun things to do around Uppsala during this time.  Earlier today I went skiing with some friends to Kungsberget, a ski resort 150km north from Uppsala.

Last night we rented a car with Circle K, which has very affordable prices for a 24h period. This morning we started driving at 7 to be at Kungsberget just after they opened. We booked skiing equipment in advance and went directly to the slopes.

First I learnt the basics at the children area, just to get confident and know how to break and turn. After a few times going up and down I felt confident enough to go on a steeper slope, which was extremely exciting and fun! I only fell once and went down very fast. It was a short and intense adrenaline shot. So I decided to go even higher to a more challenging slope!

Going up up up!

Once there it was OK during the first few meters, but I slowly lost confidence and technique what made it not that enjoyable. Not enjoyable as in I fell more than 20 times. As in I spent more time in the floor than skiing down… I think after doing it for a while my muscles got tired, so I lost balance and stability very easily. To make it  worse, l got more and more frustrated every time I fell on the floor what made me angry at myself.

But in all, it was a very fun and different experience. Next time I will hopefully be able to ski more exciting routes without falling so much, haha.

Cheers,

Hernán.

Exchange for SLU students in Colombia

For students at SLU it is possible to go abroad for an exchange  to different universities around the world. To my surprise,  SLU has an agreement* with the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana (PUJ)- my home university in Bogotá, Colombia. Therefore, I though it would be useful for some people to write about it here.

*The agreement includes an stipend of 650 euros/month for no more than 12 months, requires  B2 Spanish level annd is open to all SLU students.

Higher education in Colombia

Colombian Education system works differently than in Sweden. Public universities are big, but difficult to get in because of the huge demand and few places available. Hence,  most people studies in private universities paying for tuition fees with their own resources (mainly),  or study loans or scholarships. These universities are mainly located in the bigger cities; namely Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla (all + 2M people).  There are very limited courses taught in English, and these are meant for Colombian students willing to learn the language. Otherwise, tuition is in Spanish- reason why B2 level is a must.

Bogotá

Just so you know Bogotá is not warm and tropical. It is situated 2600 m AMSL with an average temperature of 15°C. Nonetheless some days it can be sunny and 23°C, or be rainy and 14°C. It is unpredictable and that part of its charm (you might like to read Three similarities between Sweden and Colombia). It has 8M gently warm-hearted inhabitants, beautiful mountains on the east and a vibrant cultural scene and nightlife. Yes, as many Latin American big cities it has a considerable high crime rate, but during the last few years it has been decreasing significantly. Oh, traffic  and public transport are terrible, be aware of it.

Bogotá from the eastern mountains. Picture by Omar Monroy
Bogotá from the eastern mountains. Picture by Omar Monroy

The University

Indeed, the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana is a one of the biggest and more prestigious private universities in Bogotá. It was founded my the Jesuits in 1623 and it is still ruled by them. The University proclaims itself catholic, but students from different religions, beliefs and cultural backgrounds are welcomed and respected. It is located in the city centre and has about 30.000 students coming from different regions, who study 188 programs organized in 18 schools, all in the same campus. Programs taught include a wide range of subjects, from scenic arts to medicine. Precisely,  I enjoyed the very much meeting students from different programs during my studies because they broadened my view on political, artistic and scientific issues.

Arts Faculty building. Picture by Jairo Llano
Arts Faculty building. Picture by Jairo Llano

For SLU students there are interesting courses  taught in Spanish such as Colombian Ecosystems, Colombian Flora, Social and Political Ecology, Socioeconomy of Rural Landscapes,  Agroecology, Threes and City, among many others. Additionally, more interesting courses can be found at the departments of Ecology and Territory, Rural and Regional Development, Biology, Microbiology, Nutrition and Biochemistry, Architecture, Sociology and Anthropology. Often there are excursion within courses to other regions of Colombia and students get usually involved in volunteering programs, ans these are of course open to exchange students too (take a look to both videos below).

Student life

PUJ has implemented what they call medio universitario, which basically aims to create a proper environment inside the campus to make it feel as a second home for students. This includes free access to a gym,  student groups, concerts and many more activities.Student life is vibrant as Bogotá. Since some more big universities are located nearby  PUJ, it makes Bogotá’s city centre a hub for culture,  knowledge and of course partying.  Some even dare to say that Bogotá is the Athens of South America  due to the high number of Universities located there. Living expenses are not cheap though, but 650 euros is more than enough I would say.

Some useful links:

SLU MoveON

Pontificia Universidad Javeriana 

I am willing to answer any further question, so do not hesitate to ask or comment below!

Best,

Hernan.

Accommodation in Uppsala

Housing in Uppsala is the biggest issue a student might face. There are several myths around, but I will share the one that I have been told is true: Last autumn a Finnish guy (who is friends with a friend of a friend), together with her German girlfriend had to sleep several weeks in a tent until they found a place to stay in. Crazy, but real. The problem is quite complex: International students from outside the EU (like me, hehe) and exchange students have guaranteed accommodation during their studies. However, master students from the EU (Including Swedish of course) have to find accommodation on their own. It is quite a struggle, because both universities (Uppsala University and SLU) grow in size, but housing facilities do not seem to grow at the same pace.

Nonetheless, there are some ways to find housing. The first one in signing in for the housing companies: Studentstaden and Heimstaden. IF YOU ARE READING THIS AND WILL STUDY IN UPPSALA GO AND SIGN IN NOW. For some rooms/flats these companies have queues, therefore the more days someone has been part of, the higher is the chance to get a room. Particularly, my Swedish flatmate applied when she was in highschool and did not know if one day she would come to Uppsala. Luckly she got admitted to SLU and found a place easily because of all the days she had been queuing. Secondly,  it is possible to become a member of a Nation (similar to sororities in the US, I should write a post about this later!). In this way is likely to find a room after 6 months of being a member…. Is still worth trying though! Finally, Facebook and Blocket: Here, people sublet rooms and flats and many of my friends  in Uppsala have found their places in this way. Also the earlier people start looking the easier they find housing. HOWEVER, NEVER, NEVER, EVER (I really mean the bold) MAKE A DEAL WITH SOMEONE WHO ASK YOU TO TRANSFER MONEY ABROAD. Many students get scammed by mo*****kers who take advantage of the housing problem in Uppsala.

SLU has a website with much more information. Visit it here.

I’m already working on a post about the different student housing locations in Uppsala, so stay tuned!

Best of luck!

Hernán.

Warsaw

A few weeks ago  two of my closest Colombian friends (Who are also studying in Europe) and I went to Warsaw, a place from which I hadn’t heard much before, but now I have a thousand stories to tell about it!

Warsaw is the capital of Poland, a country that had suffer a lot during the previous century, but also a country that faces now a stable economic growth compared to other European countries. This economic welfare can be seen in the capital: It smells like new.  Old buildings that were damaged during the Second World War have been restored, sidewalks and streets rebuilt and a new metro line constructed. It is amazing and surprising how Poles have had the courage and strength to take a city from ashes (Warsaw was almost completely destroyed after 1945) to what it looks nowadays – Not for nothing, they are well known for being hard workers.

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The new metro line in Warsaw has futuristic underground stations that suit the recently renovated city center. Picture by Hernán Capador.

The city also has a vibrant cultural movement, and its citizens are proud of  great scientists and artists that have been born in Warsaw. All around city center there are benches with speakers where people can sit down and listen to Chopin’s compositions. Also, in front of the Polish Academy of Sciences stands the statue of Copernicus, who was the first man to suggest that the sun was the center of the universe, rather that the earth. Copernicus statue stands a few meters from the Hostel where we stayed, and is one of my favorite landmarks of the city!

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Graffiti art allusive to Chopin, in front of Chopin’s museum. Picture by Hernán Capador
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Copernicus statue in front of the Polish Academy of Sciences. When the night comes, most of the buildings are beautifully lighten up. Picture by Hernán Capador.

We also had the chance to meet Kasia, who lives in Warsaw but grew up in Colombia, because her parents decided to move there. As a local, she took us to her favorite places to have drinks (cheap and flavorful spirits!), showed us Praga – the not as pretty, new and rich borough- and explained us how it is to live in Warsaw. One interesting thing we could experience during our stay was a demonstration through Krakowskie Przedmieście, the most important street in Warsaw. Demonstrations seem to happen every Sunday to protest against right wing government and its policies. Interestingly, some of the right wing people are also uncomfortable, since some of them believe that there is a conspiracy with the 2010’s plane crash in which the right winged former president Lech Kaczyńsk died, but let’s not get to deep into polish politics!

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A hip-trashy bar to get cheap shots of vodka-based spirits, or just a few beers. Picture by Hernán Capador.
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Every Sunday, Warsaw’s main street gets full of white and red flags. Picture by Hernán Capador

Overall, Warsaw was perfect destination for a weekend getaway and meeting with my good old friends! It has affordable food and accommodation, beautiful architecture, nice people and many stories to discover. Dzęnki Warszawa!

Do not hesitate to comment or ask below!

Hernán

What has been going on?

If i try to define last month there might be only a word for it: Hectic. Taking a course in Stockholm has been insightful, because I have had the chance to meet new researchers, and being immersed in one of the biggest universities in Sweden. But also tiring, because I have spent many hours in the lab working on a small project (read more about it here) together with my wonderful lab partner, and commuting many hours everyday. It is really strange how spending so much time inside a train drains my energy. Then, the little energy I have left  I spend it either working on assignments or in other everyday duties (cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, etc.). That is why I haven’t had the chance to keep up with my blog! which is sad, because I really enjoy writing here.

Ahhh, and I also have to admit that my social life has taken a big part of my time. Recently I went to Poland to meet two of my closest friends, had my birthday, and in general went out a lot with friends in Uppsala. Maybe I  needed all this distraction to get rid of the stress from Stockholm, but in the end guess what… spending so much time in relaxation has brought me more stress! Right now I am running against deadlines to hand in a report and haven’t been this stressed in a while. In case I haven’t been too clear I’d like to highlight that I am really stressed right now. 

But writing is always a nice therapy. After this post I feel definitely better.

Many nice things are coming along for my blog and I am looking forward to have time to write them! (including the lab project,  the wonderful time I had in Poland and my birthday) So stay tuned.

Cheers!

Hernán.

How to choose a master’s degree abroad

When I meet new people in Sweden almost everyone has the same reaction: WOW, why did you decide to come from so far away to study here? Well,  I always explain the system I came up with:  three criteria that filtered the programs I was interested in and helped me to choose the program I follow now (read more about it here). I hope it can help you guys too 🙂

1. Language and location 

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint
Drawing by Hernán Capador

Most programs request specific scores from international recognized language tests. Therefore,  one should be aware of its own language skills and make a wise choice. Then, a specific location may  be considered, because many countries around the world speak the same language and actually, there are also universities that teach graduate courses in languages different from the country’s official language- as  in Sweden. When I applied this filter I was certain about doing my master’s degree in English language and  somewhere in Europe.

2. Program and reputation 

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint
Drawing by Hernán Capador

The second criteria is not as easy to sort out as the first one, because the answers are not in the decision-maker, but out there in the web. There are plenty of international rankings that rank universities according to the impact of their research, the number of PhD students, ratio professors/students, etc. Even when I am aware that those rankings do not tell the absolute truth about an university, I think they are worth considering to make decisions. Some of those rankings are subject specific, which helps even more when filtering the options. For example, when I looked at the best universities in agriculture, I realized that SLU was among the top 10 worldwide.

3. Affordability 

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint
Drawing by Hernán Capador

Finally, money. Postgraduate studies are expensive and living abroad is as well, reason why this factor is important. When it comes to tuition fees one should see if they are affordable. If not,  there are always  scholarships available. There are also scholarships available to cover living expenses, but I will get to this whole subject in a later post. What is important here is to be reasonable and aware of how much money one can pay for a master’s program. In Sweden, UE citizens  do not have to pay tuition fees (great, huh?). As I come from Colombia I was entitled to pay around 30.000 USD for tuition fees. However, SLU offers certain number of scholarships to cover tuition fees on a yearly basis and guess what… I got it one of them 🙂

I hope you liked this post and the crappy, but lovely drawings!

Please, do not hesitate to ask something or share your thoughts below!

Best!

Hernán.

 

A Master of Science in Plant Biology

It is quite difficult to decide a topic for the very first blog post. However I guess that the most logical approach is to start with the basics: What am I doing  in Sweden?

I was admitted to the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU for its acronym in Swedish language) to study a 120 credits master program called “Plant Biology”. Because the program is held in an agriculture-focused university it explores topics in biology of plants from a production perspective and suits my previous education (read more about me). However, the genetic and molecular background is present throughout all course, which makes it a leading program, that prepares  students for the current and upcoming knowledge in plant sciences. Furthermore, SLU is among the the top 10 universities in agriculture worldwide, and is a wonderful place for plant studies.

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The class in the green house. Photo by Jon Bancic ©.

The master program is collaborative, as it is organized by three outstanding Swedish universities: Uppsala University, Stockholm University and obviously, SLU. Therefore,  the students have to take at least one course at each university, which turns out to be awesome, as I will get to meet more people, more professors, more research groups, and in the end I will get more opportunities. 

I started it in September 2015, and will finish before summer 2017. So far I have no regrets. Coming to SLU to pursue my Master of Science was definitely the wisest choice I have ever made!

Do you have any questions? Do not hesitate to comment below 🙂

Best!

Hernán.