Oops, how did I end up in Uppsala?

This story starts some time ago, around May 2020. I’ve just successfully defended my master thesis online, amidst the pandemic, so no there will be no graduation ceremony, let alone any trip. Still, I have a joyful time for one day before reality hits hard: I am unemployed.

Well, speaking of employment, I really want to continue on with PhD studies because I believe they will be a great investment for my career and I will obtain more knowledge, especially in the fields of biomedical/pharmaceutical sciences. But given the present situation (lots of travel & visa restrictions), I decide to take any opportunity that is available, so I start working in a COVID-19 diagnostic lab. All those years training with qPCR finally pay off – I can be useful in industry work, though doing so is completely unexpected.

Sometime around November 2020, I’m scrolling through Twitter (social media is really powerful if used right!) and see the COLOTAN advertisement, and decide to apply right away. To be honest, while looking for PhD position, I never really think much about the country or location. The thing I’m usually looking for is the scope of study and scholarship availability. When I receive the invitation for an interview, I just realize how far Sweden is from Indonesia. The only things that come to mind about Sweden are IKEA’s nice furniture and delicious meatballs. Still, I decide to give it a go, let’s see how exciting this journey will be!

A sunny day in Uppsala

I’m quite in awe and surprise that I get this opportunity. After quite some time dealing with the admission administration process, looking for housing, and visa application, in August 2021 I am ready to go! My first impression arriving in Sweden is a nice clear sky and really good weather. No way of imagining the harsh winter to come! Unfortunately, the bureaucracy process for settling here (tax number, bank account, etc) is quite slow and involves lots of tedious paperwork at the beginning. I am really grateful for the support given by my supervisors, labmates, and also COLOTAN Uppsala local chapter (Bekkah and Sydney).

Marco ice skating at Fjällnora, COLOTAN Uppsala chapter (trio to the right, from left to right: Marco Tjakra, Rebekkah Hammar, Sydney Mwasambu)

Getting used to a new environment and joining a multidisciplinary group is quite a challenging process. But it is very rewarding! I end up learning a lot of things over the next 8 months, some of them totally new compared to my background in biotechnology/biomedical engineering. I am very glad the new friends are all welcoming and supportive people.

The BLT (Bergström-Larsson-Teleki) group

Coming from a tropical country, I never imagined the weather in Uppsala would be so extreme. This is the coldest temperature (-25°C) I have ever felt in my entire life so far. I experience a lot of other things for the first time, as well, like ice skating on a frozen lake, touring around a Christmas market, taking part in a spex (a short satirical theatrical piece) for a graduating PhD student, using lots of cool lab instruments, and many more! Looking forward to seeing what the next year will bring me!

Fire show, Snowy Uppsala

Frozen roses, Christmas lights

Marco Tjakra