Saunas, skiing and sustainability: Umeå alumnus reflects on Sweden

Saunas, skiing and sustainability: Umeå alumnus reflects on Sweden
Shuomo Khondoker
NFGL Local Network Umeå alumnus Shuomo Khondoker reflects on his two years of study and offers advice for current and future SI scholars in northern Sweden.

How would you describe SLU Umeå as an international campus?

When I moved to Umeå, a small city in northern Sweden, in September 2016, many other international students were also expected to enrol at both Umeå University and SLU. I was simply one of them. But it's what I was going to study there made our class very special. We were admitted on the Management of Fish and Wildlife Populations (a two-year master’s program) in the Faculty of Forestry and Department of Wildlife, Fish and Environmental Studies.

When my Umeå University buddies had a big orientation, I'll admit I was very frustrated about the number of students who would also be oriented at SLU and how it would be. But the grand dinner and the tour into the mesmerizing SLU Umeå campus made all of us – we were roughly 17-18 people – happy enough to get started with a new spirit and positive energy. I feel very lucky about the entire environment of studying at SLU. Our student union “Skogis” had a lot to offer: a small but real wooden sauna, beers on a Thursday, pancakes, goulash, many international dinners, Christmas dinner and movie nights.

Photo: Christmas dinner at Skogis student union

What was the funniest experience you had?

One of my friends convinced me to do snow rolling in the middle of winter (approximately -20C) during a sauna session. I had a feeling that my heart could stop any moment when I was lying on the snowy ground for a few seconds! The snow was soft and welcoming – very cold, of course! – but I had to accept the challenge.

What did you learn from staying and studying in Umeå?

The Saxnäs tour (March 2017) organised by the student union gave me the chance to learn how to ski on the inland and mountains. I remember how the enchanting beauty of Saxnäs was engulfing us. Riding on snow mobiles over a frozen lake was something else I had not done before. My eyelids were frozen but were enthusiastic enough to keep themselves open! Late night music, mingling and a barbeque party gave me the chance to talk to people from over 10 countries and learn about Swedish culture.

A month before this, a group of people from our class went to the biggest Winter Market in Sweden at Jokkmokk. We were lucky enough to see some reindeer on our way there. Best northern cheeses and pelts are not the only things you find there. Sami people’s handmade knives and a variety of hunting dog exhibitions help you to discover the Arctic circle. I also got to learn how to drill a hole into frozen river streams during an ice fishing session outside Umeå. Winter was scary in the beginning, I will say. But all these adventures taught me a new lesson: both the north and winter are fun, if you are with the right people at the right places.

Photo: Christmas market at Jokkmokk

Are there any NFGL programs you liked specifically?

NFGL Umeå had a plenty of meaningful and effective programs to boost our energy towards positive change in society through knowledge. I loved the tour at GE Healthcare Umeå where I was amused to see how this large-scale hardware industry has always been here and we had no idea about it. The insights on how to start your own business in Sweden at Umenova, Umeå and Arctic Business Incubator, Luleå were very impressive in terms of showing us the way to innovation.

Do you have anything to say to the current SI scholars?

Concentrate on your studies but do not forget to have fun. Get to know the city where you will be studying and find out what it can offer. Do not lose contact with your student union. They can act as your local guide both with the course or program you are taking and also with the free time activities. Sweden offers a wide range of national parks from north to south to hike and stay in wooden cottages (mostly for free). Save some money from each month's scholarship money and buy a good backpack. I promise that it will turn out to be a great investment for the next two years. One last thing: always keep in touch with the local NFGL to find out more and more about sustainability and how you can be a part of it. Sweden is a world leader in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) achievement pathway.