A stack of papers to be read, two coffee mugs; one which reminds me of my time at Åbo, a lonely apple, a to-do list, and a pair of headphones sit on my cluttered desk. My eyes occasionally wander towards the misty view out of the 7th floor window, on a chilly December afternoon, and yet not a single mountain in sight as far as the eyes can gaze reminding me that I’m now in Wageningen – a small Dutch town – as you may have guessed from the lack of mountains. (Im)patiently sitting in the office until my supervisor reads my research proposal, it is tough not to walk down the memory lane.

Although only a few moons have passed since I arrived in The Netherlands, that spectacular journey took me halfway across the globe, from a small tropical island in South Asia, across the Atlantic to North America, and finally few hops and jumps within Europe. It would take pages after pages to pen and reminisce on the delightful things that had taken place, and the amazing souls that I’ve had the privilege of being in company with, in these mere seven odd years.

Towards the tail end of the summer of 2017, I was on a direct flight, with a mild hangover, from sunny and warm Mediterranean to far up North, where the temperature reaches so far below zero that polar bears are occasionally seen sharing saunas with people and where the sun is so elusive for half the year that the government has to put up a hologram of the sun once in a while. I may be exaggerating just a little bit. Finland, the land of a thousand lakes, I’m finally at my destination. A breath of fresh air greets me as I walk out of the airport. As numerous thoughts flood through my mind, including why on earth am I not wearing any warm clothes (because I left all of them in Estonia, duh!), I hear a familiar and friendly voice. Who could this be? Not even five minutes in a country that I’ve never been before. The voice pulls me back to reality from my la la land.

“Oh, hello!” I hear. As I turn around I see Johan, one of my future supervisors smiling at me. He’s just getting back from China. We exchange some pleasantries, and he boards an earlier bus headed to Åbo as I wait for mine to arrive. Åbo is to be my home for at least the coming year. Still a little skeptical about my choice of the 2nd year study track (electrochemistry, what was I thinking?), I too get on my bus. As we reach Åbo, the scenery outside paints a familiar picture. Just as The Emajõgi flows through Tartu, the river Aura graces Åbo. The familiarity puts my mind at a relative ease.

It did not take long for my colleagues and I to get well acquainted with Åbo. Whatever doubts we may have had vanished as soon as we started our work. Everyone in the lab and the analytical chemistry department were extremely helpful and would not hesitate to offer a helping hand whenever needed. The study program at Åbo is broken down to chewable pieces so that a complex field of study can be digested.

 

Sense of autonomy and flexibility are the best qualities we enjoyed during our time at Åbo. There was no one to look over our shoulders. Yet the help was available literally next door, if needed, despite how busy our supervisors were. We had several classes scattered throughout the year to lay a strong theoretical foundation, nevertheless, the majority of our time was focused on hands-on innovative research. Individual projects were assigned to each one of us, which provided us with a thorough practical grasp on electrochemistry. Thus, we were able to transition into our master thesis topics with ease.

It wasn’t just academics that made the stay in Åbo interesting. Much needed laughter and inside jokes with my officemates Jaypee and Slim, made the lab work more pleasant, which would otherwise be mundane sometimes. Random coffee breaks at 3 in the afternoon with wonderful company were a welcome addition. There were numerous celebrations, reasons for which escapes my mind at the moment, but there was definitely cake and chocolate involved. We were also very fortunate to be there when both Finland and Åbo turned a century. Needless to say, it was spectacular.

In Åbo, and in Finland in general, there was warmth and friendship to be found in every corner even during the darkest and the coldest time of the year. Plentiful days and nights have been spent with friends, whether it’s a hiking trip, a bbq, a sauna night, a pub crawl, or a board game night, the context didn’t matter. The company made all the difference. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of dancing northern lights, just outside of your apartment.

 

 

There were definitely times when I stared hopelessly at a blank document or a confusing paper or bewildering lab results, where the questions from my colleagues were met with simple grunts or incomprehensible gibberish. Now that I started my PhD, I have come to understand that this is much more common behavior in academia. Nevertheless, in the coming years, I would undeniably look back fondly at the time I spent in both Åbo and Tartu. I consider myself to be fortunate and privileged to be a part of the EACH family, not simply because of the amazing program that has evidently become a cornerstone of my career, but most importantly because of the lifelong friendships that were founded within these two years. I would not or could not have guessed that the past two years would be so monumental in my life.

But now, disrupting my train of thoughts, a reminder pops up on my screen saying I need to be at a meeting in 15 minutes. The mist outside my window is also clearing off. I need to be elsewhere soon but the memories of EACH will always be delightful and heartwarming.

 

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