“A Once-in-a-Million Lifetimes’ Experience” by Jamie Wollenberg
My week in Stockholm was an amazing mixture of scientific education and cultural exchange. The Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar (SIYSS), was a unique opportunity to meet with other scientifically minded students from 19 countries. Coming in we all shared an interest in research and improving the world through scientific enterprises, but our shared experiences in Stockholm ensured that we had so much more in common by the end of the week.
The first couple days we spent most of our time doing group building events, touring Stockholm, and acquainting ourselves with the Nobel Museum and area universities. During our free time we walked through the scenic “Old Town” area with its historic architecture, and I picked up on a couple Swedish words beyond my limited vocabulary of “Välkommen” and “Tack.” We were also lucky enough to have many interesting evening meals prepared for us including the Julbord Christmas feast and the international evening where we were served crayfish. Our Swedish hosts shared a great deal about the heritage of their country, including a love of fish that I’m afraid this resident of landlocked Kansas didn’t quite understand but was still quite interesting. I had no idea that there were so many ways of preparing herring! We also learned a great deal about the nations our fellow participants were from – the topics discussed included Chinese music, Irish sports, Russian winters, and South African beaches. The variety that could be seen in our life experiences was astounding.
The most enjoyable part of the week for me was the last two days we were there. I was privileged enough to attend a luncheon at the U.S. Embassy where the U.S. laureates were being honored, and to my astonishment the U.S. Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu, was present. The time I got to spend in personal discussions with these incredibly successful and intelligent individuals was where it really hit home for me what I was in Sweden for. This was no simple sightseeing trip; rather it was a chance to see firsthand how much can be achieved by a group of people when they are willing to devote their lives to science with the goal of solving the major issues facing humanity.
The night of the Nobel banquet was the capstone of the week. We had been to the museum, heard the lectures, and intermingled with a very diverse group of people at the reception. Yet nothing we did during the week prepared me for the last day of our stay in Sweden. We all got dressed out and took photos, had a farewell meeting in the captain’s cabin of the ship, and then walked out to leave for the presentation of the awards. To my surprise, we were greeted with a row of stretch limousines that took us to the opulent hall in which the award ceremony was to take place. Once this ceremony was complete, everybody traveled over to City Hall where the banquet took our collective breaths away. The food, atmosphere, and conversations that followed were beyond anything I’d ever experienced before, and I know the memory of that evening will stay with me through the rest of my life.
SIYSS was, as one of my new Swedish friends put it, “a once-in-a-million-lifetimes experience.” The relationships and memorable moments I established there are beyond description, and I could never fully state my appreciation to Bethany College and the Swedish Council of America for the gift of this tremendous experience.