International Story by Francesca Aguilo



Francesca Aguilo, Assistant professor at Department of Molecular Biology and WCMM Fellow

1. Coming to Sweden/Umeå, what surprised you the most?

I did my interview a sunny and hot day in May. However, we moved to Sweden in a very rainy day in October. I didn't see the sun for weeks and I experimented the darkness for the first time in my life. I was not sure how I could deal with this lack of energy. I just wanted to sleep! Although I still suffer from those days in fall, I learnt how to overcome the sadness a little bit: a nice walk, gym, a wine with friends, a good book next to the fire place!

2. You came here with a family – is there something you would like to share regarding this experience? (Things that might be good to know about, helpful tips?)

Sweden is an amazing place to have a family specially compared to New York, where we came from. I remember we were surprised to see the kids walking alone on the street, playing outside at -10 degrees (or even less). We got a lot of support from the school and daycare who helped us to navigate the system and treated our kids in a special manner, helping them to learn the language. It is important to ask for help if you or your family needs it. And we did so in order to supervise the adaptation of my kids. Another tip is to be active on inviting friends at home and build up relationships with families at the school. Otherwise, it won't happen. I also think it is very important to learn Swedish, at least the basics. I started with Swedish lessons last September and I regret not having started before.

3. Have you faced any cultural difficulties/challenges here and how did you react and deal with them?

I had never been in Sweden before coming for my interview and therefore, I didn't have any cultural reference. I am from Mallorca. To the contrary of Swedish people, Mediterranean people are very spontaneous and emotional. We are social animals and constantly need physical contact. I can find myself talking non-sense alone in a room or in an elevator just because I can't stand the silence. I think Swedish people (or at least my Swedish friends) embrace such differences. So, one tip would be to just try to be yourself.

One major challenge is to make a good Swedish friend. It just seems impossible that someone will invite you to their house or call you to have dinner or another plan together. They are too shy to ask for it. And now with the COVID is even worst. Maybe it is just that the concept of friendship is very different here in the North, where people are so introvertive and therefore, meeting a friend one in a while is just enough.

4. Starting your career at Umu, have you participated in any courses or workshops that you can recommend? Networks?

I did a leadership course for researchers at the University during my second year. It really helped me to meet other professors and learn from their experiences. Afterwards, I did courses at UPL to become a docent which also increased my networking.

5. Do you have any "hidden gems" in Umeå?

Yes, Utopia and Avion. Just kidding! I love running next to the river in the island of Ön. Sometimes, I even stop and do yoga. With the children we do down ski in Vindeln, Agnäsbacken during winter and in summer/ spring, we like to go to Grössjön, Nydalasjön.

Rosita Nilsson