Last November, after a meeting in Thimphu, I was on the road back to my workplace at Sherubtse College, Trashigang. The journey from the capital takes two days across the beautiful valleys of central Bhutan on the tortuous East-West national highway road. While travelling, I could not keep myself updated on an important endeavour.
Associate Professor Anders Berglund visited the College in spring 2019 and shared the opportunity for higher studies at Uppsala University. I found the prospects for doctoral studies in Sweden exciting and virtually searched every educational site therein for PhD position openings. Uppsala University advertised a doctoral position related to my area on ‘Data reuse in the digital economy’. Although the application process was daunting and intellectually demanding, I managed to apply.
After a wearying journey, I settled down finally and checked email. Amongst all the other mails was an affirmative email on the position. My fully paid PhD position for 4 – 5 years at one of the top universities in the world was confirmed. I felt grateful to Uppsala University for the opportunity to fulfil my academics dreams. The delight of the opportunity numbed my travel weariness, and it was a night of good sleep. The coronavirus situation was worsening in and outside China. I felt the need to travel to Sweden as soon as possible. There was a slew of tasks to be performed in a limited time. The slightest mistake could have delayed my study further. Despite some teething troubles, I was able to get around with help from Anders.
On 5th February 2020, he was kind enough to come to pick me up at the Stockholm Arlanda Airport. On the way to my new home, I had my first experience of dining and shopping at IKEA. I would forever be indebted to Anders for rendering his support. After a few days of unwinding, I went to meet one of my two supervisors, Associate Professor David Johnson. We had countless emails and Skype exchanges in the application process and felt delighted to meet him personally. At the new academic home, he familiarised me with the services in the department and ways to gain access to it as well. During a fika, often translated as ‘coffee and cake break’, meeting, I introduced myself to the faculties of the Department Informatics and Media. Finally, I was part of a new big family!
In the spring, the university functioned as usual for the first few months. I attended the course work and other doctoral engagements in person. Meanwhile, the confirmed cases and death toll from the pandemic had increased in Sweden. However, the Swedish government’s decision was not to go into strict lockdown but relied on voluntary social distancing. People were encouraged to work from home. It helped the workplace to function safely. After the pandemic situation deteriorated, the university moved to remote teaching for the rest of the semester. I started my doctoral studies during an uncertain semester and was sceptical of how the semester would progress for me. I am a homebody and seldom go out. So, staying safe at home and teleworking did not hamper my work. The new normal of telework imbued in me a sense of freedom, management, and responsibility. As days, weeks, and months of learning passed by, the spring semester was over. The knowledge and skill-sets gained from the semester were invaluable for the forthcoming semesters.
I am much obliged to my supervisors for their unwavering support to settle well in a milieu to live and work for the next four–five years. I pray and wish for life to return to normalcy soon and resume the study on-campus in autumn with much joy and happiness.