Photo: Benjamin Alldritt
My Fulbright Experience - Many Happy Returns
Walking back to my flat from a party in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2011, I reflected on my previous six months as my stay in Finland was coming to a close. My Fulbright experience had dramatically and profoundly exceeded my expectations. It was a rich, rewarding, and transformative time for me, both professionally and personally. And it provided the opportunity to cultivate long-lasting friendships and numerous professional connections. There were many goodbyes at the party, and the next few days were crammed with bon voyage dinners and get-togethers organized by my hosts. We arrived in early July during the worst heat wave in history, but the high temperatures and humidity soon moderated. Kuopio was perhaps the most beautiful and comfortable place in the world to spend a six-month sabbatical. It came as no surprise to me that coincidentally Finland was recognized as the “Best Country in the World” by Newsweek magazine. My flat was just a few minutes walk from Väinölänniemi uimaranta where I went for a regular swim in Kallavesi. Riding my Jopo on the extensive network of bike paths, I explored nearby towns and marveled at all the lakes, and the loveliness of the Northern Savonian countryside. I felt that I was leading a particularly privileged and charmed life, especially after regular reports by my colleague and fellow Fulbright scholar on sabbatical in a country at the bottom of that list. The Fulbright-Saastamoinen Foundation fellowship brought me to the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Kuopio (now University of Eastern Finland) to 20
work with colleagues to study genes reindeer by his side. important in drug toxicity and cancer True to the predictions of my Finnish development. It was an opportunity of a hosts, the Fulbright experience has conlifetime to be a plugged-in to Finland’s tinued well beyond that cold New Year’s world-renowned biomedical research morning. I returned just a few months enterprise, outsized for such a relatively later, in May, and twice more in the subsesmall country. The Finns have made quent year for guest lectures, and to help impressive advancements in medicine, teach summer short courses. These Fulnutrition, public health, disease prevenbright connections have also extended tion, and wellness research, as their into Asia. Building on a successful scholar health outcomes and impressive life and student exchange between UEF and expectancy statistics attest. Admirably, the University of Hong Kong, I assisted Finnish researchers have long sought to UEF colleague Hani El-Nezami design export their public health strategies to dea curriculum for the MS programme in veloping nations and underserved people Food Toxicology at the University of Hong throughout the world. Kong. Along with numerous members of I felt some anxiety to be leaving just UEF faculty, I travel to Hong Kong each as we were starting to make some progyear to deliver lectures to students in this ress in the lab. My rudimentary Finnish successful and growing programme. language skills were slowly plodding As I write this a few days before along to where I was just now joining Thanksgiving holiday, I am preparing to words to form actual return to Finland the sentences. But my week before ChristIt was an colleagues encourmas, to contribute aged me to take the to a short course for opportunity of a lifetime long view. Email medical students. to be a plugged-in to and shipping samWe will also be planFinland’s world-renowned ples overnight via ning new experibiomedical research FedEx would allow ments and student the projects to conexchanges between enterprise, outsized for tinue across contiour laboratories. I such a relatively small nents. “Who knows, may finally give in country. you may be back to my host’s chalsooner than you lenges to take a dip think,” they suggestin frozen Väinölännied. After all, I had been to Kuopio a few emi. In any event, I will be keeping an eye years before as an external examiner for out for Santa and his reindeer. a PhD dissertation defense, so there was a growing familiarity. Being a Fulbright Text: Roger Coulombe fellow also opened doors during those Professor of Toxicology and Director of the six months to travel throughout the counGraduate Program in Toxicology at Utah try, to present research seminars, and to State University, where he teaches courses meet with world-renowned researchers I in Environmental and Molecular Toxicolknew until then only through reputation. ogy, and maintains an active research On that brisk early morning of the New program in molecular toxicology food Year, my face and gloved fingers were safety, and cancer chemoprevention. He starting to feel the nip, so I stepped up my was educated at Oregon State University, pace. Taking a shortcut to my flat through and the University of California, Davis. Snellman Park, I encountered an elderly He was awarded the 2010-2011 Fulbrightgentleman dressed in full Santa regalia, Saastamoinen Fellowship in Biomedical slowly leading a reindeer by a short rope. Research to the University of Eastern Whether this was a dreamy vision oiled Finland Kuopio where he worked in the by the exuberant New Year’s party, or Faculty of Health Sciences. In a previous the particularly harsh -35°C of the snowy sabbatical, he spent a year at the School Finnish winter, it was an unforgettable of Veterinary Studies, Murdoch Univermoment. “I don’t want this to end,” I resity, Perth, Western Australia. He regularly call thinking as I attempted to exchange travels between Finland and the United holiday greetings in my kindergartenStates to lecture and continue cooperative level Finnish, while admiring the gentle scientific research.