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Meet the New Jazz Sweetheart: Amanda Ginsburg

I don’t always listen to jazz, but when I do, it’s Amanda Ginsburg.

I first found out about Amanda when I was looking for performances at the Stockholm Culture Festival 2018. I have to admit that jazz is not something I am always passionate about (having been trained as a classical musician previously, I personally found it difficult to understand what’s jazz is all about *facepalm, I know 🙈). But there’s something about her that captivates me. I don’t know how to explain it. Perhaps it’s the song itself (I first listened to Havsmelodi – Sea’s Melody). It has this… sadness but also happiness at the same time. Or perhaps it’s her voice? It sounds so dreamy and beautiful to me.

Anyway, I decided to come and see her performance yesterday. After being misled by Google maps (who has lived in Stockholm for 4 years and still use Google Maps to navigate around the city? Yours truly, obviously), I arrived in front of the scene. The concert had started, and it was so crowded. I almost could not see the stage (short posture and late arrival is definitely not a good combination). However, I managed to listen to some of my favourites: Vem är du? (Who are you?), Flykten från vardagen (Escape from daily life), En kväll i september (An evening in September), and Havsmelodi. She sounded just like the recording. I’m in love 😍😍😍

I have to admit that I cannot catch all the words in her songs, despite having learned Swedish for years. But hey, isn’t the music itself the universal language? 😉

Amanda Ginsburg at Stockholm Culture Festival 2018
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EuroPride Parade Stockholm 2018

If I could be honest with you, I used to be rather ignorant about LGBT rights issues. I mean, I basically believe that people have the rights to be whatever they want, but that’s it. And coming from where I come from, it was certainly not the easiest topic to discuss (with anyone). People have their own prejudice, the most extreme could borderline to violence. So most of the time I would just shut up.

It was kind of changed when I moved to Sweden. I learned. I met people. I discussed. And then I realised that what people have been doing in my country is not okay. I am ashamed. But honestly, I also feel helpless. I don’t really know what to do.

I think we have long forgotten to value human beings as they are. Regardless.

So today, I decided to join the EuroPride Parade in Stockholm. Not yet participating in the march, but I wanted to be there. One of my friends came out last year and I am very proud of him and I wanted to support him in any way that I can. Frankly, I had my own doubts too. As a heterosexual woman with a hijab, I myself am afraid of the prejudice I might receive by being present there. I was afraid of what people would think. Would I get harassed? Would I be jeered? Would people think of my presence as an insult? All that negative thoughts came running to my head. But my friend assured me that this event was supposed to be inclusive. So I steeled myself and gave it a go.

I positioned myself around 1.5 km from the finish line. The weather was rather strange. Sunny and cloudy and drizzly and sunny again. It took around 1.5 hours before I saw the first group came marching down.

And then I cried. Like, really cried.

I thought of my closest friends. I thought of my childhood friends. I thought of a friend who came alone to this parade. I thought of all the people who got prosecuted for who they were in my country, in other countries. I thought of a guy who sought asylum in another country. I thought of all the loving parents who accepted their kids for who they were. And I thought of all the estranged families who probably still found it hard to do the same.

I have experienced various heartbreaks. But I could never imagine how it feels for not being able to be with someone you love because you did not conform to the “societal norm”.

And I know, coming from myself, this writing means nothing. Or it could be the other way around and turned to be controversial. I have been contemplating myself in what language I should write this. I could probably write in Swedish, it would likely be safer since Sweden is such a progressive country. But I want people to know. I am tired of pretending that I don’t care. I do care. I believe that we should put humanity above all the boxes first.

And to my friends out there, I am here for you. You know who you are.

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How I obtained the PhD student residence permit

I have always been a fan of Swedish efficiency in terms of public service. Coming from where I came from, it certainly is a huge improvement. It is, of course, not perfect. I heard stories of hiccups here and there, but never have I thought that I would experience such hiccups myself. I am talking here about the process of getting a Ph.D. student residence permit.

The indication came far before I was officially admitted as a Ph.D. student, actually. During the preparation for my admission, I was browsing some KI pages about the residence permit for doctoral students, and I stumbled upon a page called ‘New rules for change of status’. “What is this?” I wondered. I read on and suddenly panic washed over me.

Apparently there were some changes in the Swedish Migration Agency’s practice regarding the procedure of obtaining a residence permit for PhD student. In Sweden, and especially at KI, as I told previously, once you got a PhD position, it doesn’t automatically mean that you are enrolled as a PhD student, because you have to go through a certain admission process beforehand. For international students, usually, they could come first using visiting researcher visa during such preparation time, and apply for PhD student permit once they are admitted. They could keep on working while waiting for such permit. With the new rules, you could not be in Sweden when the Migration Agency make a decision regarding your permit, which means that somehow, somewhere during your PhD, you will have to leave your work, go abroad, and not coming back until you make sure that your permit has been granted. The thing is, and based on my experience, it could be hard to estimate when you will get the decision for the permit, i.e. whether or not your permit is approved. So, it would be hard to plan in advance when, for how long, and where you have to travel. And also, depending on whether or not you still have a valid visa at the time of application, you might either have to go back to your home country, and wait for the permit there, or you could just simply travel within Europe/Schengen where your visa is accepted. Either way, you will have to send a proof to the migration officer that you are not in Sweden, i.e. a picture in front of a landmark, with the day’s newspaper to show them the date.

I was trying to find more information regarding this new practice in the Swedish Migration Agency website. None. Nada. And I searched both Swedish and English website, mind you. So the only source of information was this KI webpage. It was very frustrating because part of me did not want to believe that such complications exist, but another part of me was worried, like “What if it were true? How should I go through that?” I also tried to communicate this with my supervisors but they were as clueless as I was. At that point, I also had another kind of worry, like,

”What if they regret employing me, an immigrant, because of this complications?”

I tried to ask around, to find more clues about this new practice. I sent an e-mail to another friend whom I knew also recently got a PhD position. I sent another e-mail to the contact person at the KI webpage. I talked to the HR (human resources) and discussing the options. At that point, I had an employment contract until December 2017 and valid visiting researcher visa until that point of time. But my admission seminar would be held in the beginning of December and we were not sure when I would be officially admitted as a PhD. It might take 1-2 weeks until the decision came. And then there would be Christmas and New Year’s holiday. Should I prolong the visiting researcher visa while waiting, or should I wait a bit and just directly applied for the PhD permit? But if I did not have a valid visa while waiting for PhD permit decision, I would have to go back to my home country and it would mean longer pause during my PhD work. In the end, it was decided that my employment contract (as a R&D trainee) would be prolonged for some months into 2018 so I could prolong my visiting researcher visa. If I got admitted during that period, I would apply for the PhD permit then.

Luckily, during this ask-around period, I met a colleague who had gone through the same process. According to her, once you were abroad and sent the proof that you were abroad (i.e. the picture), the decision came almost immediately, which meant that she did not actually have to stay THAT long outside Sweden. A cruise trip would suffice, but it should not be on the weekends, since the officer might not work during that time and could not respond to your inquiries. It was such a HUGE relief to hear such piece of information. My only concern was that I would have to go for a prolonged period of time, not being able to work, missed courses, etc etc. But apparently, that did not have to be the case.

In the middle of January 2018, I got the extension for my visiting researcher visa. I had also been officially admitted as a PhD student, so then it would be time to apply for the PhD student permit. I remembered that I could not even apply via the website because I could not choose to have my permit decision sent to my address in Sweden (you had to choose one of the Swedish embassies abroad), so I sent my application via post.

Around two weeks later, 30 January 2018 (wow I even remembered the date!), I received a letter from the Swedish Migration Agency which basically stated that I should leave Sweden in order to get my application processed. I should leave by 9 February 2018, but they also gave me the chance to explain if I should be exempted from this rule. I did not think I would qualify for rule exemptions anyway, so I fired away some e-mails and messages to my supervisors and friends saying that I got the letter and that I would be away for some time. Afterwards, I started looking for cheap plane tickets (cruise was not an option because my husband could not stand traveling by ship). I made this matrix to compare different scenarios of the travel plan, and decided that travelling to Gdańsk, Poland would be the most viable option. Although my colleague said that you only needed one day to get the decision, I decided to extend my travel into 5 days (including weekend) in case something happened. I was extremely lucky because none of my courses had started at that time and the data for the project was still being prepared so I was not in the middle of something very urgent from my work. But think if I had different research, work in the lab, or with the animals. It might mean a more complicated situation than what I had to experience.

When I came to work the next day (I would travel the day after), it seemed that everybody (at least in the research group) had known about my story 🐻 and they were very supportive about that. I feel touched, honestly… ❤

We travelled on Thursday, 1 February 2018 to Gdańsk and arrived in the afternoon. I was actually impressed by the new and modern airport there. We could have actually stayed in the airport and take a picture there, but we decided to go to the city centre. At the central station, we were looking for the kiosk which sold newspaper and debated for some time as to which one we should buy (which, actually did not matter because we did not understand the language anyway XD ). In the end we decided to buy a ‘serious’ looking newspaper and took our picture with it. It might seem awkward to see someone struck a pose in front of the train station while holding the newspaper, all-smiling when the news seemed to be about riot ^^’ (honestly we did not know what the news was about). We even used the proper camera (DSLR) because we were afraid that if we only used the phone, the date in the newspaper could not be seen when you zoomed it too highly. But because of that, we had to wait until we arrived in the hotel to transfer the picture and sent it to our case officer. By that time it was already nearly 16.00. I was really afraid that the case-officer had gone home, but thankfully he replied and said that he would inform me as soon as a decision had been made. I understood that it was already late, so I tried not to think about it until the following day.

The following day we waited, and waited, and waited (while also exploring Gdańsk – a beautiful city! Especially the old town) but did not hear anything back. Meanwhile, a friend who was also travelling for the same purpose said that he had got the decision almost immediately afterwards! I was desperate. 😥 It was Friday around 16.00. What if we did not get the decision until next week? I was panicked. In that moment of desperation, I tried to login to the Migration Agency’s website. And there it stood that a decision had been made for my application! What? But what would be the decision? We did not know. But we were hopeful, so we tried to go through the weekend in peace and travelled to Warsaw (another beautiful city and a city I’ve always wanted to visit!).

But then Monday came and we would go back to Sweden that day, but we still did not know what the decision was. And so I tried to e-mail our case officer again. Thankfully he replied almost immediately and said that our permits were granted! Alhamdulillah! Thank God!!! So we could finally travel back in peace, knowing that we had the required permit arranged…

I know that I was not the only one affected by this new rules and that everyone had different stories on how they were affected. Some might have it harder than me, so I don’t want to invalidate what they had gone through. I know also that the Migration Agency, at least for my part, had tried to make this process went as smooth as possible. But I really hope that there will be a more practical solution in the future for this process.

Let’s hope!

 

alicia_nevriana

The picture I sent to the case officer

 

 

 

 

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My Top 5 Entries for Eurovision 2017

It’s the time of the year again! Well well. It’s been so long since I updated this blog (facepalm) but today I would like to share some of my favourite entries from Eurovision Song Contest!

(A quick note: it’s annual international song competition, although the participants are mostly from Europe. Sweden won 6 times since participating in 1958 and ABBA was one of the winners 😉 )

But of course, we shouldn’t dwell in the past! Because this year we have a number of great songs (well, great according to me, that is). So if you’re looking for an alternative to music to listen to, you’re welcome to check them out!

1. Sweden

Ah. Robin Bengtsson. Wonder why he’s so gorgeous. 😍 I have been captivated since I watched his first performance in Melodifestivalen (the Swedish selection for Eurovision). He was not a favourite for Swedish public back then so it came as a surprise that he won. But not for me. He had a quite consistent performance throughout the competition and of course, I’m glad that he made it to the final! Lycka till, Robin!

2. France

France was among the first countries that announced their song for this competition and I completely fall in love with this song at that very moment!!! 😍😍😍 although my French ability is a big zero, I just hit it off with this song! Too bad they modified it for the final version and I like this version better but nevertheless, best of luck, France!

3. Portugal

This song is so dreamy, like coming straight out of fairy tale. Again, I have no idea on Portuguese (language) but this song touched my heart just like that! 😍 I think he had the best performance during the semi-final. Undoubtedly the best entry from Portugal for the past 3 years. I hope it goes well in the final! Good luck, Salvador!

4. Croatia

What’s with me and tenor singers? I can not NOT love song that is sung by tenor singer! And it begins with a violin! How can I NOT like that? I know that some people think this song is weird, some kind of failed mashed up between opera and pop but for me, this song is sooooo way underrated! I hope Jacques performed well though. I’m looking forward to his live performance!

5. Austria

Ah, Austria. Beautiful country with no less beautiful singer.
Ok. Maybe cute is a better word to describe Nathan Trent. Honestly, I first fall in love with the video clip and not the song itself (facepalm). But it didn’t take long for me to start liking the song. I know the song is simple, too simple for some, perhaps. But for me, this is the charm of this song. It’s an easy-listening song that you play when you’re together with your friends or with the cute guy next door that is Nathan Trent (I wish!!! Haha 😂😂😂). Good luck Austria!!

And while those are on my top list, I have made another list of song that… maybe not as great, but they become my guilty pleasure anyway. I will tell more in my next post! 😉

What about you? Do you watch Eurovision, too? Which song is your favourite? Please share! 😉