PhotoZeenia Kaul
Intemational Christan University

I was fortunate to be one of the two participants from Japan to attend the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar (SIYSS), a weeklong seminar for young scientists, arranged in connection with the Nobel Festivities that were held from December 4-11, 2006 in Stockholm, Sweden.

The procedure to select the candidates to represent Japan for SIYSS started on June 30, 2006 and that required star grades in the university and an essay on a selected theme. It was a big relief to hear that my university (International Christian University) had decided to forward my application for which I sincerely thank the university officials. However, it was only the first step, the next step was the tough selection by the Science and Technology Foundation of Japan (JSTF). After one month of waiting, a letter arrived saying, "You are among the 10 short-listed candidates who have moved a step further and finally two will be selected after another test of writing an on-the-spot essay on a given topic and finally an interview". Thankfully, some ideas came to me and I was able to organize my thoughts and I was selected. What an excitement! Direct contact with the best people in the world, and formal and informal friendly get togethers, it all sounded great and, on top of that, there was the privilege of attending the Nobel prize ceremony, banquet and ball. Thanks to the JSTF for letting me look forward to all this excitement.

Preparations started in November after my University exams finished and it was fun going shopping to buy formal and informal clothes; no torn jeans, no scruffy jumpers. To make it all the more fun, I decided to represent Japan in a Kimono. Well, it was not as easy as my first idea. But, once again I was fortunate to have a friend and her grandmother who tailored me a one-touch kimono ready to be worn in 10-15 minutes. Getting ready to leave on December 4, 2006-packing all my stuff in one suitcase that should not weigh over 20 Kg-was the next challenge that somehow was met with a compromise by carrying a heavy hand bag.? Flying through Frankfurt I finally arrived at Arlanda Airport, Stockholm. We had received illustrated instructions from the coordinators on how to proceed right after we landed. This was, in fact, the first sign of the excellent co-ordination by the organizers that was proved during the rest of the week of SIYSS.

We were lodged at the International Youth Hostel, Af Chapman. At the welcome dinner on December 4th, we met the other 22 participants from 16 countries and 8 young coordinators from Sweden. This was a most international day for me. Next morning started with a city tour that included visits to historical places and the Nobel Museum. The day was filled with new friendships and discussions on various topics and ended with a delicious Swedish dinner. This was followed by a very academic day when we all presented our research work at a formal symposium attended by young students from Swedish high schools, professors and researchers from the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences. All the participants were so enthusiastic, full of ideas, and eager and I thought there was a lot to learn and respond to. Since SIYSS is also a part of the Nobel Foundation, Hans Jornvall, Secretary of the Nobel Assembly and the Nobel Committee for Medicine at Karolinska Institute gave us a brief introduction to the Nobel Foundation and its work. It was a very enlightening and impressive talk as the foundation is responsible for awarding the prize every year. The other main highlights included the tour to the Uppsala University (one of the oldest universities in Sweden), the Royal Palace, a chance to meet the Crown Princess Victoria and above all attending the Nobel Foundation’s reception, Nobel Lecture, Press Conference and the Award Ceremony. Conversing with laureates and applauding their achievements was an inspirational feeling in itself. I was rather overwhelmed with the fact that I knew the basics of the ‘RNAi’ subject and was most excited to talk personally to Prof. Craig C. Mello and Prof. Andrew Z. Fire (Nobel Prize winners in Physiology and Medicine 2006) regarding their interests and experience in the field. Witnessing the award while knowing the achievements in the field of my own interest was thrilling. We were all briefed about our presence in the award ceremony, banquet dinner and night cap. We gave a Japanese look to our representation by wearing traditional Japanese costumes and felt that it was a good choice. From the ball gowns, tails and stretched limousines in the afternoon, to the ceremony, banquet, followed by night cap, the entire event felt like a magical affair. Dancing alongside Nobel Laureates in a kimono was a challenge and fun. The honor of sitting amongst so many amazing people such as the Swedish Royal Family, some of the world’s greatest minds as well as the amazingly gifted SIYSS participants from around the world was immense and humbling.

I was impressed with the coordination of the program in which we had time for relaxation and activity nicely blended with education, inspiration and excitement. Group Ice-skating, shopping, meeting with diplomats and representative activities from different countries were symbolic of crossing the barriers to international friendships. I was glad that we did Fukuwarai, a traditional game played on the New Year’s eve in Japan, during the international activity session that everyone enjoyed. I realized that SIYSS is not only about attending the Nobel events but is also a great platform to share your experiences, research interests, make international friends and get further motivated. Science has been my ambition and I think participating in this seminar has been very educational, inspirational and rewarding for my career. Witnessing and being part of the history of great achievements has been a great honor. Besides, being a foreign-born , I feel very happy to be able to represent International Japan to the rest of the world

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