Foen Peng: A winding journey to a conference

View from the conference center - once I finally arrived. The location was on an archipelago, and there were very beautiful views around the conference building. 

I went to the international conference for plant speciation in Stockholm, Sweden one week ago, which was organized by the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). It was an important conference in this field and a lot of good researchers gave talks. It might have been just like any other good conference for most participants, but it was unusual for me - I started to prepare for it more than 6 months ago.

My first night in Sweden, at about midnight.
The sun rises about 2-3 hours later! Yes, you noticed
that this was the roof of my hostel. It looks cool, but
I did not appreciate it very much when I was trying to
adjust to jet lag.
As a Chinese student, I need Schengen visa to visit Sweden. Also, the Chinese US student visa has only one-year validity, which means I need to apply for a US visa every year if I need to go abroad. Since I wanted to go to Sweden this summer, I needed to get my US visa renewed beforehand so that I could come back without a problem. Of course, the official way for a Chinese person to renew US visa is to go back to China. In that case, I would have had to to travel around the earth: US - China – Sweden – US!

Lucky enough, Seattle is close to Vancouver, BC, which has a US embassy there. Although it is less likely for me to obtain a US visa in Canada than in China, it was worth a try. Easy? No! Chinese students also need a visa to visit Canada. So I started my “visa adventure” by applying for a Canadian visa. After that, I went to Vancouver, Canada to renew my US visa. After that, I went to San Francisco to apply for Schengen visa. It took me half a year to finally get all three visas (Canada, US and Schengen, which saved me from travelling around the globe) and be able to go to the conference. Hooray!

Stockholm city hall - where Nobel winners dine!
The conference in Stockholm itself was very good. It was a small conference (~100 attendees) and had a lot of opportunities to talk with people. I met with a lot of researchers who I had only seen their names on papers before, and also some professors who either worked in UW biology before or graduated from our Ph.D. program. I was proud to be a student from UW biology. It was very interesting to hear the stories alumni shared with me about their time at UW. And the big surprise to me is that the poster I made for this conference (the only poster I have ever made), won 2nd prize for best poster at the conference. It turned out that I was the only graduate student from US in this conference, and I really appreciate this opportunity.

At the Vasa Museum. This battle ship sank 300 years ago on the first day of its sailing.
Sad for ancient people, but good for us to have a chance to look at it


  1. This is one of the truly great SciPos posts.

  2. It was great to see Foen there! He and I were the most recent UW folk to attend, but I'm afraid my trip was a little bit easier - just a roundtrip flight from Zurich, no visas needed :^)


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