Monday, September 1, 2008


JoeOrientation week is over now, so I guess I must be acclimated to the new school now. I believe I left off after my first day, so here's the rest of the week in a nutshell:

Tuesday morning was devoted to a series of short presentations by a number of the professors in the department, giving overviews of the classes we would be most likely to sign up for. I have to say, I really like this approach. I don't think it changed my mind about any of the classes I wanted to take going in; however, there were a number of classes I didn't want to take, but sort of felt like I should take anyway, and after listening to the professors talk about those classes I can now confidently state that a stampeding herd of wild elk couldn't drag me into any one of them.

To actually register for classes requires meeting with an advisor, so we had the afternoon off while some of these meetings took place. Then it was back to Polacksbacken in the evening for the barbeque. The invite said there would be "food, soft drinks, salad, etc." The food in this case was sausage (mostly hotdogs) and chips, the salad was potato salad, and the soft drinks were just that (people were encouraged to bring their own beer and/or wine, but the U can't provide it). It lasted for about four hours, and it only rained consistantly (leaving us all huddling under the small tent) for the last 90 minutes of that. I did get to meet most of my fellow students, plus a couple of profs, and got a few questions answered in the process.

The incoming class consists of 36 students: one each from America, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Sweden; half a dozen from the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent; and 2 dozen from China. I should add that not only am I the only American in my cohort, I'm actually the only American the IT department has had in a Masters program (although the international Masters in Computer Science has only been running for a few years—before 2004 or so, the department only offered a 5 year undergrad/Master combination degree for Swedish students). Anyway, they most seem a chatty, agreeable lot, and while the bulk of the Chinese students tend to group together and speak Chinese, it's hard to blame them since they are after all in the majority, and there were a number of Chinese students more than willing to buck the trend. Most of the students are new to the university, but a handful spent a semester or year here as exchange students while undergrads.

The party broke up after 9, and this is when I learned something new: the city forest, through which most of my path to and from school runs, takes on quite a different character on a cold, rainy night. It was, to put it succinctly, dark. Very dark. I was glad I'd been through it more in the preceding weeks, because otherwise I'm not sure I would have made it out before midnight. As it was, I only had to backtrack three or four times, and I exited the forest almost where I intended to wind up. I guess it's time to dig put that bike light I got in July.

Hmm, that was Tuesday, but not so much in a nutshell. Maybe I'll do better with Wednesday, which was devoted to practical concerns. Several of the topics discussed would have been useful to me in February, such as the advice about opening a bank account, which amounted to: go to any bank you like, except for the bank Joe and Jennifer chose (said the presenter: "May people have quite a good experience of them... but I've never met one."). Then we got key cards, computer passwords, and library cards, and a tour of the local campus area.

Immediately after the tour I had my meeting to sign up for classes. The class schedule is a little different ere from the sort of thing I'm used to. Instead of a firm schedule, the University only sets broad guidelines for when the semester starts and stops. Within that, each department can pretty much do as it likes. The computer science department divides the semester into two study periods, each about 6 weeks long. During each study period you take two or three classes. This meeting was to decide on classes for both periods this semester. It was pretty straightforward: I said what classes I'd like to take, and the advisor signed me up for them. He didn't check to see when they met, or even how many students were already enrolled, just signed me right up. I gather that new students just get into their classes regardless of enrollment, but I think there are limits set for older students.

The schedule thing is another story, though. You (or at least, I) would think that there would be a schedule that listed this class as meeting Tuesday and Thursday at such and such a time, and that class as meeting at another time, and so forth. It turns out you (really I this time) would be wrong. At Uppsala the classes meet at different times every week, and there's no expectation that you will be able to find two classes that never meet at the same time. My schedule doesn't conflict most of the time, but at least once per week I have a couple of lectures at the same time. What do I do when that happens? Just pick one and go to it, apparently. Professors don't appear to expect really high attendance rates, anyway. The schedule for the second period isn't even published yet, so there's no way for most people to know if the classes they registered for last week will meet at different times in November (both of my second period classes are taught by the same professor, so I suspect he won't double book himself).

After all that, Thursday was relatively uneventful. There was a meeting in the afternoon for all the foreign Master students at the University, although only about 100 out of 400 attended. The presenter offered commiseration at the lack of housing, confirmation that there is nowhere affordable to park in Uppsala, a warning that November is really grim ("…but if you make it through November, you'll be fine"), and an exhortation to eat plenty of hot vegetables at the cafeteria every day for lunch ("I know I sound like your mother, but your mother is right. Listen to your mother.").

This post is really quite long enough, so I think I'll stop there and let Friday be on its own. Anyway, for Friday there are pictures…

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