Master’s Thesis Defended

There hasn’t been much to blog about while in London, other than catching up on old stuff from the summer so that I can remember it when I’m old, if I want to. However, in November I went back to Sweden one last time to defend my Master’s thesis as the final requirement to earn my NOHA Master of International Humanitarian Action. Before we get to that, two photos from London: the first is the view from my office as the sun was setting one day in September; the second is one of many ladybugs that lived in the lampshade in my bedroom for several months and occasionally ventured out to visit me down below.



At the very end of October, with loads of help from my parents, I finally finished my Master’s thesis. It had been over a year since I began, and I was VERY happy to have it done. I flew to Sweden on November 4th to defend it on the 6th. Flying from London to Sweden:


The train station beneath Arlanda Airport, to catch my train to Uppsala:


My thesis is the reason I spent so much time in Thailand last year, as I was (among other things) carrying out research among Karen refugees from Burma in the largest refugee camp in Thailand. While I was there, I met a photojournalist named Dave Tacon, who kindly agreed to let me use one of his photos of a KNLA soldier in Karen State for my thesis cover page. Check out his different photo albums and magazine covers at This is what my thesis cover looks like:


If you want to know what it’s about, the very short abstract explains my topic: Identity Formation and Armed Conflict: A Case Study of Young Karen Long-term Refugees in Mae La Refugee Camp.

After I successfully defended my thesis, which also involved meeting a bunch of this year’s NOHA students, I was invited to a party they were holding, which was lots of fun (as all parties seem to be when I’m with humanitarian students / workers).


I reluctantly left picturesque and relaxed Uppsala on November 8th to return to busy and smelly London, and on my last walk along the River Fyris for what will likely be many years, grabbed one last photo of a familiar sight:


Though London’s not my favourite city in the world, I’m still thoroughly enjoying my humanitarian logistics internship with Merlin (Medical Emergency Relief International). Speaking of which, the next round of Merlin internships in programmes, logistics, donor partnerships, finance, and communications (12 internships in total) are now posted on their website, with an application deadline of January 5th. Check out if you’re interested, and feel free to contact me if you’ve got any questions about it.

Uppsala – London – Vancouver

I left Uppsala in the very early hours of April 1st, after packing up all my stuff from my apartment, including my bedding, and flew to London Heathrow.

I found out a few days earlier that my good friend Vania was actually flying to Mexico the same day, so we managed to spend a couple hours together in the airport, which was awesome!

I then flew from London to Toronto, where I cleared customs and carried my heavy bags (after all, I carried ALL of my belongings from my long stay in Sweden, plus the stuff I bought in Asia) by hand to the transit lounge, as Toronto Pearson Airport kindly chose to charge an absurd $2 for a luggage trolley. Way to welcome people to the country.

Flying in to Toronto:

After a little while, I was back up in the sky heading west to Vancouver. The snow-covered prairies were interesting to watch as they passed below us:

I spent 10 days in Vancouver, taking care of various odds and ends and visiting family and friends, including participating on April 4th in my sister’s boyfriend’s final project for his documentary film program – The Beer Mile (click here to watch).

Matt Duquette (the guy making the film) decided to get a few people together to participate in the Beer Mile with him. It was simultaneously a terrible but terrific decision to agree to participate. I do not recommend anyone else doing it, although at the same time I highly recommend it.

The Beer Mile is a race wherein you drink a can of beer as fast as you can, run a lap of the track (400m = 1/4 mile), drink another beer as fast as you can, run another lap, until you’ve had four cans of beer and run four laps of the track. The beer foams up in your stomach, which is not at all pleasant, but the challenge of keeping it down and trying to defeat your opponents is fun and hilarious. JF, Matt, Spencer, and David can be seen here:

The same four are seen here, along with one of Matt’s classmates who was assisting with the filming:

And there’s me, not the fastest by any means, trying to finish and hoping to place second-last (my normal place in any track events back when I was on the track team in primary school)…

The track was not cleared before the event, so we had to share with children on bikes, who couldn’t keep up with me:

Spencer and I weren’t trying to place first – we were the men in jeans, taking our time, while the others were going for gold:

However, one thing that didn’t make it into the final cut of the film, is that I did manage to place second-last with a crowd-pleasing final dash to the finish during which I nearly knocked another kid off the track (kid should have been checking her rear-view mirror and pulling off to the side, clearly hasn’t taken a drivers’ ed course yet).

The day after the Beer Mile, I had lunch with my friends Howard and Margarita.

That evening I hung out with my friend Denise downtown. We had bubble tea and chilled at the beach at English Bay while the sun set, which was really nice.

On the morning of the 6th, I went to the dentist to get some old fillings replaced. This is the view from my chair, until they lowered me down and gave me the ceiling to stare at…

On April 10th I flew from Vancouver to Beijing to Kunming. Photos of my first trip to China will be posted in a couple of days.

March in Sweden

I spent all of March in Uppsala, Sweden, working on my thesis and searching online for jobs and an internship to finish up my degree requirements. I didn’t take a whole lot of photos as I spent most of my time in my apartment or in the library, away from natural light and human time schedules.

Descending the escalator at Arlanda airport to the subterranean train station when I arrived at the end of February:

It wasn’t particularly warm when I arrived in Sweden – definitely nothing close to the 30+ weather I’d been experiencing in Burma a few days earlier!

Here’s the River Fyris, frozen over and covered in snow, with Uppsala Cathedral in the background:

A few more shots of the River Fyris from other parts of town on different days:

After arranging an internship through a contact I made on a train in Burma, I headed to Stockholm to get a visa to enter China. Walking back from the embassy, which is in the middle of nowhere past the Djurgården area of town, the water was really well frozen. Check out how thick this saltwater ice is – at least 4 inches!

Back in Uppsala, when I wasn’t being a hermit in my apartment or the library, I was generally cycling to one café or another to catch up with friends. This is one of the many, many nice cafés in Uppsala. Going for fika is definitely one of the best things about Uppsala, and perhaps Sweden as a whole.

When my friend Namiko (she studied with me in New Zealand, years ago) was visiting for a few days, I took her to the cemetary next to my area of the university to show her the family grave of the Hammarskjöld family, which includes the grave of Dag Hammarskjöld, the celebrated 2nd Secretary General of the UN who died after his plane crashed (perhaps shot down) in Africa in 1961.

We also headed over to the castle, where I showed her the cannon pointed toward the cathedral. Many years ago, in order to maintain his position of power, the king arranged for these cannon to point directly at the cathedral so that the head of the Church of Sweden would think twice before doing anything to challenge the power of the king.

Having arranged an internship in Asia starting in April, I left Sweden earlier than expected – on April 1st of all days. More on that in the posts to come…

[Hair – Not the Musical] + [Ping Pong]

When I left Thailand for my trip to Burma, I decided it would be fun to find out what would happen if I didn’t shave the entire time. I stopped shaving about ten days before leaving Thailand, and only cleaned up my act on February 27th, the day after landing in Sweden.

Rock Your Hair

Just for fun, you can see what I looked like on February 26th in London, on the 27th partway through cutting my own hair, and several hours later when I had spent enough time making my flatmates laugh and finished the job:

I lived in this apartment in the Luthagens area of Uppsala for several months in 2008, and only found out during my second stay there in the fall of 2008 that there was a ping pong table in a common room elsewhere in the building. At that time, when I went with my flatmate Olov to play, we found they had converted the ping pong room into some kind of chapel.

Luckily, they changed it back to a ping pong room by the time I returned at the end of February, 2009. During my short (one month) stay this time, I made good use of the table.

One of my flatmates, Olov:


Olov’s friend, Martin:

My friend Namiko, who studied with me in New Zealand and came to visit for a few days:

My friend Opiyo, who studied with me in Uppsala a year before, visited me for a few hours after returning from a stint in Afghanistan:

I also took a few photos outside my apartment building, which I’ll post in a couple of days.