IT is common practice for universities these days to reach far and wide to attract the best and brightest minds from across the world. Higher education institutes from Europe, the US and Australia regularly take part in events and exhibitions across Asia where they can connect with would-be students.

This autumn and winter, Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet is embarking on an entirely different kind of Asian mission where the focus isn’t on new students, but former Karolinska Institutet students who are living and working in Asia.

Karolinska Institutet, although geographically situated in a small country in the north of Europe, is a global university. Consistently ranked in the top 50 universities in the world, and the top 5 for medicine, it offers a highly regarded range of Global Master’s Programmes that are taught exclusively in English. Karolinska Institutet has an established presence in Asia going back a number of years through several research collaborations and exchanges. Now, it wants to strengthen its Asian ties even further by reconnecting with former Asian students, and former Swedish students living in Asia.

Karolinska Institutet

Karolinska Institutet's modern campus in Sweden. Pic: KI.

“Our alumni are of significant importance to Karolinska Institutet (KI). They are our best and most credible ambassadors,” explains Karolinska Institutet’s International Alumni Relations Officer, Linda Hedstrom Eriksson. “As far as it is possible, we plan to hold alumni events in several Asian countries and cities to which KI is travelling with delegations. We invite our alumni to these events with the hope to reconnect over a social gathering.

“The mission for our alumni activities is to reconnect with, be of service to and engage all KI alumni. We want to create and enhance a life-long and mutually stimulating relationship between KI and our alumni, and to encourage them to contribute to the development of, and support KI’s education and research.”

Karolinska Institutet delegations have already completed expeditions to China and Singapore this year, and the team has recently returned from its latest trip to Vietnam. Activities in Hanoi included a special alumni event at the Embassy of Sweden, and a Graduate Seminar at Hanoi Medical University.

Emma Hägg, International Relations Officer, on the event in Vietnam: “At the alumni event we were happy to welcome Prof. Phung Dac Cam, our first Vietnamese doctoral student who defended his thesis in 1991. The Swedish government has supported a collaboration between Karolinska Institutet and Hanoi Medical University through aid for about 20 years now that has resulted in more than 30 PhDs.”

Karolinska Institutet Alumni Event, Shanghai

Alumni and KI staff at an alumni event in Shanghai, China this September. Pic: KI.

While the focus of Karolinska Institutet’s Asian forays is on its alumni, these trips offer invaluable opportunities to build bridges with academia, industry and governments in Asia. And this is much more than a PR exercise, Karolinska Institutet sees this as a very real chance to share the latest methods and ideas on learning and research, convey its views on human rights and other issues, and make a real difference in the region.

“To these events we also invite local members of academia as well as representatives from the local industries. These receptions serve as nice and social arenas to establish and enhance our external relations,” adds Linda.

In the end, connecting with the old Karolinska Institutet means also connecting with the new. In lecture halls and workplaces across Asia, former students are sharing what the highly regarded Swedish university has to offer. The university’s close-knit alumni network ensures that former students are kept up to date on developments, information that they are only too happy to share.

Emma Hägg explains: “Many students actually apply to Karolinska Institutet after having been recommended to do so by alumni. By informing our alumni, often still in the academia, about the range of education their alma mater can offer, they have up to date information for students they meet in their institutions. By connecting with our alumni we also get important up to date information on the careers that KI students can expect and this is vital information to give prospective students.”

Karolinska Institutet has time for one more Asia expedition this year, and it is its most intensive yet. Over eight days, and two cities, between now and December 7 the university will hold a number of events meeting both prospective and former students in India. And for Asian alumni who have missed out this year, there will be plenty of opportunities to reconnect with their alma mater in 2012.

“As a result of the trips this fall we have found alumni willing to volunteer to start hubs, and during 2012 we hope to work with these hubs and arrange activities with them. Some of these events are annual so there will be plenty of opportunities to reconnect again,” explains Emma.

Fittingly, we leave the last word to some of Karolinska’s Asian alumni. We caught up with three former students to find out about their experiences at the university, and life after Karolinska Institutet:

AMRITA NAMASIVAYAM, SINGAPORE
Graduated with a Masters in Global Health from Karolinska Institutet in May, 2011

Amrita Namasivayam

Amrita Namasivayam

Before Karolinska Institutet: Undergraduate in Biomedical Science at the National University of Singapore; subsequently worked as a Medical Writer in a medical communications company.

After Karolinska Institutet: Senior Executive, working in the Substance Abuse Department at the Health Promotion Board in Singapore.

Why Karolinska Institutet?
I chose Karolinska for several reasons, but the main one was the programme offering. I could complete it in one year, which was perfect for me, and it was in an area that I was interested in. Studying at Karolinska Institutet also provided me with the opportunity to experience life in another country. I was born in Sweden and left when I was six, so it was great to get the chance to go back and experience it again as an adult.

In terms of my career, I think my time at Karolinska Institutet provided me with a truly global exposure. My classmates were from all over the world, as were the lecturers and professors. I found myself becoming part of a global network in a very short space of time. It also helped me to narrow my focus on the area I really wanted to work in which helped me get a job when I came back to Singapore.

Lasting memories?
The friends I made, the whole learning experience at Karolinska Institutet, and making it through one of the coldest winters Sweden had experienced in a long time. I’ll also never forget the fika [Swedish coffee breaks], the great coffee and delicious cinnamon buns.

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CHEN CAN, BEIJING, CHINA
Graduated from Karolinska Institutet’s Health Economics and Health Promotion Programme in 2010

Chen Can

Chen Can.

Before Karolinska Institutet: Graduated from medical university in China.
After Karolinska Institutet: Analyst in management consulting department, IMS Health, Beijing, China.

Why Karolinska Institutet?
It had a very good reputation, no tuition fee [at the time] and an attractive programme.  Studying together with the excellent people at Karolinska Institutet gave me a sense of honor and responsibility for my life. The advanced knowledge I acquired empowered me to achieve my career objectives.

Lasting memories?
I will always remember sitting in the library, enjoying the time spent reading and studying, and fighting with our tight study schedule. The time was peaceful and hopeful.

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KAAVYA NARASIMHALU, SINGAPORE
Graduated with a PhD from Karolinska Institutet’s Genetic and Molecular Epidemiology Programme in October, 2011

Kaavya Narasimhalu

Kaavya Narasimhalu

Before Karolinska Institutet: Bachelor’s Degree at Washington University, followed by research in Seattle and the National University of Singapore.

After Karolinska Institutet: Pursuing a medical degree at Duke-National University of Singapore.

Why Karolinska Institutet?
The way they go about doing research is very different from Singapore. For example, they have national registries that can have a big impact on how you do research. They have detailed background information on everyone in Sweden going back to the ‘60s which opens up a lot of possibilities for researchers.  The methods used to approach a problem there is also very different. A lot more time spent deciding how to approach a problem.

Basically, Karolinska Institutet is a wonderful place to study. The Nobel Prize in Physiology is announced there every year just 200 metres from my office, which is very hard not to get excited about.

Lasting memories?
The food parties! There were all kinds of food-related events throughout the year, such as the crayfish party in August, cinnamon bun day [Kanelbullens dag] in October, and semla [creamfilled bun], for lent. These were very Swedish experiences, with plenty of snacks!