I am Anna Överby Wernstedt and right now I am doing a sabbatical at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, US. The sabbatical is an exciting and enjoyable experience – it is the best thing ever!

I came to Fort Collins with my family on 4 January and we will stay until the end of July this year. Fort Collins is a city nestled against the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the mid-US. It is of similar size as Umeå and well known for its beer and as a serious biking town. The atmosphere is quite familiar where people have an active lifestyle taking the bike to work (!) and it is an eldorado for outdoor activities such as climbing, hiking, and skiing around the Rocky Mountains.

Applying for a sabbatical had been in the back of my mind for several years. Then, Professor Greg Ebel from Colorado State University was on an exchange in my lab at the Department of Clinical Microbiology for six months 2022 bringing along his wife and four kids to Sweden. He was super happy and recommended a research exchange like this. I thought that now could be a convenient time and I was inspired by Greg and the fact that it is possible to move for a period and uproot your family. I have myself an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old. It was a big thing for me to take the kids from their school. I was worried about that.

Nonetheless, I reached out to Greg as our research is well aligned and we discussed a project that made sense that I could work with at his institute Center for vector-borne infectious diseases (CVID). My research focus on tick-borne encephalitis virus pathogenesis and Greg is more into tick- and mosquito borne flaviviruses on the vector side. They are doing a lot of mosquito surveillance, barcoded viruses and fitness studies, but he also focus on the American version on TBEV the Powassan virus. The institute where Greg works has a major biosafety level 3 laboratories.  In parallel, I applied to the medical faculty Sabbatical call and luckily got granted.

And, here I am! The Ebel lab is a part of the CVID CSU and there they focus on infections transmitted by arthropods such as mosquitoes and ticks these pathogens represent some of the most difficult and persistent problems facing public health and medicine. World-class facilities, including BSL-3 laboratories (5 000 square metres!) and large insectary complexes, provides an outstanding scientific environment for researchers wanting to manipulate pathogens in vertebrate hosts and arthropod vectors. The centre even houses a bat breeding colonies for use in experimental research in bat-borne viral diseases.

The Animal Biosafety Level 3, BSL-3 facility, here is much bigger and more advanced than the one in Umeå, and this is also the main purpose to come here. BSL3 serves researchers working on risk-group bacteria, parasites and viruses. I am here to learn the routines and get experience of animal BSL-3 and get preliminary data for writing a grant application. But also to set up the whole brain imaging for Powassan virus. I am also here of course to see other ways of doing things in research. I also appreciate the possibility to really focus on my research and meet new people for discussing ideas and collaborations!

I find my working environment so friendly, inclusive and open! To work with research in US is like in Sweden, but also different. The way of lab meetings, and presentations are similar. Greg’s lab is bigger than mine in Umeå, however, many members here are having classes a couple of days every week. Back home, people are in the lab the whole time. We are not at the main campus, but on the foothill of the mountains. As there is only a machine with crisps available, I bring my own food to work and often eat by the computer. The typical “Swedish fika” does not exist here…

Of course, I also do my best to take care of my research group in Umeå. We have lab meetings every week on Zoom. I also talk to my lab members individually on a regular basis. We kind of discuss more now! A good thing that came out of the pandemics is that we learned to use digital tools.

After extensive BSL-3 training (I have learned a lot already) I will become pretty experienced, and I wish to share my new knowledge of different routines for different pathogens, standardized protocols, and the learning process to my colleagues at Umeå University.

To my relief, it has worked out very well with the family transition.

As a family, it is great to get away from the rat race “ekorrhjulet” for a while. At home, there are activities almost every evening. Here, it is quiet, calm and we do things together as a family. For example, we go climbing three nights a week and skiing in the weekends. The kids learn English and by living abroad they learn all the time, from new friends, and the new culture.

Life here is not only work. During the kids’ spring break we flew to Costa Rica to visit the jungles and we also took classes in wave surfing. It was a definitely a highlight! My brother lives in the US and he and his kids are also coming to visit. I look forward to that!

What is up right now? I am actually going back to Sweden next week for the formal Göran Gustavsson prize ceremony in Stockholm City Hall. That will be fun! And, I just ended a big animal experiment. What a relief!

Do you want to know about going on sabbatical? Please do not hesitate to contact me.