Sunday, August 2, 2015

Switzerland & a little France

I can't seem to unhighlight the words so my apologies for the format...

This past week I went to visit a family friend in Zurich, Switzerland. Of all the countries I had visited this summer this one was by far the coldest, cleanest, greenest, prettiest, and the MOST EXPENSIVE places I'd been. I thought Paris and London were a lot of money... Switzerland takes the meaning of expensive to a new extreme. I am a bit spoiled though since I've been living in such a low cost to live country, but these Swiss prices were crazy. For example in Spain you could get a high-speed train ticket to take a day trip to a neighboring city for about €10-15. However in Switzerland, the cheapest day trip ticket I found (on a non high speed train) was about CHF 55 (Swiss francs, the equivalent is about $57 U.S dollars), with the average train ticket for a day trip being about CHF 100-150. So given these prices I found myself limited from doing many things that I wanted to do such as go for a hike on one of the famous Swiss alp mountains (one of them cost CHF 340...). Despite the unfortunate price tags, I made the most of it! 

I spent my first day there exploring Zurich in awe of the beautiful lake in the middle of the city. The water was so clear and light blue as though you could drink right from the lake (and apparently it is safe if you ingest the water...just don't drink a lot it's still lake water...). I also learned that you are allowed, and it is encouraged as part of "being green" to drink from the fountains all around the country. The water comes down from the Alps and is some really tasty water. After walking around I met up with my family friend after she was done work and we went paddle boating on the lake. This was such a relaxing experience to be in the middle of this blue lake and look up and see the Swiss Alps. Afterwards we went and had cheese fondue for dinner. Sadly some ideas that I had of Swiss fondue were not true: 1) the Swiss only eat fondue in the winter, but luckily tourist places have it year round 2) chocolate fondue is not a thing they make in Switzerland, it's an American idea 3) Swiss cheese is not a thing in Switzerland (all cheese is "Swiss cheese"), the American Swiss cheese is not even popular there. While the chocolate fondue thing was a bit upsetting, the cheese fondue was amazing. 

The next day I bought the cheapest day trip ticket I could find and went to a city called Lucerne that was also on a beautiful lake and had a historic old bridge running across it. When I got there I took a panoramic bought tour of the lake, which was extremely cold but really pretty. For lunch I bought a Bavarian pretzel with cheese inside. This is a typical food throughout Switzerland and the interesting part is that they put a layer of butter and then the cheese on top. If you ask them to warm it up they look at you and say "it's a sandwich...sandwiches are cold..." Apparently the only kind of warm sandwiches they have are paninis. I walked around the city and also saw the famous lion sculpture that Mark Twain once described as "the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world". 

The day after Lucerne the most reasonably priced day trip I could find involved leaving Switzerland and going to to Strasbourg France I went! This was a very tiny and classic European town. There was a huge gothic cathedral in the center and an area called "petite France" which was a tiny French village with little cottages along the water. I enjoyed walking around and of course ate more croissants! On the train ride home I had to transfer trains in Basel, a city in Switzerland but is on the border of France and Germany as well. Part of the train station was actually located in France. I explored Basel for a little before heading back to Zurich. I then spent one more day walking around Zurich before coming back to Madrid. In all, Switzerland is a beautiful country and I want to come back one day in the winter to ski. However, if you plan on coming, bring a jacket no mater what season it is (this was late July and I was constantly wearing a coat), and be prepared to spend a lot of money (but it's worth it)! 
Overlooking Zurich from the top of a cathedral
The bridge in Lucerne

The river that connects to the lake in Zurich
The Zurich lake

The mountains in Lucerne taken from the boat ride

The famous lion statue in Lucerne

The "petite France" in Strasbourg

Friday, July 31, 2015

Lab Goodbyes

I just returned from Switzerland however I'll talk about that trip in a separate post. My time at the lab and final thoughts about my lab experience deserves its own post...

The last day of lab was extremely emotional for me. I had become so close with everyone in the lab and they were all some of the most genuine and nicest people I had ever met. Every single one of them took the time to teach me things, help me, and be patient when the language barrier was an issue. From having lunch together everyday, to hanging out after work or doing things on the weekends I had formed true friendships with many in the lab. The hardest part was realizing "wow I live on a different continent, I may never see these people again in my life". I will definitely return to Madrid one day but who knows which of those people currently in the lab will still be there. But at least this day in age we have plenty of online things to all keep in touch.

As a way of saying thank you to all of them I made brownies for my last day. I had wanted to do something that represented the United States, but with limited materials here in Spain for something "American" I didn't really know what to do. Turns out that for them brownies were something they associated as being a purely U.S thing. When I gave them the brownies they all exclaimed "ah something American! This is such a typical American dessert". It was interesting to think of brownies as a states thing, but it accomplished my goal of providing them with something they don't typically have here in Madrid! They all also surprised me and got me Madrid gifts. It was extremely sad saying goodbye, but at the same time I was extremely grateful that I had such a great experience that made saying goodbye so hard to do.

The primary language I spoke at the lab was Spanish, so I feel as though my skills in communicating have improved tremendously. In terms of the skills I learned this summer research wise: I improved my immunohistochemistry skills, qRT-PCR, immunoblot, handling mice, stereotaxic surgery and behavioral testing (Rotarod, T-Maze, object recognition) skills. I also increased my general knowledge about the pharmacological and biochemical aspects of cannabinoid research with regard to neuroprotection, signaling pathways and cell viability. It was also such a neat experience being given my own project, however since so many of my mice had died in the beginning of my project my results aren't that significant. But since it was a pilot study it provided promising results to go ahead with a larger project, so that was exciting to be part of that!

While it was sad leaving the lab here in Spain, I am excited to return to my lab at Emory with the knowledge I have gained this summer! I am beyond grateful to not only my lab here in Spain, but also the Emory IRES program for providing me with the opportunity to come and work here. It truly was a summer I will never forget; every experience was invaluable.

Massive Update

Since my last blog, it has been difficult for me to upload another one because of my limited access to computers after having my laptop stolen. The library at my school follows a summer schedule, so it is not open as long as I want.

I met with my friend and her Sociology study abroad group from Emory here in London. We had Indian food- which is really common in London. It was a nice time catching up and talking with my friends from America. We also went to see the Tower Bridge at night, and it was marvelous.

Tower Bridge at night

On Saturday July 11th, I took the Eurostar train to go on a day trip to Paris! Eurostar tickets are expensive even if you book way ahead, but I found this awesome travel agency website that pre-purchases day tickets, which I got for a really low price. With the ticket, I took the first train of the day from London to Paris at 6am and the last train from Paris back to London at 8pm.

The start of this trip was already interesting- I went to the Eurostar train station (London St. Pancras) late at night on Friday, had a midnight snack at Burger King, and waited at the station until the check-in at 5am because the train from my home to the Eurostar station didn't run early enough for a 5am check-in. I got to talk to someone who was also waiting for an early train like me. She was a London-born Muslim girl who just came back from a protest- she had lots to say, and it was very eye-opening.

Paris was great- I think the pictures say it all. I started the day going to see the Eiffel Tower, walked in the city to see the National Assembly from the outside, and went to a famous cafe, Les Deux Magots. The weather was perfect, and I enjoyed sitting outside and reading at this cafe while drinking some really good coffee. I also went to the Louvre Museum, and I didn't even get to see half the museum because it was huge. I saw Moulin Rogue, went up the hills on Montmartre, and had some snails before heading back to London, This short and sweet trip was really worthwhile!

French Macaroons. SO GOOD.

The beautiful cafe near Louvre
Louvre Museum

Beautiful street up to Montmartre

Really good street musicians


Snails, snails, SNAILS!!

After working another week, I took a week of in the middle of my research to go to Zurich and Italy! My older sister was also flying in from Atlanta, and we planned to travel for nine days. This I will update on my next blog very soon, after I gather my pictures and reflections from it.

I only have two more weeks of research left before I head back to Atlanta on the 15th of August. Research is going a bit slower than what I had expected (machine problems, contamination etc), but I have been learning a lot of new things as well. While I'm excited to go back, it is already difficult to let go of my life here. Going to amazing museums and galleries, living and traveling alone, the people I've met here, and many things in between already makes me cherish my IRES experience!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Leaving a Trail

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Last week, I was so reluctant to leave Germany. I felt at home in Berlin. I had grown accustomed to my setting and even had favorite running routes, favorite restaurants, and daily rituals. Taking this into account, I realized that perhaps this might be the best time for me to leave Germany and, once again, change my setting.

Over the past ten weeks, I attempted to lead my life following this motto. I came to Berlin because I wanted adventure. I wanted an experience that I would never forget, an experience that I could refer back to for the rest of my life. I believed I achieved what I was looking for.

I met some of the most memorable people at the hostels I stayed at, ranging from the Mormon man who lost his luggage containing his temple garments to the Australian girl who was stranded in Albania after maxing out her credit card. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the laid-back lakeside parties along the Plotzensee Lake or the most amazing bratwurst and beers at the Am Neuen See Biergarten.

In addition, to these unforgettable memories, I gained invaluable lab and life experience. I am incredibly grateful to Emory University and the DAAD RISE program for funding my trip. Without their support, I would have been never been able to work on projects, which include searching for reservoirs of anthrax in mammalian populations and assessing biodiversity using fly DNA, nor be included in a publication. Above all, this trip has given me a new sense of self and confidence.

Robert Koch Institut

Plotsenzee Lake

Museum Island

Some Pictures from Uganda

I've finally uploaded my photos onto my computer. Here are some pictures that span across my 10-week trip in Uganda. I have many many more, so if you'd like to see more just send me an email ( and I'd be happy to share them. Enjoy!

OHCEA Research Assistant Benjamin and I interviewing a woman from
the pastoral community of Hima about modern family planning methods
The OHCEA team of researchers, students, doctors, and professors,
including my Emory advisor Dr. Thomas Gillespie and my IRES
International advisor Dr. Innocent Rwego
Dissecting a Macmillian's thicket rat (Grammomys spp.)
Taking a quick break from dissecting for a photo-op
At the crater lake located at the top of Mt. Bisoke, Rwanda after
a 3.5 hour ascent
Three topi (Damaliscus korrigum) watching us on our Queen Elizabeth
National Park, Uganda safari
The famous tree-climbing lions (Panthera leo) of Ishasha, Queen
Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
We waited 1.5 hours for this guy to finally move from the grass
plains to some shade - it was well worth the wait!
The equator running through Uganda about 30 minutes away from Kasese,
the town in which I was living for my ten weeks
A curious chimpanzee (Pan troglodytesin Kyambura Gorge, Queen Elizabeth
National Park, 
Uganda. This group of 27 chimps was cut off from the rest of
the national park's groups due to cultivation and human expansion
A hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibious) on the Kazinga Channel that
connects Lakes George and Edward in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda
The people of the Kasenyi reserve community mining salt from Bunyampaka
salt lake located near Lake George in Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

The sun setting on Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda as we head
home after a successful safari day

Saying My Good-byes…

After almost 10 weeks, my days in Uganda are coming to an end. I have had such an amazing time here. While I came in with little information and zero expectations, I feel like I’m leaving with an experience that’s complete.

These past few weeks I was staying in an agricultural community called Kataara. It is about 1.5 hours away from Kasese so Erick and I decided to stay in a lodge to reduce the daily commute costs. This area had no internet so I was completely cut off from the rest of the world for some time. It was great to get away. After two weeks, we finished the rodent collecting and my summer fieldwork was officially over! It’s amazing how time flies… At the beginning the days felt like weeks, and now the weeks feel like days.

Last weekend some Emory labmates who are doing research in Rwanda this summer (Gabriel Andrle, Jessica Deere, and former ENVS post-doc Winnie Eckardt) visited me in Kasese and we went on a safari of Queen Elizabeth National Park. A lot of my research focused on the outskirts and community-park boundaries, so it was great to see the heart of the park. The safari was AMAZING. The first day we left early to see the lions coming back from their evening hunts, then we drove to see the bigger mammals, then an afternoon boat ride along the Kazinga Channel to see elephants, hippopotamus, water buffalo, and some amazing birds, then ended with a visit to the Bunyampaka salt lake mines and a sunset-lit drive home back through the park. The next day we took the long trek down to Ishasha to see the famous tree-climbing lions, and then we went to the Kyambura Gorge to see the chimpanzees. It was even more amazing than it sounds.

After the safari I left Kasese and headed to Kampala where I’m currently staying for the rest of my time abroad. I leave for America on Monday. I will definitely need some time to process everything I experienced over the past two months. It will be hard going back to America for many reasons, but I’m also looking forward to it. I am excited about the school year – we will have a good soccer team this season, the J. Pollard Holmes Residence Life staff is amazing (including fellow IRES colleague, Oceana Hopkins!), and my classes are going to be really interesting. Even though I’ve had an incredible time in ‘go-with-the-flow’ Uganda, I think I’m ready to head back to the crazy American life.

Weeraba, Uganda!

Leo R.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Paris (or that time I ate lots of croissants)

I spent the past weekend in Paris! One of my friends from high school is studying abroad in Dublin so we met up with each other in Paris.  In the span of 3 days we walked over 35 miles… The first day she and I went to this area called Opera (their Academy of Music is located here and the building itself is very historic), Notre Dame,  Arc de Triumph, Montmarte, Moulin Rouge and Eiffel Tower. We spent the next day at Versailles and the following day at the Louvre. In all, Paris is a very pretty city, with lots of yummy food.  The croissants really did taste that much better as did the cheese. I am a huge fan of cheese so being in Paris with a cheese shop every couple of blocks was a dream. Sadly, Versailles was a little disappointing. At this point in my travels I have seen many palaces and Versailles was always the one hyped up as “the most extravagant" one.  However, to my surprise, many of the things there were fake or reproductions. Upon first glance of the palace you think “wow look at all that gold”, however when you look closer you see that it is gold paint not actual gold. A lot of the marble was also painted and was not actual marble. This was something that surprised me a lot. However the hall of mirrors did live up to the hype and was beautiful to walk down. The Louvre was also extremely neat because I was finally standing in front of the Mona Lisa in person. Yes it was much smaller and crowded by tons of tourists, but it was still amazing to see in person.
Me in front of Eiffel Tower
Hall of Mirrors at Versailles 
Moulin Rouge

Cheesey Croissants 
The Louvre Pyramid
View of Paris from the top of Arc de Triumph

Last week at lab I finished all my behavioral tests in the morning and then sacrificed my mice in the afternoon. While this was a little sad I was excited to finally be collecting the brains to analyze. This week in lab is my last so I am spending a lot of time staining all my tissue, running immunohistochemistry and analyzing it all. I have a lot to do and not much time to do it in but I am excited to see what the results will show. I still can’t believe that this is my tenth and final week here at the lab. While it will be sad to say goodbye to everyone, I am so grateful to have been able to spend time in this lab. After this workweek ends I will be taking an extended vacation to Switzerland to visit a family friend, so I am looking forward to more cheese (and finally cooler weather).