Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hey All!
So I arrived safely in Tana (Antananarivo), which is the capital.  The city is overall not that exciting historically or culturally but I have been hanging out here for a few days so I'm keeping myself busy.  I went to the zoo here which was pretty mediocre compared to the rainforest that we visited yesterday.  We will be leaving tomorrow to go down to the centre where we will be staying for the rest of the summer; it will be a 9 hour drive.  Yesterday, when we visited the rainforest we saw 5 different species of lemurs.

just as an FYI, these are not my photographs, but I will upload those soon

All the Best

Ian R. Fried

I think Ian has arrived...

hope to see his post here soon!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Greetings from Italia!

So currently I am sitting in my dorm room on a beautiful afternoon in Siena, Italy reflecting on my past week of adventures. There have been countless stories and a lot of great luck on my part so I guess the best way to start would be from the beginning.

Monday morning I left bright and early around 4:30 in the morning to make my flight at 6:50. I arrived at the airport drowsy and tired from not sleeping and packing the night before and couldn't wait for my impending trip. It was smooth traveling from Atlanta to Chicago and from Chicago to London, with no major problems along the way. The only slightly annoying thing was that my plane ride from here to London. I managed to get the one seat that was next to an army of eighth graders that were going on a Euro trip with their school... let me just say that not only were they more fidgety and loud than most infants, three of the students were wearing toe socks...enough said. Regardless of that, I was going through the lines of the customs and I saw what seemed like a familiar face. Megan (Prunty) and I managed to book the same plane to London to connect to Italy the next morning and it took walking past each other three or four times for us to realize that we were standing next to each other with the same purpose. Thank goodness she had enough courage to ask me if I was an IRES student because I totally wouldn't have for fear that I was just seeing stars from not sleeping peacefully. Regardless we were able to share a hotel room that night and it was just fantastic to be able to see a familiar face on this lonely journey.

Tuesday morning I left for the airport to realize that Heathrow is more of a shopping mall than a terminal. With a 1PM train, I was anxious to get to Pisa on time, but of course our arrival was delayed. I had arranged for Dr. Gabriella Tamasi (a professor at the University of Siena that helps Emory with their chemistry study abroad program) to pick me up so when my plane arrived two minutes before the train was supposed to depart, I was extremely anxious of my schedule. We were delayed because of some internal emergency within the airport that closed all the airways into Pisa so we circled for a good 45 minutes before landing. I managed to mime my way into using a pay phone and asking for tickets and finally found the train. The train stations here are interesting because it is literally a long set of rails parallel to each other with each platform only reachable by an underground tunnel system similar to the subway. Of course, me, with no upper body strength and a gigantic 50+ pound luggage was struggling to move around the train station and even missed a connecting train because of my confusion. It's interesting because to ride the train, not only do you need to buy a ticket but also to validate it before getting on the train (a type of punching system on each platform). On top of that, there is also a train ticket checker that will check it again. I guess they must have a lot of suspicious train riders here or something.

Aside from that, I fortunately arrived in Siena safe and sound and was greeted by Dr. McCormick (Organic Lab Professor) and Dr. Tamasi and my adventure was only beginning. Naturally, just as I arrived it started pouring... but fortunately my luck would turn up because as I arrived at my Uni housing, I met my roommate, a lovely Polish German Sicilian who welcomed me warmly and could speak English (win!!). My housing here is so cheap and Dr. Tamasi has been tremendously helpful with setting everything up like a international student card and my internet, etc. that it has been just great. I had my first night in Siena and I couldn't be more excited to explore the city! My roommate introduced me to some of her friends and we went to the cafeteria to eat dinner. She showed me around the city a little and showed me the grocery store, good places to eat, etc. My first night, while nerve-wracking and tiring, was fantastic and I knew my summer was just beginning.

The next day I went with Dr. Tamasi around the city and she showed me where I was going to work, how to get to the bus stop, and introduced me to my lab mates and PI. Everyone was extremely friendly and welcomed me as if I was part of their family already. I was assigned a project and started reading up on the theory behind microwave synthesis. I was eager to get into the lab but am still waiting for approval from the international office for lab access because of the need for proof of medical insurance. Everyone here is friendly and it's so amusing to have to mime and translate because their English, while better than most Italians was still lacking the conversational practice. They love to practice "The English" on me and eager to ask me questions about American culture. For lunch, I had my first cup of Italian coffee and first slice of Italian pizza and honestly, I have to say that I'm in love. It was seriously life changing and I don't know if I can ever eat Italian food in America again. Absolutely phenomenal.

That night, I had dinner with Dr. McCormick. We walked around the city as around dusk and he showed me all the great places to visit and the best views in town. We were walking around and, honestly, my calves and glutts were being at attacked by the cobblestone roads and hills of Siena. The city is absolutely gorgeous, nothing quite compares to the beautiful medieval look of the architecture and buildings. The city is known for maintaining the same buildings and look since the medieval times, with some buildings and structures dating back to the pre-Roman times. It's ridiculous how beautiful even the apartment buildings are and looking out the window, I truly feel like I'm in Europe. The best way to describe it is that it is like the part where Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast is walking down the street and people pop out of their windows as they are singing songs. Of course, we have yet to break out into song here but you never know I guess. We ended up eating at this one Osteria (a type of simple restaurant here) that was precariously placed on a gigantic hill. The chairs and tables were interesting because to compensate for the steep hill, one of the legs was longer than the other, with any slightly movement in the chair risking the chance of falling over and tumbling down the hill. I don't understand why they insisted on sitting outside in such a dangerous environment but oh my gosh if it wasn't funny to be able to see people falling out of their chairs and dropping things and items rolling down the hill. When people finally started to get drunk, it was even more disasterous.

Continuing to go to work the next day, my lab mates invited me to join them for a communal dinner they were having that night in celebration of one of the girl's birthdays. The food here is absolutely to die for and when Luca (a PhD candidate) made a home-cooked meal I felt like I had died and gone to heaven with all the deliciousness. Positively ridiculous how delicious the food was. We spent the night chatting and laughing about weird lab happenings and I seem to have started to pick up Italian-accented English intonations to my words. The language barrier is funny if anything because it's like half-miming and mostly just speaking incredibly slowly and simply. It's great because they are trying to practice english but also attempting to teach me some Italian so hopefully of Italian will be perfecto at the end of the summer!

If anything, the biggest culture shock that I have is not being able to understand the signs or the posters posted around the city. Some words are so similar but the rest of the sentence would be indistinguishable. Also, the streets of the Siena don't really make any sense because they are circa 1400. It's crazy because being in America, of course our country is so young at 300 years old. Here, there are banks that have been running since 1472 some so old that they are known to be the banks that funded Christopher Columbus's trans-Atlantic journey. I feel like I'm walking the streets of Italian scholars and thinkers and hopefully the new air and environment can show me something about life that I have missed so far. If anything, I hope it inspires Nobel Prize-winning research!

Safe and sound, I'm ready for what Italia has to throw to me!

much love and olive oil, ciao!

Friday, May 25, 2012

First week in Italy

Hey! I figured I would go ahead and post since I'm close to the end of my first week in Milan.  I'm so excited to be here and haven't had any trouble adjusting.  Victoria (another IRES student) and I were on the same flight from Chicago to Heathrow and ended up sharing a hotel room together in London.  When I got to Milan, I had to go to the Uni housing office near city center to check in... the person I needed to talk to was away for the morning so I ended up leaving my bags at the office, went to the Duomo, and did some sightseeing. Since I don't speak Italian, the doorman brought a bunch of residents down to translate when I arrived which helped me meet everyone in the building and make friends... I guess American ignorance has its perks (haha). Most of the people that live here are Erasmus students that have been here side September so they've been showing me around.  My roommate is a PhD candidate from Delhi and seems great. We have a limit on the amount of Internet we use each day so I can't put pictures up until I go to a cafe but I'll try to post again ASAP. Everyone in the lab is really friendly--we eat lunch and get coffee together everyday and are going to a big horse race outside Milan on Sunday.  For the first few days I just observed procedures, but I will be working with Donato starting Monday.  I can't wait to hear from everyone else!   Megan

Life in Berlin

I bought a used bike for a good price and I have been using that to get back and forth to work. The Robert-Koch Institute is about 8,5km from my apartment and it's a nice, flat ride along the river for about 30 minutes. Almost everyone here goes to and from with the bike or with public transportation and this is so much nicer that what I am used to in the States!
In the evenings I usually walk around and explore Kreuzberg (there is always some music festival going on here!) or settle at one of the many beautiful parks and read or write. Another girl has moved into the apartment as well and she is from Tel Aviv. She lived in Germany before, so she knows some cool sites to visit. This weekend there is a Karnival here and we'll go to that and then to Pfaueninsel, where peacocks roam free and there are lots of castles!
Work in the lab is going well. I have been training with some of the lab techs and today the PI will watch my work and (hopefully) give me the okay to begin screening my own samples. Right now I am looking for Plasmodium (the parasite that causes malaria), as it has been found in a few of these gorillas before, but my sample size is much larger so we can get a better idea of the prevalence. I really like the lab where I work. Not only is it nice building with lots of natural light, but the people are really fun and encouraging. They invited me to come to happy hour with them after work today, so I am excited to see the non-lab side of them :) This weekend is a long weekend because Monday is a religious holiday so I am planning on exploring Berlin some more, maybe go to some of the wonderful museums and historic sites! This is a truly an awesome city.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My first week

Since the last time I've posted, I've found housing and have started to work in the lab! My PI and her sons have been the most wonderful hosts, feeding and entertaining me and driving me around to find a local cell phone and apartment. I moved into a two bedroom apartment last night. As you can see, my bedroom is teeny, but it has a fantastic balcony attached!
Huge bed, tiny room.
I started work on Monday and absolutely adore the lab! It is huge, so I have my own desk with two computers and all the office supplies I could possibly need. Right next to my desk is a fantastic window that stays open to let in fresh air and the unique bird calls of the area. Even more, the back door of the lab opens onto a shaded patio and the staff swimming pool/BBQ area. Everyone is extremely friendly and helpful and, most importantly, they drink tea all day. It's wonderful.
The window by my desk. I love it!
Oh, I have actually done some work here. I've been catching up on empirical articles written by the lab and doing some personal research on TBI literature. I was just trained to transcribe interviews and will be going on home visits for a NICU study soon. There are a ton of fantastic seminars going on over the next few weeks, so I will be making my way to as many of those as possible!

I hope to have some touristy pictures the next time I post!


Landed in London

One day in London and I am already thinking of buying the cheesy "I <3 London" t-shirts. I really do love it here!

The hustle and bustle reminds me of New York City and it's very easy to get around. Also, the city has a unique combination of new and old architecture that creates a beautiful contrast. The people are quite friendly. And of course the accent is, well, fantastic as the British would say.

I landed yesterday morning at London Heathrow and successfully traveled the Tube to get to the hostel I am staying at for the next few days in London. Today I did some sightseeing; I took a bus tour around the city as well as a river cruise on the Thames. For the next few days, I am just planning on staying in the city. I will be traveling to Cambridge on Sunday and starting in the lab on Monday. More updates to come!


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Safe and Sound in Berlin :)

After way too much time in the airport, my host mom picked me up and brought me to my new place in Kreuzberg. It's an awesome loft room in an apartment on the 4th floor of a cool old building. She cooked me dinner and took me on a tour of the local shops. This morning I am making my first commute to the Robert Koch Institute to meet my PI. More pics to come!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hello Brisbane!

After a relaxing 14 hour flight, I arrived in Brisbane this morning! It's beautiful here - everything's in full bloom, and the sun is shining - you would never guess that winter begins in a few weeks. My PI picked me up from the airport and showed me around UQ for a bit before we stopped for a delicious lunch (vegetable frittata, quinoa salad, spinach salad, and coffee). I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering about battling jet lag and found some parks, convenience stores, and incredibly impressive views. I already love it here: I can not wait to start in the lab on Monday!



Monday, May 7, 2012

Berlin, here I come!

Soon, that little green B marker will be my location...that is such a surreal thought. I'll be flying out of Atlanta on May 16th and I begin work on May 21st. I can't wait to meet all my lab mates and my host family :)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Less than 3 weeks away

Hey everyone,

It's less than three weeks until I leave for England--less than three weeks until I'll be exploring the campus that gave inspiration to such notable alumni as Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Francis Bacon, and many more. At the University of Cambridge, I'll be studying a specific RNA-binding protein found in E. coli that controls gene expression. This is just one of the many scientific projects at the famous LMB, Laboratory of Molecular Biology. I'm a little intimidated, but also immensely excited for the challenge. Check back in a few weeks for pictures and updates!


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

One month...

It is officially one month before I leave for Bolivia! This summer I will be working in El Alto, Bolivia (elevation: 13,600 ft!) on a project evaluating the health and nutritional status of Bolivian mothers and their children. I'll be working directly with the mothers through focus group discussions and interviews, which means I need to start polishing up my Spanish skills over the next few weeks. I'll be back in June with updates!