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Scholar Highlights for Week Ending June 15, 2012

June 18, 2012


  • The people here are extremely nice though.  They are always up to feeding us wherever we go. Which is nice but they food they give us is a staple in the country and we get fed it a lot. And all of the people want to stuff us to the brim with food. It reminds me of my grandma trying to fatten us up. I think at this point the hardest thing for me is not wasting my money on food and soda and useless things I do not need. A super big issue is not overloading on the carbs. There is always rice and bread and other carbs at dinner versus having salads and other vegetables.


  • Today I began on the microbiology-oriented portion of my project. I prepared five different sets of bacterial-growth focused media (nutrient broth, TYG, LB, etc…) followed by preparing the soil sample collected at the mine last week by incubation w/agitation in the aforementioned medias; then, the corresponding plates necessary for bacterial growth were poured and stored at the appropriate temperature for the desired growth.
  • This week has been very interesting and kind of bittersweet for me because I got sick in the middle of the week and that was definitely a challenge in itself. I must say however, that I still love my time here and I am looking forward to next week with a renewed perspective. I am now learning how to open up to those in my new environment. I believe that I am also beginning to learn how to think like a scientist because I am learning not only how to progress in my knowledge regarding the “how” but also beginning to question the “why” aspect that laid the foundation for the questions behind asked.



  • They wake up very early because it gets dark around 4:30pm.
  • They drive dangerously, and their police do not enforce much of anything.
  • Men are very arrogant; the divide between men and women(hierarchy) is quite apparent.
  • Food is very fresh and delicious. They grow a lot of things here and export them.
  • Everyone here has some type of hustle.
  • Ray Bans, Iphones, and brand name clothes are very expensive here.
  • Mcdonalds, Burger King, and Subway are more expensive here.
  • Capitalism is everywhere.
  • They do not get thunder and lightning.(the weather here is different because we are in South America)
  • The climate and vegetation here are different.
  • “Boa Aparencia” meaning “Good Appearance” are two words that they put under job ads here when they do not want a person of color. Racism still exists even though Bahia is 80% Black.
  • The tuition to attend the public universities here is free. Their universities are equivalent to our Ivy League Universities. However, many Blacks are not in those class rooms as a result of not properly preparing for the entry test and lack of desire for education.


  • On the social side of things I had a great surprise when Kymber Rias came to visit me last weekend. Due to Corpus Christi, a holiday in Granada she had an extra day off and she rode the bus for 7 hours to come to Salamanca. We had an amazing time and I will be sending some photos. It was so comfortable to see a familiar face, but I must admit, because I was not using Spanish all weekend, it was a little hard to get back in the swing of things Monday. Such is life.


  • Wow! I can’t believe that I have been living in Madrid for 14 days already. I can honestly say that I am so incredibly proud of myself. The first week was spectacularly amazing to get this burst of a new culture, but it was also equally difficult to get adjusted to a new place where I didn’t know the language. In addition to the challenge of the language barrier, I was also homesick and missed my family tremendously. Because I was unoccupied after 4:45 each day with lab work, it was easy to become homesick and feel defeated about my problems. Most people would say well ,”why don’t you just go and explore, you’re in Europe !!!” Well, I’m going to be honest again and say, I was scared! Before you leave for the country, not only do your parents remind you about being safe, you have a whole host of close friends and family that remind you of such “comforting” sentiments like the thousands of new stories about missing students , getting robbed not to mention the movie Taken. Dramatic, right!? Well in contrast to last week’s visions of having my name and picture plastered over CNN as a missing student case, I decided to climb out of my cave of fear and allow adventure to seek me!
  • Dreaming…

    I am working in the lab tirelessly to achieve them; that is my dreams of being an environmental engineer. The Spanish approach to knowledge is extremely admirable. In the States, we are extremely invested in guided learning, filled with curriculums that encourage the cultivation of the learning experience through lenses of books and through a deposit and withdrawal method. However, here all learning environments, whether the classroom or the lab encourage a creative method of learning, where critical thinking, innovation and creativity are the foundations of gaining knowledge. This week I began to engage in this process. Instead of my research being mapped out for me, in terms of the number of experiments and perhaps what I will focus on during my two month duration here, my mentor gave me the option to choose what I wanted to focus my research on. Here at the institute the scale of the research is extremely large so to be given the opportunity to choose my own focus and outline my own experiments is amazing and just the skill I need to be an excellent researcher and environmental engineer.


  • This week I became acquainted with the lab hierarchy. Much like the freshman on a sports team, I was carrying equipment and doing the dirty work that the more experienced people didn’t want to bother with. My first week of introductions to techniques and machines was over and now I was to fall into my place as the lab-newbie. I will say that after creating 30 chemical stock solutions while having to replace the components by making even more stock solutions has given me not only patience but chemical knowledge about buffers, acid-base reactions, and solubility. After this past week, I can now pretty much recite the components of almost any mixture based upon its viscosity, smell, and how fast it pipettes. I have also become quite adept at crystallization experiments. What used to take me hours now only takes about half an hour with much better results.
  • Socially, I seem to have kind of found my niche. I found people that I enjoy spending time with and have fun with but when they get excited flurries of Spanish come out of their mouths and I’m no longer included in the fun. Lunchtime makes this more apparent. I’m sitting at a table with people that I’m sure are funny and caring people but I can’t share in their excitement. Of all the things that I have been missing or homesick for since arriving, I would have to say that being able to share in basic human experiences with the people around me is the main thing. I have realized that is what builds a friendship, the ability to share in such small and seemingly insignificant moments that eventually come together to build what could be a lifetime friendship.


  • On the bus it is not a smooth ride to school because they speed through the roads. Sometimes it feels like I am on a roller coaster ride when there are not seats on the bus, and I have to stand up. In addition this bus experience aids me in practicing Portuguese, because sometimes I have to ask which destination this bus route is going. Or I might bump into a person by mistake and I have to say a simple phrase like excuse me. Then when I begin to feel comfortable with the transportation system, I started to blend in with the people in Salvador.  The Afro-Brazilian population is so large in Salvador that I actually look like I am Brazilian. With educating myself on how to get around in the city, I am beginning to feel at ease with living in Brazil.
  • In culture class, I learned that the education system is very different than in the United States. The public schools are free in Brazil and the private schools cost money, similar to the United States. However, most of the public schools are so bad that the students that attend are not learning anything. Even when I first came to Bahia, people were not attending school because the public school was on strike for fifty days. Many people take it for granted that the education provided in the United States actually prepare the students. It is shocking to observe the disparity gap when it comes to the education system in Brazil.


  • Figure 1 the G-STEM scholars’ official research trip to UNIDUNAS
  • Figure 2 shows the group taking the tour at UNIDUNAS, while enjoying nature.


  • My first week in Brazil had come and gone as the second week quickly approached. Even though we had been in Brazil for such a little time, it started to feel like I had been in Brazil for months.
  • On last Saturday, the 9th, the group visited the UNIDUNAS park. The other G-STEM students and I excited and relieved to see the place where we would be conducting research. Everyone expected a light walk, but we were in store for an hour to an hour and half hike! The terrain of the UNIDUNAS site is sand dunes. Parts of the dunes had very steep hills that we had to run down and climb up while other parts of the site had more forest-y areas. Those parts made me feel as if we were in a “mini Amazon Rain Forest” because of all the vegetation that surrounded us.
  • On Wednesday, the 13th, we took a trip to Mercado Modela in the lower city. Mercado Modela is a marketplace where mostly Afro-Brazilians sell souvenir like items, jewelry, and other goods to the public. Yet, Mercado Modela used to be the place where slaves were sold in Salvador. As I walked around shopping for souvenirs, my mind could not help but imagine what really went on at the Mercado. And I wondered if other people were having similar reflections. Most people seemed unaware or too preoccupied with bargaining to care. This goes back to the theme of Brazil having this history that is seemingly hidden from the consciousness of its people.
  • Another thing I noticed was the importance of fitness expressed throughout the Brazilian people. While riding home from school one day on the bus, I saw what looked like an outside gym on the side of the road next to the beach. Every day I see people running on the beach, and here, people were using this equipment to work out as well. In the States, fitness is not nearly expressed as a way of life as it is through Brazilians. Membership to a gym costs hundreds of dollars per year and often deters people from working out. Yet, Brazilians seem to use what nature gives them to keep their bodies fit—the beach. The pride Brazilians have for their bodies is intriguing and the solidarity amongst the people is endearing. All over the city, there are plastic tables and chairs where people sit and play cards, drink, or just simply talk. This sense of community and family is hard to find in America. Even the Brazilian kids have caused me to take notice. The kids here stay up late not playing with video games and cell phones, but playing soccer in the streets barefoot or riding the waves on the beach. The vibrancy of this country can often be seen through the children.


  • Today was my first day of class. We had an early start at 7am, but the material covered in class was really interesting. We were given the facts about current conditions in Costa Rica compared to countries around the world and about the consequences of a lack of conservation. We were then sent out into San Jose with 3,000 colones to go to the market place, the central mall, and the University of Costa Rica to interview Costa Ricans on their ecological footprint. The language barrier was challenging at times, but I enjoyed talking to the local people and practicing my Spanish. Most of the time they were able to laugh with me when I made mistakes instead of getting irritated. This was a great opportunity to tour the city of San Jose and bond with my peers in the program. It was a good day and I can tell these next two months are going to be awesome! Tomorrow we set out for a 12-day camping excursion where we will have little to no electricity! I’m really excited for some of the things I am expecting to see in the next few days and can’t wait to share pictures and memories. Wish me luck!


  • Over the weekend I went to Salamanca to visit my friend Kendra, who is also an AGMUS researcher. The trip one way took a total of about 7 ½ hours. I found that travel within Europe is far cheaper than it is at home. Kendra was lucky enough to have a roommate, Maria, who has lived there for a while. For this reason Kendra is already getting to know many people in the area. The first day I got there, Maria and her friends invited Kendra and I out with them to celebrate one of her friends’ birthday. I was also able to go to her facility and see the fascinating research she is doing with breast cancer. We spent the rest of my visit exploring the city, shopping, and doing other touristy things. I really enjoyed my time there and was sad to have to leave.
  • Coming back to work the next day was a bit taxing, as I was still tired from arriving home so late on Sunday. I was introduced to the coffee here for the first time, which I found was much stronger than the coffee at home, requiring a lot more sugar.
  • My other experiences in the cafeteria have been excellent. I had my suspicions of it, but it is here that I confirmed that most everyone in Spain believes in a healthy lifestyle, at least in terms of eating. I have not come across one person who did not include fruit in their meal. Also the people here eat much less than what I am used to seeing. One sandwich, a bag of grapes, and bottled water would be sufficient for a lot of the people in the lab. It is hard for me to distinguish, though, whether their health consciousness could be attributed to this location and the way of the people here, or the fact that they are scientists and understand how the body works, and what type of eating would be better for it. It might be a mixture both reasons, but it is definitely something that, if adopted by Americans, would cut our incidence of obesity probably in half. The portion control problem in our country is serious, and needs to be addressed immediately.


  • The things we are learning now are the building blocks for the concepts that currently seem beyond our reach, and after a while, those lofty ideas will become “elementary” to us as well. It will take time to adjust to being in an environment where everyone I meet is far more educated than I am, but it seems more and more feasible every day.
  • An outing with a co-worker to watch Germany’s first soccer/football game in the European cup gave me a surprising amount of insight into the people here. Before the game, a few cars dared to boast the German flag, the bars set empty and cold. As 8:45 PM approached, the bar filled up with people bedecked with hats, straw skirts, flags and jerseys. Every horizontal surface overflowed with bodies and drinks. The whole room roared with pride as they sang the national anthem. It was astounding, and I could not help but get caught up in the atmosphere.When we watch the Super Bowl in America, it is a social event. Friends gather to laugh, sing, joke and insult each others’ team. People shout during the game, they eat, they sleep and they talk. When the commercials come on, however, the room grows quiet and all focus is directed to the television. In, from my experience, everywhere else, the sports viewing experience is completely different. The game is what is important. It is a matter of personal and national pride. Rivalries from centuries ago are fought on a field with a ball and a goal. It is not just a game. It is a battle. And when the commercials come on (only during halftime!), everyone leaves.  The life flows out of the room as swiftly as the wind, and leaves it barren until the break ends. It is difficult to describe the import of each game. The atmosphere was singular and one I hope to witness and observe in more detail.

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