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Scholar Highlights for Week Ending June 29, 2012

July 2, 2012


“Basically we are halfway through the trip. Sometimes it feels like it has taken a long time to get here and we have been here for forever, while sometimes it feels like we just got here. Starting off from the first day we have all eased into our daily routines and are acclimated to living in our homestay houses.

We recently had an issue with the Wi-Fi and every day one more person was being kicked off the network until only one of us had a connection. It was quite a struggle for those couple of days. I did not realize how much I relied on the Wi-Fi to communicate until I lost it. Then I soon forgot about it and just read books instead to pass the time. Luckily we had a technician come and fix the problem. We were elated once everything was fixed. In regards to the people that live in the neighborhood we are in we get looked at kind of strange by some of the people. Mostly on the bus and walking to and from the bus stops. Buying lunch and getting around is a lot easier than in the beginning. Communicating with our families is most of the times easy. With hand gestures and Google translate we are able to get our meaning across most of the time.

My perspective of Brazil has changed a lot since coming on this trip. All of the ideas I had about Brazil were all true but more artificial. Pertaining to the food and juices I thought everything would be mouthwatering delicious. This was true but something to get adjusted to since everything here is freshly squeezed and not artificial. The people here definitely do not put a lot of extra sugar in any of their food items. For someone like me who has a sweet tooth this is something I really had to get used to. The coffee cups are teeny and that it is considered rude to get a big cup for something that has small cups provided. Pertaining to the beaches and the water I assumed that all the beaches would have white sand and crystal clear water. But that is not always true relating to the beaches here. The beaches are beautiful but they have a ton of coral in the water that you cannot see. Also the waves are extremely intense and will knock you over in a quickness.”


  • “I am beginning to do more things independently and learning how to think like a scientist. The exploration of “why” in addition to “how” to do a technique is advancing my understanding of a researcher’s mentality. Although I did not obtain as much data for my project this week as I initially expected, I was pleased that I could continue smoothly with the plans scheduled ahead. Furthermore, I was able to gain more knowledge outside of the techniques through the literature that was provided upon my arrival. I am also beginning to learn how to simply enjoy the process behind a purpose as opposed to just focusing on when the finish line will be reached. I was able to learn how to maximize any down time by taking advantage of the time not spent focusing on physical bench work.
  • My cultural experience this week has brought me closer to the reality that I am growing up. I have never experienced being sick so far away from home but I was very well taken care of by the staff here. I greatly appreciated the concern and assistance provided. Furthermore, I believe that deciding to change my thought pattern regarding being sick made the whole week go by more smoothly. Once I began to look at the bigger picture and focus on the brighter side of things, I was able to manage the down time this week better by learning how to embrace challenge and embody adaptability. I realize now that the ability to adjust to sudden changes and new surroundings is what being a free-thinking individual is all about. Although I did not initially expect for many things to be different concerning the lab environment, I knew the culture would not be the same as the United States. Learning how to adjust to new languages, different types of people, diverse mentalities, and unique expression has taught me a lot in the past month. In essence, I believe that I am beginning to expand the geography of my mind.”


  • “This past week has truly been a whirlwind. It was full of activities plus highs and lows. The week started with classes. Portuguese and Culture class are very interesting. As for Portuguese, it seems as though I am beginning to understand sentences easier. Now that I know more it all makes sense. Then on the other hand every time I think I have it our teacher throws us a new concept. We have classes three days a week. The topic for the first day was adjectives. The topic for the second day was opposites and words to use to make an invitation and turn down people’s requests in a kind manner. The third day we learned a popular song for Sao Joao.
  • In culture class we learned about racial and gender issues. Also, we learned about Sao Joao. The majority of our time was spent on learning about Sao Joao because this week was the actual holiday. During this holiday the students in private school were out of school for about a week. The public school system is still on strike so they were already out. A lot of Bahians go out to the more rural parts of Brasil such as Praia de Fortune on this holiday. It showed because the streets were pretty bare.
  • Later on that day my family had a cookout. Well I call it a cookout but it seemed like more of a festival on the whole block.  There were bon fires, and lights strung across the block. Everyone wore hats and plaid. Also there was food, a lot of food made with corn. Sao Joao is a celebration of farming/harvesting. It’s celebrated with bonfires, fireworks, and the launching of small paper hot-air balloons. Several towns in Brazil were founded on St. John’s Day. One of the most famous is Ouro Preto, founded on June 24, 1698. Atibaia was founded on June 24, 1665 and the history of St. John the Baptist Church (the Matriz, or main church), dates back to its very start. Overall I must say that I very much enjoyed this week.”


  • One Month. This is the amount of time that I have been living in Spain. I´d never thought that I would say those words. This trip has been a great growing experience for me. I have learned so much about the country as well as myself.
  • This week, well now every week, has rapidly flown by. My everyday experience however is pretty normal. I wake up around 8 and either work out or run around the neighborhood. This in itself is a change for me because I am not a runner at all, but the weather here is really nice in the morning and exercise is a great way to wake up. Following I take a shower and walk to work. I live a about a mile away so while walking I like to listen to music or observe. I found that when observing people, I pick up the language better as well as learn the mannerisms of the culture.
  • After entering lab, at 9:30, I spend about 3-4 hours working with my cultures. Because my project requires a lot of trial and error I have anywhere between 50- 180 wells of cells everyday. I work with the cultures for the first half of the day. Lunch here in Spain is at 2, so then I walk home and eat with my roommate. We speak fluent ´Spanglish´ to each other and never stop laughing at some crazy story that happened to us. At 4,I return to work and I work until about 9. During this time I am practicing techniques with SDS-PAGE Gels, Protein Transfers and taking films.  The second half of the day, I also get some studying for my work done. During the entire day, I am taking Spanish lessons from everyone I meet. I also am exchanging a little English with them.
  • I am sorry to know that this amazing experience is halfway complete. I feel like if I had more time here, I would be able to do so much more and learn those things that I can´t get in two weeks. But in the ´glass half full ´ optimism… I still have half of a summer left!


  • This is week four and I almost can’t believe that my journey is half way over. Unlike many of the other week, this week I had the opportunity to become completely acclimated to my surroundings and my life here in Madrid. Everything has become so routine that I don’t even recognize that I am in an unfamiliar place. This week I almost feel as though I’m apart of the fabric that makes up Madrid, just as the natives with whom I walk the street with everyday. In a few words, this week in Madrid was the climb to the fourth level of an eight story skyscraper of personal development. To start my climb, this week I had the opportunity to visit Toledo, Spain, a beautiful war city from the middle ages.
  • Have you ever been to a place that was so beautiful or breathe taking that it made you thankful for the opportunity to simply see it? Well for me, that was in nutshell my experience in Toledo. Toledo is an amazing city filled with massive hills and surrounded by a nearly thousand year old stone wall. The narrow streets are decorated with the world’s oldest cathedrals and synagogues. During my time here with a couple of my French friends, I had the opportunity to connect with my own faith. It was possibly the most rewarding experience thus far in my journey. It really reminded me of how this research experience is a pivotal moment in my life and how I should really cherish it. (I also took some fantastic photos of my journey). The next step on my way up this proverbial stair case of self development was a familiar place, the lab.
  • The lab this week grew more interesting. My researching is starting to take a turn and I am starting to focus on a specific topic that perhaps in the beginning I had not originally set out to focus on. This experience alone taught me the value of being flexible and accepting that even unplanned and unexpected changes are perhaps the golden nuggets along the journey. I also got the opportunity to experience just how politics and business affect the science. Many of my challenges this week were solely centered on maneuvering around the rules and legalities of the lab, which I must say is difficult, yet doable.  I will continue my journey from level four to level five discover just how rewarding unexpected changes will be and look forward to more of Madrid.


  • Outside of the lab work, I did make a startling discovery this week: I am the only person of African descent who works anywhere in the lab. It has apparently always been like this but it was a large detail that I didn’t notice. As I looked around the lunch table I realized that my skin was the most brown and so I went on a mission to find someone with browner skin and found no one. Instead of taking a coffee break, I went to every office on every floor and searched, to no avail.  While I had been dealing with terrible homesickness dealing with language, food and common amenities, I hadn’t even had time to notice that cultural background and ethnicity were also different.


  • In the United States Brazil is known as a vacation spot with beautiful people. The beaches are a marvelous sight and the weather is just right. But is this a true depiction of Brazil? Brazil is so rich culture and history to just be labeled as a vacation spot.
  • After living in Brazil for almost and month and taking classes, I have realized that these images are wrong. Brazil is a country full of color with happiness and beautiful people, but it is much more. There is a huge population of Afro-Brazilian people, so why weren’t any of those women [represented]. The reason can probably be that in Brazil black women are not represented in a positive manner in the media, just like in the United States. The display should have included even the delicious food that is sold on the street like acarajé and queijo coalho. Many people are trying to selling different items just so they can have enough reais to feed their families. A huge aspect of Brazilian life is coconut water being sold every corner. In addition popular dances like the samba and capoeira are seen in club or in the street throughout the country. Brazilian people love to dance and have fun. However after naming these items above, it is unfortunate that people still think of Brazil as just a country full of beautiful women. The United States just wanted to show a certain aspect of Brazil, instead of the beautiful culture that is hidden.
  • On the other, I have embraced the piece of the culture which has taught me to relax. In the United States I am used to always being on the go and multitasking. I like to be in control of my day or I begin to worry of the unexpected. In Brazil, people love to go with the flow and they have a calm vibe. Since being in Brazil I have struggled with depending on my family, public transportation, and limited internet access.
  • Being such an independent person, it was hard at first to just relax. For instance I am used to completing task like cooking, cleaning, washing dishes, and washing clothes. So to just leave these tasks for my Brazilian family, because they want to take care of me, was very hard for me to understand at first. However I observed that my family completes these tasks to show their love and care. Other example is that the bus does not come at a schedule time every day. Not having this structure bothered me the first couple of days, because this resulted in me being a little late for school. I realize that I can not control this part of my trip in Brazil, and I just have to wait patiently for the bus to come in the morning. Also the internet in my house sometimes goes in and out, so I did not have internet for like two days. I had a tiny panic attack because I have never been without my technology. But that has taught me that having fun does not always have to be associated with electronics. I have other options like playing games with the family, reading a book, taking a walk outside or even having a conversation. This time in Brazil has shown me to remain calm, cool, and relaxed; when unexpected events occur.


  • Sao Joao or Festa Junina celebrates the birthday of John the Baptist but also commemorates the start of the winter season in Brazil. Winter marks the end of the rainy season, so the holiday gives people a chance to thank Saint John for the rain. The holiday also recognizes and celebrates rural life. So, many people travel more inland to go to the country side for the holiday. The typical harvest crop was corn so along with dressing up like farmers with straw hats and plaid collared shirts, people make a lot of corn based dishes.
  • On Saturday, June 23rd, our whole street in our neighborhood of Amaralina, had a party or festa in the streets of which my host mom helped to throw. She had been preparing for a few days, so my roommates and I knew it would be a site to see. It turns out that it had been raining all day the day of the party. But to our surprise, the party still carried on, outside! There were tables and chairs in the middle of the street, a huge bonfire, and even an outside refrigerator to house drinks. People danced in the streets as the loud music played all night long. Some of our friends from the program came over and even brought our host mother a dish. After a while, our American nature would not allow us to stand outside any longer in the rain, so we went inside to enjoy the warmth and coziness of the house.
  • This moment made me reflect on the progress I have made in Brazil. Before coming to Brazil, I would have never gone in to any body of water neck deep. Now, I am snorkeling. Before coming to Brazil, I never desired to study abroad. Now, I am learning more than I ever would have imagined. Before coming to Brazil, I was so nervous about the language barrier that I could not even fathom myself over coming it. Now, not only am I overcoming it, but I find myself leaping over it. My Portuguese is nowhere near fluent, but it is becoming functional and that is all anyone could ask for out of 5-6 weeks. When my host mother, teachers, or street vendors, for example, speak to me in Portuguese, I can understand them. I believe comprehension is the first step.
  • It is exciting to be learning so much in such this short period of time but even moiré excited to be able to notice all of the small changes within myself. This trip has allowed me to grow. It has allowed me to challenge myself. It has taught me to observe and slow down before I start to assume. Lastly, it has taught me to always have faith in myself and my abilities. I will continue to observe my progress throughout the rest of this trip and will surely use my results for further explorations.


  • This past weekend Kendra came to visit me here in Granada. She was extremely hospitable while I was in Salamanca visiting her, so I was excited to take over the role as a hostess. I showed her many of the sites that are prominent tourist attractions in Granada. As we explored the city together, I was thankful to have someone there with me to share in different thoughts and opinions about the things we were doing. I have gotten used to doing things on my own, but it was nice to have her there to compare and contrast Spain and the United States.
  • Before coming here I did not know that other countries were doing so much to protect the Earth. Being in Spain for just three short weeks has opened my eyes to just how wasteful I usually am. From not turning off lights when I leave a room to how many paper towels I use to dry my hands, I now realize that I could be a lot more eco-friendly. They try not to waste anything here. For example, whereas in the labs at home they would throw away every instrument used for fear of contamination, the labs here have a mechanism that sterilizes the materials to save money as well as help protect the environment. This has helped me to realize how ecologically unconscious we as Americans can be. Upon my return to The States, I plan to implement a lot of changes in my own life so that I can help to take care of this planet.
  • Right now I am experiencing major culture shock. As this week comes to a close I am noticing how much I miss home and what is familiar to me. I am more than appreciative for this opportunity, but being here by myself is getting to be a bit much. I am usually a very social person, yet I feel like I can’t meet anyone out here that I can relate to. Coming home to an empty apartment everyday and having no one to talk to is beginning to become a challenge. I have internet access, which is helpful, but I cannot use Skype from my apartment due to such little internet space. With no phone I find that I am becoming very lonely. But I refuse to let this loneliness get me down, as I know that this opportunity is great and it is all a part of the experience.


  • I asked my co-workers to define success as a scientist for them, and I found it lead to a rather interesting discourse. The question first occurred to me when I was writing last week’s reflections and I ofund that I could not even begin to define a successful scientist.
  • A successful businessman has a higher position in the company, a sizeable salary, client loyalty and is able to go on company trips. A successful doctor has a large practice, independent or otherwise, a steady stream of patients and a sizeable salary. A successful writer has multiple books published, an established fan base, and makes more money than it costs to make the books (no one goes into writing expecting to become wealthy). A family, happiness and a comfortable living situation can be mixed in with or attributed to any of these ideas.
  • I have found that it is nearly impossible to measure scientific success by the same standards. There are promotions, to a certain extent, in the scientific world, but they are not always as glamorous or even wanted. One can begin as a PhD student, then find a post-doc position, then move up to junior group leader and eventually become a group leader. But that is only one of many possible paths, and there are some who would abhor to be placed in such a role.
  • Another scientist may find absolute happiness and fulfillment in finding a laboratory that has the necessary equipment, competent technical personnel and no one nagging them about deadlines or ambition. It surprised me to discover the lack of available technology that many scientists struggle with for much of their career.  Media representations of science always involves fancy gadgets with lights, spinning parts, a few beeps and magical, instantaneous results. Any rational human being can understand that it won’t be like this everywhere, but the reality of the matter can be a far cry from television.


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