It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than 3 months since I boarded that plane bound for the other side of the Atlantic ocean. Even though I’m back in the U.S. now, my memories from my summer abroad will stay with me forever. With those memories in mind, I’ve decided to assemble all of my very favorite photos from Europe into one giant article, starting in Greece and going all the way through Switzerland. Enjoy!
It still hasn’t completely processed that this chapter of my life is really over. I’ve had such a wonderful time in Switzerland this summer and it will definitely be an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I had a lot of fun during my final week. On Wednesday the entire lab went out to an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant for dinner. It was pretty expensive (about 50 francs per person) but you can get your money’s worth as long as you stuff yourself with as much sushi as possible. It was great hanging out with everyone all together for the last time.
On Thursday, I went with the other students on a cruise of Lake Geneva, which went from Lausanne to Montreux and back. The tickets included two free drinks, and we had a lot of fun dancing on the ship while admiring the beautiful scenery.
On Saturday, we went to Geneva to visit CERN, the home of the Large Hardon Collider where scientists recently discovered the Higgs boson. I loved geeking out at all the phyics. Visiting CERN has always been a big dream of mine, since for much of high school I planned to go into a career in physics, so it was great to have the chance to experience it even though my field of study has changed.
Our final stop was to Gruyere on Sunday. I’d probably describe Gruyere as the most stereotypical Swiss town I’ve visited, so it was a nice place to end my time in the country. We started out at the factory where the famous Gruyere cheese is made, followed by a chocolate factory with unlimited free samples. Then we visited the town’s midieval castle, which had a lot of interesting history.
At the end of the day, I faced a dilemma regarding my flight. I would need to arrive at the airport around 5am in order to be two hours early, and so I’d catch the train toward the airport at 4am. The problem is that there are no busses or metros running at 4am, and I didn’t want to walk with my suitcases to the train station by myself late at night. I also didn’t really want to go to bed, since I’d have to wake up around 3am. I finally decided to go out with my friends to MAD, which claims to be the best club in Switzerland. We had a lot of fun dancing together there and two of the guys walked me to the train station afterward, so everything worked out nicely. I can’t think of a better way to spend my last night in Switzerland.
As I sit here writing this post now, I am at my second layover in Detroit. I’ve been traveling for about 16 hours and haven’t gotten any sleep since Friday night so it’s a miracle I’ve been able to navigate all the airports and various security/customs desks while being so sleep deprived. My first layover was in Amsterdarm. Both stops have had a lot of security screens, since entering the United States has stricter travel policies than most other countries. I’m definitely feeling ready to collapse into bed.
I’d describe my current feelings as bittersweet. I’m very sad to be leaving Switzerland, with its breathtaking landscapes and fascinating history. I’m going to miss the wonderful friends I’ve made through the program and the opportunities I’ve gained working in my lab. There are plenty of sites and places that I didn’t have a chance to visit during this trip. At the same time though, I’m excited to reuinite with everyone back in the USA and resume work on my honors thesis at Ohio State. There’s also a chance that I could return to Switzerland next summer, since I’ve been discussing with my boss the possibility of him hiring me to continue my project after I graduate.
After a summer of adventures, it’s going to be strange to be back in my native country. I would defintely love to extend this trip for longer, but I’m still grateful for the time I’ve had. I think I’ve caught the “travel bug”, so I’m sure I’ll be back in Europe again some day!
During my second-to-last week in Switzerland, I once again was in the lab 12+ hours a day working on my project. The results are starting to get exciting and I wish I had more time to explore them in greater detail. I’m hoping I can at least finish this phase of my project before I have to leave. So far, so good. I’m starting to get better at injecting the mice without stressing them out too much, and we think we’ve finally narrowed down the correct dosage of our drug to induce seizures without killing the mice. Fingers crossed.
We didn’t embark on any major adventures this weekend, but I still had a lot of fun hanging out with everyone. On Saturday we went down to Lake Geneva and rented some four-person paddleboats. Then we peddaled out into the middle of the lake and had lots of fun swimming in the crystal-clear water. I normally don’t swim in water where I can’t touch the bottom, but it’s much easier swimming in a lake than in the ocean since there are no tides or waves, so I had no trouble staying afloat.
On Sunday, we all went to the Lausanne Botanical Gardens and had a picnic. Afterward, we returned to our dorm and had an international food night where everyone made a dish from their native country. I made spoon bread, which is kind of like corn bread by more runny and with pieces of corn in it. The other Americans in the group made s’mores, jello shots, and cheesecake. I completely stuffed myself with all the delicious foods from all over the world. Afterward, everyone took turns trying to teach the group a dance from their country. We were all pretty terrible dancers but had lots of fun anyway. We couldn’t really come up with an American group dance besides square dancing, which none of us knew how to do. We finally settled on the Cha Cha Slide.
The upcoming week is my last week in Switzerland. I hope I can cram as much work and as much fun into the next seven days as possible.
Once again my weekend was filled with adventures! On Saturday I joined a bunch of other summer students on an excursion to Montreux, with a few detours to visit interesting sites along the way. Our first stop was Laveux, a region known for its vineyards. There we enjoyed a wine tasting with an absolutely breathtaking view from the terrace. I can think of few times in my life when I’ve felt so thoroughly content.
From there we continued on to Vevey and enjoyed a picnic by the lake. The sites included this bizarre giant fork sculpture, which was apparently created for a food festival a few years ago.
After another train ride, we reached our final destination: Montreux. We first visited the midieval Chillon Castle and also spent some time relaxing on the beach. Then we returned to the city center to finish the day at the annual Montreux Jazz Festival.
On Sunday I was up bright and early to catch the 7am train to Zermatt, along with three of my friends. I was the one to organize this trip so I was a little nervous that something would go wrong, but we completed the three-hour journey without any major issues. From Zermatt we took the funicular rail and then the cable car up to the Blauhert station, and spent a few hours walking the gorgeous Five Lakes Hike. The views of the Matterhorn were absolutely spectacular, and we also enjoyed a refreshing dip in one of the mountain lakes.
After the hike, two of us split off to hike back down to Zermatt, while the other two rode the funicular back down. In contrast to the somewhat touristy Five Lakes Hike, the trail to Zermatt was nearly deserted, which was a nice change of pace. We spent about two hours hiking down and then caught our train home. We got a bit confused by a platform change at our connection and ended up getting on the wrong train, but eventually we figured out a new route and made it home safely, ready for the new work week ahead.
The name of the game this week has been work hard, play hard. I’ve been the first one to get to lab and the last one to leave every day this week. My typically schedule has been 7:30am to 8:30pm. The hours are tiring and the experiments require a lot of focus to avoid mistakes, yet the passion I have for my research topic and my desire to make some small contribution to my lab’s work before I leave, keep me motivated to stick it out. I have so much that I want to accomplish in the remaining two weeks I have in Switzerland.
This week I learned how to inject mice intraperitoneally (into the abdominal cavity). Essentially, our the drug that we use gives the mice seizures, and we are seeing what effect those seizures have on their brains. I still have a difficult time picking up the mice in the proper way. You have to grab their loose skin and pull it tight behind their back so that they can’t move while you inject. I’ve gotten bit once because I didn’t pull the skin taut enough. It’s doesn’t hurt that much, but it made me jump and I nearly dropped the mouse. Having a mouse running loose in our lab would definitely not be good. I think my hands are too small to pick up the mice the way that my supervisor taught me, so I’m trying to develop my own hand position that works better.
I’ve gotten pretty good at brain dissections, which is important because we have a lot of brains to dissect in a short period of time. I’ve also started getting some interesting results for the qRT-PCR experiments that I’ve been working on. It’s encouraging to know that even if my injection experiments don’t pan out, I’m still guaranteed to have some data to put on my poster at the end of the summer. When I discover something that no one else in the world knows, even if that discovery is very small, it’s such an amazing feeling.
I’ve run into a couple of mistakes along the way. The biggest one was that my original drug injections were much too dilute due to a math error I made when calculating the proper dilution, so the mice didn’t have any seizures and were pretty much wasted. Luckily my supervisor is extremely patient and did not get mad at me at all. Working in an environment with supportive people really makes a huge difference in one’s research experience. I’m able to reflect on my mistakes and learn how to avoid them in the future, rather than just being upset.
To reward myself for a 65-hour work week, I had some fun with the other interns on Friday evening. In honor of Bastille Day, people all over France set off fireworks and throw huge celebrations on July 14. We are close enough to France that we can see the fireworks from across Lake Geneva, so everyone gathered by the beach to relax, enjoy some wine, and watch the show. It was a nice way to close out the work week. On Saturday, I plan to travel to Montreux for the annual jazz festival. Then on Sunday, a few of us will be journeying to Zermatt and doing some hiking with views of the Matterhorn. Be prepared for some awesome photos soon!
This weekend I went on an excursion hosted by ThinkSwiss, the organization that funded my first month of research here in Switzerland. I caught the 7am train to Bern, the capital of Switzerland, and met up with around 20 other current ThinkSwiss awardees at the train station. After stowing our luggage, we journeyed to our first stop, the Office of Education, Research, and Innovation. Several representatives gave surprisingly interesting presentations for us about Swiss government and politics, Switzerland-USA relations, and the Swiss higher education system. It was clear that they were very hopeful for some of us to return to Switzerland for work or school.
After the prentations, we grabbed lunch and then experienced a guided tour of the historic city by scooter.
After our tour, we hopped on another train bound for Luzern. After walking around for a while beside the shimmering Lake Luzern, we enjoyed an excellent dinner at a local Italian restaurant. After a long day of travel combined with a heavy dinner, I had no trouble sleeping when we reached our hotel.
In the morning, we caught yet another train bound for the tiny town of Engelberg, where we rode a lift all the way to the 3000-meter summit of Mount Titlis. The ride took nearly half an hour, but we enjoyed beautiful views along the way. The final part of the ascent took place in a huge panoramic cable car that slowly rotated to give everyone views on all sides. It was strange to start out with over 80 degrees F temperatures at the bottom and step out at the top to 40 degrees F with snow. We had to gradually add layers of clothing during the ride up. After the heat of the day, I found the chill air at the top to be very refreshing. I also experienced mild altitude sickness for the first time, which apparently feels like being really drunk.
After spending a few hours at the top, a few other students and I decided to take the lift halfway back down the mountain and then hike the rest of the way down. It took about three hours and despite being entirely downhill was pretty strenuous, since descending at a sharp angle can take a toll on your knees after a while. Nonetheless I had a great time during our hike and felt invigorated from the exercise. We passed through lots of rolling green hills and serene cow pastures.
With the events of our excursion complete, everyone parted ways to return to their respective cities. By the time I reached Lausanne it was after 10pm and I was thoroughly exhausted. I barely had it in me to hop in the shower and rinse off the day’s sweat and grime before collapsing into bed. I truly had an amazing time on this trip, and the best part is that the adventure can still continue! The program provided us with a four-day travel pass, which allows unlimited transportation on all Swiss trains and busses during any 24-hour period you select. I used two of the days for this excursion, leaving two more free travel days that I can use any time before I leave the country. I’m excited to see what new wonders I’ll get to experience in beautiful Switzerland.
Despite recently discovering that I must depart Switzerland a month earlier than planned, I am determined to make the most of the time I have left. 10-hour days have stretched into 12-hour days. I’d be here on weekends too if I could, but I don’t have access to the building. I’m doing my best to not just work hard but work smart. I try to absorb as much new information as I can, and to master my new skills to the best of my ability. In the past week I’ve gone from anxiously killing my first mouse by cervical dislocation (breaking the neck, in other words) to becoming an efficient mouse-killing machine. It’s pretty gruesome work, especially having to break the skull open without damaging the brain, but the initial disgust has subsided and now the sight of a mouse’s headless corpse doesn’t bother me (much). I’ve started to get pretty good at dissecting the brain too. It takes me only 5 minutes to remove one hippocampus.
It’s probably good that I’m forced to not work on weekends, because the other summer interns have finally arrived! On our first day together, some former program participants (who are now graduate students at EPFL) gave us a tour of Lausanne and we enjoyed a nice picnic on the beach of Ouchy. There are students from all over the world, including Serbia, Costa Rica, Russia, and Australia, just to name a few. We’ve started the slow process of getting to know each other and trying to pronounce each other’s names. So far everyone seems really nice and I think we’ll have no problems getting along. I’m excited to spend my weekends exploring Switzerland with such fun and interesting people.
I should mention that, technically, there is still a small chance that I could be able to complete my full stay in Switzerland. The HR office is trying to determine whether I could apply for a student visa, rather than extending my intial Schengen tourist visa. Normally the application process takes months, but there might be a way for the university to expendite the process since it’s a federal institute. If it ends up being approved, I’m legally required to fly to NYC and back so that I can get the visa stamped into my passport by the U.S. consolate. (I know, what a pain). Luckily flights to NYC are pretty cheap and I have some leftover money still from ThinkSwiss, so I’m willing to make the trip if needed. To be honest, I’m not very optimistic that this convoluted plan will actually pan out, but it never hurts to try.
This Friday and Saturday I have a trip sponsored by ThinkSwiss, which I’m pretty excited about. First we will visit Bern, the capital of Switzerland, then continue to Lucerne and hike up snowy Mount Titlis. Photos to come!