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Laundry On Sundaes

Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open halfway through.

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I have a confessions to make: I almost quit my research internship in Vienna the summer after my sophomore year. I was about a month into it, and there were many reasons I wasn’t happy with the job. One particular Saturday morning (yes, I had to work weekends – one of the reasons), a co-worker took over the lab where I was supposed to work in without looking at the sign-up sheet. At the moment, it was just the last straw for me, and I broke down, took off, crying the whole way on the tram back to my dorm. Back in my room, I cried and cried. I hit my pillow in anger and frustration. I was so upset that I took out my contract and saw that that day was the last day I could quit. And I seriously considered it.

I opened up a Word document and wrote down all the reasons why I hated my internship and wanted to quit.
It had a shocking 20 items and took up the whole page. As I stared at it, tears still running down my face, I wondered what more reason I needed to leave this job. But I was always the indecisive one, so I hesitated. And when I calmed down a little more, I called my parents and Yufei and told them that I wanted to quit. I was pretty sure that none of them thought I was serious, that I was just having a bad day and would move on. So then I did what I always do when I’m uncertain: I researched the topic online. And the overwhelming opinion was that you shouldn’t quit an internship, especially in the middle of it. At this point, I was starting to doubt myself. The practical questions started to pop up: what would I do for the rest of the summer? Would I have to leave Vienna and go home? What would the other interns think of me? What about the travel plans Yufei and I already made for after my internship? Who’s going to finish my project? And so on and so forth.

In the end, I got so tired that I just went to bed. So I didn’t end up quitting, and I’m so glad I didn’t. And here’s why:

– Things did get better at work
– My final project presentation went great and I won a prize at the symposium
– I got to have some awesome experiences travelling in Europe
– My PI ended up writing me recommendation letters for future internships
– Even though my project ended up being pretty successful, I’ve come to realize that research really, really isn’t the thing for me
– And most importantly, the experience taught me that I have the ability to overcome anything. I still have the file “Why I hate my internship and want to quit” on my computer, and all of those things on it still hold true. But now I know that if I got through such a difficult and miserable time, I can get through anything.

I’m not trying to tell you to never quit. Heck, giving up is probably harder than holding on. But there are some takeaways from my story:

1. Never make big decisions when you’re extremely emotional. I’m so glad I didn’t let my emotions get the best of me and make a rash decision to quit. Take some time to calm down and regain your ability to think rationally before making the decision.

2. Think through the consequences of quitting. And not just the consequences you would face, but also how it would affect others. Not only in the present time, but also down the road. Think about the things you could be losing if you quit.

3. Talk it out and write it out. Talking with my loved ones and writing that list really allowed me to vent a lot of my anger. Your friends and family might offer a fresh perspective on things too.

These lessons about quitting apply no matter if you’re thinking about quitting a job, leaving a relationship, giving up on a career path, or changing a major. So think carefully before you decide to give up on something, especially something big, even if it doesn’t seem big at the time. But of course, if after careful consideration, you come to the conclusion that it really is time to move on, then at least you can be assured that you’ve thought it through and made the right choice.

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Welcome to the first edition of Take it from a Senior!

What’s the overwhelming number one regret people have in college? Not studying abroad! Don’t believe me? Just ask around. It’s a fact. So if you have the chance to study abroad, go for it!

Going abroad can be a wonderful opportunity for learning and growing. Maybe you’ve always wanted to live by yourself in a completely new place. Maybe you’ve been itching to practice the foreign language that you’ve been studying for years in the classroom. Whatever the reason, if the thought has crossed your mind at all and if you have the means, do it. Sure, there may be things that hold you back, like not wanting to leave your friends, or a relationship, but honestly, it will be worth it, and if those relationships you have at home are strong and true, a semester or year away won’t hurt at all. You get to experience a different culture, travel around, make new friends, all while in college and earning credits. What’s there not to like?

But what if you have a demanding major and don’t have the time to study abroad? This is what happened to me. With a major, a concentration, the pre-health requirements, and the Core, my schedule was packed every single semester. But you know what? I still found time to go abroad – in the summer! A lot of students don’t realize that there are tons of opportunities to take summer classes, do internships, or get summer jobs in a different country. You just have to look. I went to Vienna for 2 months after my sophomore year to do a research internship, and despite some challenges, it was one of the best things I did during college. I have another friend who went to Australia in the summer to do research on the platypus! How cool is that? So opportunities for going abroad during the summer definitely exist, and they are worth looking into.

So there you go. Take it from a senior: don’t let this become one of your college regrets – go abroad!

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The past 2 weeks have just been a blur. I traveled to 2 new countries, finished my summer research project, gave my first ever presentation at a scientific symposium, won a prize at said symposium, flew back to New York, moved into my new dorm, and started classes for my junior year at Columbia. Whoa. That’s a lot. I know.. so let’s go through it bit by bit :)

The very night Yufei came to Vienna, we left on a night train for Munich. From then on, it was just a whirlwind of train rides jumping from city to city in Germany and Switzerland. So I think the best way to do this is just through the photos. Here goes!

Day 1

Munich, Germany:

Konstanz, Germnay:

Day 2

Luzern, Switzerland:

Bern, Switzerland:

Day 3

Spiez, Switzerland:

Klein Scheidegg, Switzerland (yes, that is snow on the ground):

Day 4

Lausanne, Switzerland:

Geneva, Switzerland:

These were the main places we visited besides some minor excursions by train or boat and some other places we didn’t get to explore at all due to bad scheduling (sorry Zurich!). In any case, I had an excellent time on the trip and was reluctant to return to Vienna and work (albeit for only 2 more days by then).

After wrapping up my research project and final presentation, it was time to present the fruits of my labours for the past 2 months to my fellow summer students, various other scientists at the Vienna Biocenter, and a panel of judges, including my own PI. I’ve only ever practiced my presentation once in front of some people from my lab, and 2 more times by myself, but I decided to not sweat it and employed my usual tactic of telling myself that it’s too early to panic until the very last moment, by when it is already too late to panic anyway. It didn’t quite work so well this particular time, and I was really very nervous before I went up to the podium. Thankfully, I was in the first group to go, so that after I finished I can breathe and relax for the rest of the day. I barely remembered anything while I was up there doing my presentation and had no idea how I did, until at the closing ceremony, where I was both shocked and honored to find out that I was awarded one of 4 prizes for the best project/presentation. I genuinely thought that everyone did a really awesome job on their presentations, so it was really a nice surprise to end my research project on this high note.

To celebrate our accomplishments and bid farewell to each other, the summer school had organized a lovely dinner for us at the uber-posh restaurant Palmenhaus, which is actually inside a greenhouse that’s part of the imperial palace. The ambiance was great in the glass and steel structure, a strange melange of modern and historical.

The food was excellent as well. For starter, I had the beef carpaccio, which was delicious.

And for the main course, I chose the salmon which was served with pumpkin. A rather odd pairing to me, but I think it worked well.

I very badly wanted to stay for dessert, but my flight was at 7:00 am the next morning and my bags were still very much not packed, so I had to bid everyone an early goodbye as I left dinner early. What a group of wonderful people who made my summer memorable. I miss them already.

Life was calling on the other side of the ocean, and less than 24 hours later, I was in New York again. Even though I’ve been here in the city for the past 2 years, I always have this strange sensation returning to it after having been away for a while. The new school year began before I can even take another breath, and now the first week of classes is already over.

I’ve had a lot of thoughts since I got back, but perhaps those would be better shared another day. I think this post has gone on for long enough already.

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It’s been a while since I last wrote about my time here in Vienna, so I thought this would be a good time for a little update. Work has become considerably less stressful since the start of August, thankfully, and weekends have finally freed up. This is basically my last full week of work, since I will be leaving for a 4-day Germany and Switzerland trip this Friday (excited!) and next Friday is the final symposium where I have to give my presentation. So, what have I done here besides work since my last solo outing into the city? Two things on my 100 in 10 list, that’s what!

A few weeks ago, the Summer School program had organized a trip to see the opera Così fan tutte by Mozart at Schönbrunn Palace. An opera! That’s number 43 on my list!

Since all the opera houses are actually closed during the summer season in Vienna, this was a rather informal affair with a modern twist. However, the music was lovely and I really had a wonderful time. I did wish that there were English subtitles or something to really get the nuances in the dialogues and especially the solos.

Then last Saturday we had another trip to see Vienna’s wine country and visit a heurigen, which is a traditional Austrian wine tavern. Wine tasting! Number 52!

But it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be, First, we had to hike up this steep hill for about an hour under a very hot afternoon sun, which I was totally unprepared for in my flip flops and sun dress. The view overlooking the city was nice though, as was setting foot in an actual vineyard.

Then we kept going for about another hour before we finally arrived at the heurigen. We were seated outside in a lovely garden, and wine and food were promptly served.

My favourite was the chardonnay :)

An evening spent with good wine and good company can never go wrong.

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Solitude is underrated.

Nowadays, people are so concerned with being connected with others that they’ve forgotten how to be with themselves. Even when they are alone, they anxiously grasp for others, through Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, lest they are overlooked for even a minute. How much time in a day do people truly spend on their own? How many people would voluntarily go see a movie by themselves? Or not contact anyone for even a day? When I choose to eat lunch alone some days, I’m often looked upon with pity. Why do people assume indubitably that it was not my deliberate choice to not have company? Being alone does not have to mean being lonely.

Today was a day I chose to spend in my own company. No effort to coordinate a time and place to meet, no pressure of making conversation, no disagreement over where to go and how long to spend there; there was only total freedom. I got up at 11 in the morning, showered and dressed, went grocery shopping, mailed a letter at the post office, and was off on my own little adventure. Navigating the streets of Vienna alone, I had finally found a chance to make some use of my guide book and map. Armed with these tools, along with a bottle of water, my camera, and my handy transit pass, I was ready to make this day amazing.

The weather was the perfect kind. Sunny with occasional clouds, breezy, and the temperature comfortably warm. My first stop was Stadtpark. What a wonderful place to begin the journey. As soon as I stepped into the lush greenery, all my worries melted away and all I felt was a tranquil kind of joy. Neat rows of park benches lined the curved paths that wound through the grass and beautiful shrubs and flowers and ponds. Statues and monuments were to be found every dozen steps, but of course, the most famous one being the gilded bronze statue of Johann Strauss.

A busker plays the accordion beautifully. In this oasis of a park, music flowing through the air, sun shining warmly on my skin… it was the happiest I’ve felt in a long time in this city.

After walking through Stadtpark for some time, I decided to go visit the Museum of Applied Arts that’s just next to it. The museum has free admission every Saturday, so I knew I couldn’t miss my chance. The building itself was gorgeous, in Italian Renaissance style.

The collection was odd, eclectic to say the least, but so very wonderful. I absolutely loved it. The pieces on display ranged from textiles to furniture, glassware to jewelery, book covers and illustrations to lace, ancient Chinese vessels to modern art installations to a fully reconstructed Frankfurt kitchen. I was first greeted with a long corridor lined on both sides with silhouettes of chairs illuminated behind a screen; what a way to make an entrance.

I think my favorite was the seating furniture exhibit. So many bizarre and creative pieces. But due to the grumpy looking old man standing watch at the door of the hall, I was unable to take pictures of the collection. The design shop at the museum was also to die for; I wanted to own every book, every lighting fixture, every little useless-but-oh-so-pretty knickknack in the shop. But I was on a poor student’s budget, so I breathed a deep breathe and left empty handed. But I was still happy, because that’s how art makes me feel.

My next destination was somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit since a few weeks ago, the Hundertwasserhaus. Designed by Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, the edifice has a dreamlike quality to it. Colorful, uneven lines defined the place, where no surface is undecorated and no pavement is flat. Adult convention and formality is replaced by childlike charm and cheerfulness.

How I long to be one of those lucky people who get to live in such a fairytale every day.

After the first 3 sights in this area, I took the subway to the multifaceted Naschmarkt area of the city. My second art-related visit of the day took the shape of the Vienna Secession building. Like so many other places in this city, the building itself was a work of art.

Of course, the masterpiece of the place was Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze. The 34 meter long fresco was a sight to behold, and I could almost feel a sense of holiness in the room that houses it. I did manage to sneak a couple of photos of portions of the painting, but they are such a poor representation of the piece that I won’t even bother with them. The beauty of it can only be appreciate in person.

Besides the frieze, there were also numerous other interesting collections in the building, including this disco ball under bright red light:

A series of ironic motivational posters:

And possibly my favourite, a swing fixed to the ceiling, which the viewer can sit on, and videos of moving background projected onto the wall.

I tried unsuccessfully to pace the cycle of my swing to match the video; perhaps this discrepancy was intended and the dizziness that results was meant to be part of the experience.

After leaving the Secession building, I walked towards the bustling Naschmarkt, a colorful place with hundreds of stalls. Shops with vendors selling fruits, vegetables, nuts, spices, meat, seafood… cafes, food stands, and restaurants of all kinds… the market was a feast for the senses.

The smell of food from all around me made my stomach grumble, and I couldn’t resist anymore and bought myself a delicious vegetarian falafel sandwich. Squeezing through the crowd, my hunger fulfilled, I glanced across the street to find two of Otto Wagner’s art nouveau style buildings, the Wagner Haus and the Majolika House.

The Saturday flea market was also happening, and tables and makeshift stalls were flowing with treasures from the past.

Vendors from the flea market were starting to pack up, and I looked at my watch to find that it was already 5. As I prepared to go home, my feet were sore but my heart was singing. I saw more of what I really wanted to see of Vienna in a day than all my other time here combined. So, thank you, me, for a truly amazing time.

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So I’m finally in Vienna and settled in now, after a somewhat eventful journey and first couple of days. My flight from Vancouver to Toronto ended up leaving an hour and a half late, there was water dripping into my lap from the ceiling during take-off, and one of the overhead bin doors cracked open during landing and could not be closed (it appeared to be broken). Needless to say, my impression of Air Canada worsened even more after these events and I think they’ve just lost one customer forever. So instead of having 2 hours layover like I thought I would have, I was already 30 minutes late for boarding for my next flight. So I had to run through the Toronto airport, where the express walkway was conveniently under maintenance. I made the flight alright, which was a huge relief, and thought that my troubles would end there. I was wrong again.

The flight was smooth enough, I found the coach bus from the airport and my way to the student residence I’m stay at, unpacked, and got settled into my room. What more is there to do, right? So I decided to take a nap and wait for my roommate to arrive. I was wakened by a knock on the door a while later. Roommate! So I ran to open the door to reveal… a boy. We both thought there must have been some mistake, so after several trips down to the office, we realized that the program coordinator had confused my gender and thought that I was a guy. Uh oh. We were offered several options, and after weighing them I decided to stay with my surprised roommate for a night before moving to a single room the next day. So after all that, I finally got settled into my real room last night.

The curtains match my bedsheets!

The room is quite nice, a comfortable bed, large desk space, a fridge, and my own bathroom, which I absolutely love (I’m going to hate my Columbia dorm after this summer).

Friday morning we proceeded to the Vienna Biocenter via subway. The day was quite packed and I really don’t feel like writing down everything we did, so pictures will have to do.

The Center:

T-shirt designing contest:

My group’s design for the back of the shirt got picked!

Social hour:

Dinner at Restaurant Expedit:

I had to go to my lab both days this weekend (special present for me! I was the only one who had to go), so I didn’t have much chance to explore the city yet. Hopefully this won’t be the case for the other weekends. But I already learned a lot about working with Drosophila and I’m really excited to get into my project. Tomorrow’s the official start of my internship so I’ve got to be going to bed now. Before then, some bonus random photos of Vienna :)

Trams are everywhere!

A church?

Haus Erasmus, where I’m staying at:

A random street near my residence:

More exciting posts are hopefully coming up! This is just the beginning.

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I’ve mentioned in passing on this blog about going to Vienna this summer, but never quite explained it in detail. So I’m going to take a break from packing right now and do just that.

I’m leaving tomorrow for a 10 week long research program called the Vienna Biocenter Summer School. It’s held by The Institute of Molecular Pathology(IMB), The Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (IMBA), and The Max F. Perutz Laboratories (MFPL). I will be working in a lab at the IMB, doing a research project involving identifying neurons and circuits in Drosophila. The program also includes lectures, social events, and sightseeing trips in Vienna. I will be living in a double room in a student dorm building.

I think this is the first year they are holding the program, since I haven’t seen any evidence of it existing before. And it was a bit harder to find than some of the other summer research/premed programs. Through numerous methods of research for something to do this summer (internet searches, workshops, etc.), I’ve never once come across it. Until I received an e-mail forwarded to a club I’m involved in at Columbia. I applied to it almost as an afterthought, since the deadlines for all the other programs I applied for have already passed. And what do you know? I’m flying to another world tomorrow.

Looking back, it has been almost a year since I started this blog, and it’s been quite the year of new places. In the past year, through words and pictures, I’ve taken you to… in China: Beijing, Chongqing, Jiuzhaigou, and Sanya; in Canada: Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto, and the Niagara Falls; in the US: New York, Miami, and Washington, DC; and now Vienna in Austria.

New adventures await. Follow along :)

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