I write this blog sitting on my mother’s couch in Atlanta, GA. Due to my transpacific flight to San Francisco, and a cancelled, then rebooked domestic flight to Atlanta, it took me over 24 hours to get back home. I had plenty of time to reflect on my summer, and to recap my experience while sharing with multiple strangers (new friends) in the San Francisco International Airport. My last week ended beautifully and was full of final revisions to our paper, my appreciating the Taiwanese sky, enjoying night views in Kaohsiung and Taipei, and saying goodbye to friends who I hope to know for a lifetime.
I began the week with a free visit to the Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts where I laid eyes on the beautiful work of Taiwanese artists, as well as gained some more understanding of the struggles experienced by the Taiwanese people. One particular exhibit at the museum, ‘The South: An Art of Asking and Listening’, aimed to really give a voice to the disenfranchised on the island including many indigenous populations, as well as communities
affected by the country’s excess air pollution. Through photographs, documentaries, and even some simulations, the exhibit illustrated that everything’s changing, such as advancements in technology or the amount of waste we produce, but not our thinking. The negative environmental and health impacts of the plastics industry was definitely spotlighted, where the damage it has caused to respiratory health across Taiwan was discussed. Learning about this reminded me of how much environmental health affects us all, and that we must all be held responsible. On a lighter note, I was also grateful to walk through other exhibits displaying the beauty of the Chinese language with walls covered in elegant calligraphy and oil paintings full of warm colors capturing scenes of autumn time.
Later on it was such a nice surprise to arrive to the Aozidhi MRT station where a large farmer’s market was underway. There, I tried new flavors of sweet honey and fruit based vinegars, teas, and even banana milk. It was so great to try and figure out what certain vendors were selling. Our conversations involved a lot of broken Chinese and English from both ends of the exchange, and Google Translate couldn’t have been more helpful. Even still, the identity of certain items for sale were just difficult to communicate; is this vinegar, wine, or enzyme? Some of the samples I am still confused about, but that is the fun of trying new things.
Towards the end of the night, I ate at one of my all-time favorite restaurants in Kaohsiung, The Spice Shop, which ironically sells Indian cuisine. If you visit, be sure to taste the chana masala with butter naan and the daal with rice. I promise you won’t regret it.
The title of my group’s paper is: Association of CETP Polymorphisms with Susceptibility of Chronic Kidney Disease in Taiwanese Participants. With our paper, slide presentation, and abstract completed at this point in the program, it was time to pack and say my goodbyes and see you laters to all of the wonderful people I met during my experience in the MHIRT program. It must be stressed that when in Taiwan, it is essential to provide gifts to those you appreciate such as your lab mentor and fellow lab mates. It is always nice to offer items that are imported, so before boarding that plane to Taiwan, be sure to pack a couple of American souvenirs.
My last day in Taiwan was spent traveling to Taipei, via the High Speed Rail and MRT, where we would all be returning back to the US. It was so wonderful that one of my most beloved friends who I met at KMU, Cin, came to Taipei during this same weekend. In the evening, Cin, Sabrina, Venesse, and I all climbed the seemingly never ending stairs of Xiàngshān, or Elephant Mountain, and overlooked the excellent skyline of Taipei. There, the Taipei 101 building, the first of all the attractions my group and I visited, was the star of the night. The climb to this view felt so full circle, as it very much reminded me of my experience in Jioufen that first week in Taiwan. The steps there seemed treacherous. The heat and humidity of this island felt new, and heavy, not to mention the weight of my backpack. I thought I might give out on those initial stairs, but going up Xiàngshān was something I knew I could complete with a smile at the end. After my 2 months in this country, I knew that the climb was a symbol of my new found physical endurance, and an amazing end to an awesome professional, mental, and emotional experience.
Now that I am back home in the States, I feel anew. I feel as if I have the confidence to capture my world, and to savor it and the opportunities it offers while I am here in the flesh. Now more than ever I feel grounded in my abilities as an upcoming scientist, unafraid to ask questions to gain clarity and understanding. In the fall, I will present Sabrina, Javi, and I’s research on the association of CETP polymorphisms with susceptibility of chronic kidney disease in Taiwanese participants at XULA’s Festival of Scholars.
I intend to continue gaining laboratory experiences, and am happy to write that I am currently enrolled in an undergraduate research course at my university. All in all, while in the MHIRT Program I completed my first independent laboratory experience, made friends from all corners of the world, and survived in a place where the language was drastically different than my own. If I can do that, I am absolutely positive that I can do anything, anywhere, if I put my mind to it.
As Cin put it, if there’s any Chinese word I should remember, it is 加油 (jiāyóu), which literally means ‘add fuel’ as if to a machine. It can also be interpreted as ‘keep going’, and that’s what I intend to do into my last year in undergraduate, and beyond. I will push forward in continuing with biomedical/public health research, becoming proficient in a foreign language, and being open-minded to the beauty of learning about new cultures. It’s only appropriate to say xièxiè Taiwan and the SDSU MHIRT Program for all of the laughter and lessons. I am so grateful to have memories of my 2017 summer abroad which I can take along with me wherever I go. And I look forward to advocating for summer abroad research programs, like the MHIRT program, with my fellow Xavierites (XULA) and other undergraduates. I also hope that my blog has inspired you.
Thanks for reading,
Indigo : )