I write this blog at a Starbucks at the corner of Zhiyou and Shihcyuan Roads after eating dinner at an Italian restaurant down the road, drinking a cup of tea offered by a vision center’s owners, sharing a bowl of shaved ice at the small Jilin Night Market near campus, and a day spent practicing polymerase chain reaction (PCR) techniques. I feel so fortunate to be supported by the MHIRT program in traveling to Taiwan this summer. As the journey unfolds, I am enjoying every minute of putting my theoretical laboratory knowledge to the test in Dr. Li’s lab; even more, I am in awe at how much I am learning about myself along the way, how to cope with conflict, and how to conserve my personal energy for the things that matter to me most.
During my and the Ensenada, Mexico cohort’s orientation, Kathy explained to us how we should expect ups and downs during our experience abroad. I confronted my very first bump in the road when we finally arrived to our Taipei hotel after a 12 hour flight from San Francisco. I oozed positivity for most of our journey to Taiwan, but our first trip to 7-11 left me with such frustration and anxiety. I couldn’t understand any of the labels, any of the spoken language! Everything was so foreign to me there, the smells, the texts, the flavors of snacks to choose from. With this initial culture shock, I almost convinced myself that these next two months were going to be nothing but overwhelming challenges. Thankfully after some rest and reflection, I reminded myself of how I would have to be adaptable and level headed in Taiwan in order to enjoy this amazing professional and personal opportunity. Now I can say that with four weeks of adjustment and cultural excursions under my belt, wǒ huì shuō yī diǎn diǎn zhōngwén (thanks to our faculty mentor Matt, my pocket English-Chinese dictionary, Youtube, Google Translate, the Memrise app, and constantly practicing with strangers in Taiwan).
So Matt, Veneese, Sabrina, Javi, Edgar, and I all traveled to Taipei and from there had the awesome privilege to explore some of Taiwan’s mesmerizing eastern townships. Our first stop in Jioufen truly set the tone for my experience in this country and taught me a key lesson: the struggle is always worth the view. In Jioufen, we realized that our humble hotel and the rest of the marketplace was more than 300 hundred steep stairs away. In Nan’ao we biked in the thick heat of Taiwan’s humid air. The critters of Taroko had us (most of the girls) to squeal, jump, and sometimes run away in fear. We were bitten (by bugs), creeped out (by bugs), and some of us even fell once or twice. But it all was worth seeing the beauty of waterfalls in Taroko or Nan’ao, or taking in the breathtaking views of Taiwan’s northeastern, sun-setting skies. The struggle was more than real! Sometimes I felt like my sweat pouring from the heat was the most reliable thing that I could count on in this country, but Matt’s great eye for magnificent views could definitely compete for the title. At the end of each day during my first week in Taiwan, all that came to mind was thankfulness and excitement.
NOTE: If given the opportunity to travel to Taiwan, I would suggest you be able to bike for a half hour, walk three miles, and at least 300 stairs in an afternoon. I warned you.
It is officially Week 4 out of 10 in Taiwan, and Week 2 in Kaohsiung City at KMU. My first week in Dr. Li’s lab has also been wonderful. I am so appreciative of the patient and considerate learning environment that he and his students create for us MHIRT trainees. Over the past few days, Javi, Sabrina, and I have been practicing PCR and gel electrophoresis techniques utilizing samples from patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD). The overall purpose of this project is to screen for genetic polymorphisms in the CETP gene in order to verify whether or not the gene is associated with the development of CKD. This week’s PCR experiments have yielded only smears, no bands on our gels other than that of the ladder DNA. It was so nice to use samples that did produce positive results today. Tomorrow, we will practice making agarose gels as the lab is running low on them, and also utilize restriction digestion in order to view the polymorphisms of our samples.
I’m having so much fun applying my knowledge from my biochemistry and genetics courses to this work. Within the next few days we’ll also be practicing Western blotting, methylation-specific PCR, as well as a transwell assay, so I am super excited for the challenge. These techniques will be used in order to work on Dr. Li’s other project involving aberrant methylation of tumor suppressor genes and cancer cell migration ability.
Until next week,