As my fifth and sixth weeks in Taiwan have come to an end and my seventh begins I know that I can sum up my experience into two words, curiosity and confidence.
It is no secret that the Taiwanese people are always staring at my cohort, at me. I tend to be a bit of a conflict theorist at times and often take such looks personally, as if they mean to do me harm. As time goes on and I take a step back to reflect on these experiences, I am ultimately learning to be confident in the curiosity of others, and to believe that I have every right to enjoy my time in this place. Fortunately, I am also allowing my curiosity to exercise itself in my conversations and am learning so much about myself and others. My discussions on matters such as marriage, religion, family life, and entertainment with my Indian, Indonesian, and Taiwanese-American roommates always ignite with burning questions.
In terms of weekend trips, with the help of Calley from my lab, Sabrina and I attended an awesome symphonic concert during an annual music festival in Tainan. It featured the musical stylings of French composer Robert Martin and many Taiwanese musicians. Listening to the harmonious sounds emitted by the horns and woodwinds, and the strong beats of the percussion section brought me back to my days in high school where I played clarinet. It reminded me of how sweet a talent it is to read and/or play music, and watching the concert let me know once again that I must pick my instrument back up upon returning home.
I also enjoyed the fact that the band’s music acted as a live soundtrack alongside three French animated shorts. It was a wonderful experience, and another confidence builder in that we reached Tainan and returned to Kaohsiung without any problems. Either way, a humbling nature is also necessary to survive in any foreign country. Here, if you are not a proficient Chinese speaker, and just so happen to be without WiFi for the moment, only asking for help will get you through your journey. I felt so fortunate to meet people along the way, both local and international, who were willing to aid us in getting to our destination. In this time of great sorrows and conflicts, I appreciate those moments when even despite our differences in culture and especially language, we are still able to help each other thrive. The beauty of humanity shines through in those moments, when otherwise we could have been ignored or led astray.
I am also happy to say that I am gaining such confidence in the lab. Before starting in the lab, I was nervous about working independent of our lab mentors. Today I am enjoying the pride of conducting an experiment based on what my superiors and professors have taught me, in order to actually get pleasing results. Now I am feeling more confident in conducting PCR, restriction enzyme digest, and gel electrophoresis, as well as in interpreting unexpected results. As the days go on, I can see my growth as a scientist.
As aforementioned, a primary project being conducted in Dr. Li’s lab deals with how the methylation of tumor suppressor genes is associated with cancer metastasis. It requires so many assays that we are all instead conducting the chronic kidney disease project which allows more opportunity to obtain data. Even still, I am so thankful that our mentor in Kyle (Chen-Ying), a graduating master’s student in Dr. Li’s lab, as well as other students in the lab are willing to demonstrate the methylation project’s required protocols and assays. So far, they have indeed demonstrated step by step the Western blot protocol and transwell assay. In addition we have discussed in detail methylation specific PCR methods as well as the wound healing assay and even microinjection with zebrafish larva. We also had the absolute honor of being Kyle’s audience as he practiced, thankfully for us in English, his oral presentation for the defense of his master’s thesis. Toward the beginning of my time in Dr. Li’s lab I’d read his suggested papers on tumor suppressor gene methylation and cancer metastasis, but being there for Kyle’s practice truly illuminated the potential and importance of such research. It made me think of my grandmother who died of metastatic breast cancer and the pain she endured in fighting the disease. Listening to Kyle extrapolate on his thesis, a feat that took him two years to accomplish, made me feel so hopeful for the future of cancer treatment, and gave me a glimpse as to how I could incorporate research with being a future physician.
Moving along, Veneese, Sabrina, and I also traveled to Liuqiu Island as it had been awhile since we’d all gone out to get some adventure and fresh air. Venesse did an excellent job with developing our itinerary. I must admit throughout our journey, our bickering became heated, natural for any trio of travel companions. However, at the end of our time around the island. I am glad through effectively communicating with one another, our weekend was an overall a success.
My favorite spot on Liuqiu Island was Geban Bay where we bought 50 NT flip flops and arrived to the bay area after traveling through a river of other bay goers and families on scooters. The sand was more stone like, course enough that we kept our flip flops on as our toes and ankles treaded into the pleasantly warm salt water. As we continued taking steps just a little farther into the bay, we began to realize that this was a very lively ecosystem of small crabs and fish who insisted on taking a nibble at Veneese’s toes, and thin starfish and black sea urchins. The experience was quite therapeutic, but I can’t help but smile as I think of how I kept going through a cycle of nervousness over my proximity to these creatures, as well as excitement, awe, and wonder at this beautiful place full of life. I tried my best to avoid stepping on the fauna that my eye could detect, and with each step I just kept squealing “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, sorry, SORRY!” It was hilarious and definitely a highlight of my weekend.
Overall, I am okay with bays. Caves however are another story. I simply cannot take the overwhelming claustrophobia that I develop when in tight spaces like that. When it was time to enter the Black Devil Cave, I was absolutely fine with patiently waiting at a nearby pavilion for my friends to complete their confined adventures. Just fine.
All in all, Taiwan is teaching me valuable lessons: to be curious and open to trying the things that scare me, to not be afraid, and to be confident in my identity as a female, as a person of color, as an African American, as a future doctor, no matter where I am in this world. Before arriving to Taipei, I was committed to completing this program, but afraid of the unknown in terms of life abroad. Today, I am here and I feel my personal evolution taking place. It is easy to get caught up in the everyday aspects of life. My current job is to go to my lab and amplify and digest DNA in order to interpret my results so that I will overall complete a report that will shed but a glimpse of light on how patient polymorphisms are linked to chronic kidney disease. One can become used to this weekly process. But then, as I walk to my dorm or next destination I take a look at the Kaohsiung sky, at how the clouds take on grand shapes that I’ve never seen before, how a rainbow spreads across, never ending, never quite beginning, and then I feel the wind blow to cool off the constant humidity of this city; all this sensation helps me to just realize the utter awesomeness of being granted this experience to participate as a research trainee here on such a captivating island.
I’m currently reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, a book that my aunt let me borrow which I never read, and a book that was also gifted to me by my mentors from my internship last summer, The Summer Public Health Scholars Program (SPHSP) at Columbia University in New York City. Finally, I’ve got around to opening it and paying attention to its message: that 1) the most successful people in the world have put in their time for the things they wish to achieve, and 2) they were all, no matter their talent, intelligence, or skill levels, afforded opportunities in which they took advantage. This mixture of drive and seized opportunity can take one’s journey to the next level, a level of excellence. Thank you to the SDSU MHIRT program for seeing my potential to be what Gladwell calls, “an outlier”.
P.S. Lastly, I saw War of the Planet of the Apes at a nearby theatre with Paula and Edgar and it was cinematic magic. That’s how you start off a Monday!
Thanks for reading and until next time,
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