Coming to Ground: Reorientation of a Post-Abroad Owl

Allow me to preface by saying that returning to Rice has been awesome. Abroad was a whirlwind of new experiences which I am sure to cherish for years to come, but now I am finally back in Houston with my close friends who I haven’t spoken to face-to-face in months. Almost more importantly, I’m finally back in the welcoming arms of queso (oh, how I’ve missed you, molten cheese).

Back at a bastion of quesodom in Houston. We basked in the sunset (and the bright future of our meal) for a moment, before heading inside to chow down.

But things are different now. Not only for me, whose worldview is completely changed after three months of independence and foreign frolicking. My friends, too, have been going through months of various experiences (both highs and lows) without me there personally to talk to them, offer them support, and of course tease them on occasion. How does one go about making up for lost time, as well as the variety of experiences which have made us fundamentally changed people since August?

Coming back from abroad, I find myself straddling two different worlds. In Houston, I’m greeted with the regular issues: homework, social life, working. However, after the long days spent in the classroom and out, applying to internships and de-stressing through nights out and movie nights in, I lie down to sleep and think of abroad. How drastically different life was then.

My final night in London, as seen from the Tower of London. How does one reconcile such an independent, carefree life abroad with the subsequent support network and more stressful life waiting back at home?

Above all, I have been trying to keep things in perspective. I often reach out to friends I met abroad (some of my British “mates”, funnily enough, are studying abroad at various institutions in the United States!) Additionally, I strive to remember what I learned abroad: that struggles one goes through are mere blips in the greater scheme of things. Naturally, this does not mean to cast them aside as inconsequential, but rather to keep things in perspective. Remember that it is often the little things which are of fundamental importance, and (I know, cliché and bloggy as you can get) it’s not the destination which is important, but the journey you take to get there.

I’m continuing this journey of self-discovery back at Rice. I am happy to be back but also miss London. A mixture of emotions which are in a constant cycle of contradiction and reconciliation. I cherish the manifold experiences I had abroad but also realize the importance of the work I do stateside, perhaps now even more than I did before. While I remain unsure about where my path will lead, I know that the choices I make every day are fleshing out the journey which will thrust me into the future!

Hello from the other side of the world!

As the title of this blog suggests, I am currently on the other side of the world. Guess where? One of the smaller but developed countries in the entire world, formerly a British colony but now the Asian Tiger: SINGAPORE!

This semester, I am an exchange student at the National University of Singapore (NUS), one of the best universities in Asia. However, I will not be talking about how much fun I am having since it needs no explanation. Instead, I want to share with y’all how supportive Rice is for students like me who want to study abroad.

The reason I wanted to study abroad is that I have many AP credits with which I can graduate in 3 years. But if I want to graduate early (many Rice students graduate early, too!), my schedule will become very intense. Therefore, I asked myself: why not take a semester off and see the world by studying abroad?

My parents were not very supportive when I told them my idea. They worried that as an engineering major, I would not be able to get equivalent credits that could transfer back to Rice. They were worried about the language barrier, where I was going to live, who I was supposed to talk to when I ran into trouble. Their worries made me scared as well. However, with the caring environment at Rice, I was able to ask around and found many good resources about studying abroad. I want to share them with you all so that you will not be as confused as I was when you decide to study abroad.

First of all, let’s talk about the people. Rice has an amazing team of study abroad advisors. There is an adult team that can help you with administrative issues such as signing up for a program and keeping in touch with the staff at the programs/universities. You can also just ask about their studying abroad experiences! There is also an ambassador team that is made up of students who have completed their study abroad programs. They are from different residential colleges, majors, and went to different countries for different programs. They are very accessible and are willing to share their fun and valuable memories.

Then, there are two main types of programs: institution-based and university-based. The former one is usually held by an institution such as SIT. These programs focus on certain topics such as bio-diversity, so the people you meet may mostly be from the same major as you are. Some programs have instructors who will lead you to conduct research as well. The university based program is what we usually call the “exchange program.” You will be registered as a student of another university and get to know the local students and staff from various disciplines and with various interests. Fewer students participate in university-based programs since it is more challenging, but I do know students who are participating in exchange programs in Japan, China, Singapore, Spain, and Australia!

Interested in studying abroad but fearing that you don’t have the time? Fear not! There are several programs offered during the summer! The institution based programs offer a lot of summer programs with the same content as the semester program, so you are not missing out. Another option for you is the Rice in Country program, which is perfect for those who are interested in learning foreign languages. The program will assign you to a homestay family and a language partner so that you will be fully immersed in the language and learn more! There are programs in France, German, Japan, China, among others.

If you want to explore the world, studying abroad with help from the Rice community is the perfect option! Do not be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and start your adventure!

The day when I finally got my NUS student card. Officially a student of NUS!

Going Abroad, and the You that Comes Home

This summer, while my friends worked internships and went on family vacations, I decided to spend more time doing one my favorite things: more school! I spent 6 weeks studying German in Berlin, on a program called Rice-in-Germany, which is one of many Rice-in-Country programs that send Rice students to the country of their target language for the sake of learning the language in the best possible way. Not only did I spend a lot of time in German classes, but I also lived with a host family, engaged in community service trips, explored Berlin, and, oh yeah, signed a pledge that I would only speak, read, write, and listen to German for 6 weeks. [protip: German Spotify is kind of limited, but German Harry Potter is every bit as magical.] The trip for me meant that I could go straight to third-year German in the fall, which means I’m that much closer to analyzing literature and looking at historical events in German. It also meant stepping into the location of some of the most thought-provoking events of the 20th century, turning my back on my native language and customs for six weeks, and humbling myself in a way that only study abroad can do. Seriously – when you need to activate your phone’s new SIM-card and the instructions are in a language you only sort of understand, that’s when you really learn to ask for help.

img_0157

The Brandenburg Gate, every bit as hopeful and grand as it has been for so many people before me.

The first conversation I had in German with a German person in Germany happened when I stepped off an 8-hour flight from Atlanta to Frankfurt, and a man in a Lufthansa uniform was waiting with a sign advertising the gate numbers for transfer flights.

Me: Uh, hallo. Erika Schumacher? 11:45, Berlin?

Lufthansa Man: Ok, Erika Schumacher – 11:45, Berlin, super.

Then he told me my gate number, and I went on my way, but I was left with a lingering existential question: have I been saying my name wrong all my life?

Continue reading

My Summer in Japan

This is a guest post written by Lisa Chiba, a junior Chemical Engineering major who did research in Japan over the summer.

While watching everyone travel to foreign exotic countries to study abroad, you might be wondering, is there such a thing as an internship abroad?  My name is Lisa Chiba, and I am a rising junior chemical engineering major at Lovett. This summer, I was a participant of the NanoJapan Program, an undergraduate experience which takes 12 students from across the nation to Japan for a research internship for the summer. The application was lengthy but straightforward: 3 essays, and 2 recommendation letters. (Link to the site: http://nanojapan.rice.edu/.) I decided to apply because I wanted to have international work experience during my undergraduate years while also having a supportive team of US and Japanese researchers to help me through the transition to another country. Now that the program is over, I can wholeheartedly say that this has been a great opportunity to have an immersive study abroad experience with the application of nanotechnology/terahertz research in the top labs in Japan.

I was placed in the Kawata Lab in Osaka University under the guidance of a post-doc and a graduate student. My topic was tailored to my interests in biology by my host professor; I studied deep ultraviolet excitation of fluorescent proteins for multi-color cell imaging, which is a method that has never been done before. That’s right, you’re researching into something that no one has before… you get to make genuine progress on a project that has a chance to get published!

Attending the Shirahama Conference with my two labmates! (I'm in the center!)

Living and working in Japan was easily the best adventure of self-discovery I’ve ever had. I never thought I would be able to study abroad because of the cost, and I really wanted to spend my time productively gaining experience through an internship. NanoJapan is NSF-funded, so you get a stipend to cover your stay in Japan. It also places you in challenging projects with famed professors in the nanotechnology/terahertz world. Along with the research opportunity, you become so close to the other NanoJapan students from around the country, and your labmates in your respective university, that you don’t want to leave after spending 12 weeks in Japan. It’s an experience I will always remember, and with the professional network I developed, I may return to the Land of the Rising Sun another time in the future.

Global Urban Lab!

It's a bird...It's a plane...It's Global Urban Lab!

Recently, posters like the one above have been cropping up around campus. What exactly is Global Urban Lab, you might ask? It certainly is not the type of lab that comes to mind when one mentions ‘chem lab,’ but is instead one of the many study abroad opportunities available to students here at Rice. Rather than fusing chemicals, Global Urban Lab (GUL) seeks to ‘fuse’ major cities across the world in order to shed light on and to address the challenges facing them today. GUL participants do so by performing investigative research in their city of choice (London, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, or Shanghai) on their theme of choice (healthcare, sports, transportation, immigration, or development).  Research aside, the programs also include internships and transferable social science credit.

Continue reading

Summer Studies

The Duomo (Cathedral) in Florence. I literally walked by this each day on my way to class.

Welcome back to the Owl Admission Blog! As most of y’all could have surmised, I (along with the other bloggers) stopped posting for a few months because of Rice’s summer holiday.  Before the break started I promised myself that I would try new things this summer, and not end up working some part-time job that had nothing to do with what I really love: art history. So, what’s a girl to do?

Well, some of you already know. I decided to study abroad in Florence, Italy.  I decided to get out of Houston and live in a different country for an entire month– in a place that is just as hot as Texas yet doesn’t rely on air conditioning– studying Renaissance art history and painting conservation. If I could sum the experience up in a single word, it would have to be “hot.” It was hot outside of school when we walked to churches and museums, it was hot inside of school when I was bent over a 15th century portrait removing layers of varnish, it was hot inside of my apartment when I learned to cook (pretty much for the first time) with my five other flatmates, and it was most definitely hot when a group of friends and I escaped Florence and went to Cinque Terre for the weekend. In retrospect, the temperature is entirely irrelevant. Sure, the word “hot” preceded every single thing that I did overseas, but it certainly didn’t trump the amazing opportunities that I had been given.

Cinque Terre! (translation: Five Lands)

 

I loved my art history class because each time we met (which was three times a week, three hours on Wednesdays and Fridays, ten hours on Saturdays) I was able to see things in person that I had only ever seen on paper before. To actually stand in front of Michelangelo’s David is an incredible moment. My painting conservation class (ten hours each Tuesday and Thursday) threw chemistry and art together in the most intimidating yet gratifying way. I’m in no way a hard science kind of person; the only other major that I have dabbled in is economics (and even then I despised calculus). But, despite that, I still loved mixing solvents and cleaning the frames and canvases. It’s an entirely different form of art appreciation than art history, and it was humbling to actually touch something that was so old (okay, not necessarily that old in art history terms, but still).

Studying abroad wasn’t the only thing I did this summer, though. I also took a course at Rice University in May, and I was selected as a Mary Ellen Hale Lovett Traveling Fellow in the art history department. My next posts will cover those activities, and then you’ll (finally) get to see what I’m up to now!

-AM