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.

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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?

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Rice in South Carolina!

I’ve had a whirlwind end of school year and summer!

At the end of the school year I participated in a fundraising event for an organization called St. Baldricks focused on raising money to support research towards the cure to children’s cancer. In order to raise money, I pledged to shaved my head on April 24th. Over the course of 3 weeks, I raised almost $2,000 and raised awareness for children’s cancer around Rice’s campus! The day of the shave ended up being a huge success and helped bring the Rice community together for a good cause.

A few weeks later, I flew down to Charleston, South Carolina for a summer research experience (Research Experience Undergraduates funded by the National Science Foundation – Minorities in Marine and Environmental Sciences) and had been having an amazing summer so far. Not only am I getting valuable research experience, learning how to structure and write my own research paper, but I am also getting to explore Charleston for the entire summer. While working here, I even had the great opportunity to meet a Rice Graduate School Alum working on my project with me. Dr. Dan Bearden got his Masters in 1983 and PhD in 1987 in Physics from Rice University and is now working here in the Hollings Marine Lab using nuclear magnetic resonance to discover metabolic trends in marine animals. We’ve been able to chat about all things Rice as well as marine and environmental sciences over the course of the summer

All in all, I’ve had some wonderful learning experiences this summer but I’m still very excited to get started back at Rice in the next couple of weeks!

Me in Winyah Bay, South Carolina holding a wild Red drum (my focal species for the summer)

Me in Winyah Bay, South Carolina holding a wild Red drum (my focal species for the summer)

Me and Dr. Dan Bearden, a Rice alum and current student

Me and Dr. Dan Bearden, a Rice alum and current student

Beyond the Hedges, Summer Edition

When you think of potential places to spend your summer, does Houston cross your mind? If it doesn’t, it should.

This is a rather bold assertion coming from someone who will be spending two months working abroad this summer, but I firmly believe that Houston is entirely underrated for all that it has to offer. I could spend an entire blog post gushing about all the ways that Houston has secured its home in my heart. As someone who grew up here and now enjoys my relationship with the city as a Rice student, I will probably write an article about that soon (stay tuned!).

For now, let’s talk about summer in Houston. Classes are over at Rice! The weather has been wonderful! But what can Rice students do in Houston during these next few months?

La King's in Galveston

A trip to the Galveston Strand District isn’t complete without a visit to La King’s and its endless selection of sweets.

First, consider this: Houston is close to the coast. Galveston is a short (an hour at most, depending on traffic) road trip away. When you’re tired of meandering along the numerous beaches on Seawall Boulevard, treat yourself to one of the many local seafood restaurants on the island. Take a carriage tour in the Strand, explore Galveston’s historical downtown district, try the saltwater taffy – and ice cream, and candy, and chocolate, and just about anything – at La King’s Confectionery. Grab some friends, an open mind, and perhaps your ever-convenient Yelp app to explore Houston’s seaside neighbor.

Kemah Boardwalk is also a great summer destination. A personal favorite of mine, Kemah offers year-round opportunities for amusement park classics. Treat yourself to Dippin’ Dots ice cream, hit up the ferris wheel and the Aviator (one of my favorite rides), grab some funnel cake, steer some mini-sailboats, and end the day with dinner at the Aquarium. Do all of this while enjoying a nice boardwalk breeze.

FPSF Fireworks

The best music festivals feature a fireworks show as their final act.

There are also various events going on over the summer that make Houston an attraction for art-lovers, music-lovers, and an all around fun scene for anyone looking for something to do. Free Press Summer Fest takes over the first weekend of June. Big names and local acts offer a wide range of music, and in recent years, FPSF has reeled in the likes of Weezer, Vampire Weekend, Childish Gambino, Passion Pit, Macklemore, and Arctic Monkeys, among many others. Local bands such as Wild Moccasins are also frequenters of the FPSF lineup. Tickets are in high demand, and the festival has become a summer staple for many Houstonians.

Parks. There are so many parks in Houston. Sunny skies mean picnics and outdoor activities galore. Rice is right across from Hermann Park. Walk to the nearby Zoo for a fun, free (the perks of being a Rice student) day with animals – make sure you see the red pandas! Head over to Miller Outdoor Theatre for local performances of your favorite plays. Discovery Green, the Menil Park, Memorial Park, and Market Square Park are also popular parks in Houston, all within driving distance.

Houston is a city that I, a resident of nineteen years, have yet to fully explore.  All of the activities I have mentioned above form only a fragment of what Houston summers are all about. So when the weather warms up, take advantage of the diverse activities that this bustling city offers. Once you set aside the time to really step beyond the hedges (which is Rice lingo for going off campus), you will find reaffirmation in your decision to attend Rice.

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.