To decry the absurdity of there being just 1.5 weeks left before the end of my penultimate (!!!) Dartmouth fall term, I choose not to recount what has passed this term. Instead, I will review past fall terms! In particular, my sophomore fall, which I spent off campus in Seoul, Korea.
The beginning of my off term was rough. I flew straight to Incheon International after my German LSA ended with nothing lined up for the term. No internship, no cool service project, no plans. The first week after Berlin, I spent most of my time inside. Korea is notoriously hot during August, the weather was only just cooling, and I was pretty tired of working and thinking. By the weekend, though, my parents were demanding that I look into labs at all Seoul universities and email professors who didn’t have more than ten people in their labs already. Of course, I only sent three emails by the end of the weekend, so it was with GREAT fortune that one of the professors got back to me later that week. That e-mail was my salvation, and I will never forget how grateful I was when I visited the professor the next Monday and she took me on as an intern. Unfortunately, my arrival coincided with one of the biggest holidays in Korea: Chuseok, Korea’s autumn harvest festival. I had to wait until the next week to start working, but with something to do set in place now, I enjoyed myself while I could. I visited my family, ate a lot of food, and met up with some friends who had come on exchange to Dartmouth from Yonsei University and one of my Dartmouth friends who was on exchange to that university.
Once work started, though, free time definitely took on a different meaning. I was in the lab from 9-6 Monday through Friday, and the travel time was a whopping 45-50 minutes one way. I would wake up at 7:20 each morning to make lunch, eat breakfast, dress, and then run out the door around 8 to catch the neighborhood bus that would take me to the subway station. If I made it out by 8, there was no traffic and it took ~7 minutes to get to the station. If I was running late and I got out at 8:10, I would be late to work. From that subway station there was a 15 minute ride, a 6 minute transfer, and another 5 minutes. If I wanted to walk to the lab from where I got off the subway, it took 25 minutes. If I took the bus up to the back of the lab building, 10-15 minutes depending on how full the bus was. There was a park on the way I would pass by which was beautiful in October/early November:
Admittedly there was a lot of sitting in the lab, and an hour long lunch break around 12, but the process of going to the lab and working totaled me. The first thing I always did when I came back home at 7:10-7:20PM (a full 12 hours for this entire process) was go to our fridge and take the first thing I saw. I would carry this item of food to the living room and scarf it down, then turn on the TV and watch blankly before stirring myself to eat a real meal (once my mother caught me in the midst of my very important vegging time and suggested I take the next day off). I would read a book before watching the latest episode of the Walking Dead (the only worthwhile show on from 9-10PM), and then go to sleep. Free time became the only way my body could catch up and wake up the next day, and I finally understood why my parents always insisted on making me do the household chores after coming back from work. It’s just really really tiring.
I did do a lot of great stuff in the lab though. The lab was focused on researching transcription factors of neural cells. There was a lot of stem cell research but mostly my duties were preparing DNA, propagating, transforming bacteria, and preparing eggs for DNA injection. Once I prepped a lot of eggs and took a picture ha:
The DNA was then injected into the spinal cord of the embryos, which was crazy. I had a chance to inject 12 eggs over the course of the internship and took maybe three hours total. The DNA being injected was dyed, and it was really easy to just squirt the dye in the sac and then not be able to see the spinal cord at all, which meant that injecting into that egg would not be happening. I also ran a gel before I left, which was awesome, and I got out a product that hadn’t shown up before.
Overall it was worthwhile, but I can’t say I didn’t miss being on campus. I didn’t really have that many friends in Korea, and was too busy to meet them regularly as well, which definitely made me feel a little shut up at times. Fall was beautiful but too short, and once the weather got cold it was difficult to make myself go outside (the way home was also very very dark and grim in the winter). I’m really daunted by the prospect of preparing for yet another off term in the spring, but I’m starting early on planning and am already thinking about where I want to be. Right now though, I’m perfectly fine being here on campus and taking classes. Being a student is truly the most straightforward occupation.