As promised, here is part two of how I decided what to do with my life. Sophomore year was definitely the hardest in terms of classes. Because most into and mid-level life sciences concentration classes have lecture+section+lab I had 25 hours of class per week balanced with working in lab and participating in extracurriculars. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed the classes I took—the classes started going deeper into the how and why of things, and I found out that subjects I thought would be scary (organic chemistry) were actually a lot of fun. In particular, my MCB and organic chemistry classes showed me how research done at the bench could be translated to the bedside and vice versa. What really solidified my decision to pursue an MD/PhD was what happened after sophomore year, when I had the opportunity to spend the summer in Tokyo, Japan through the Harvard Summer School Program at the RIKEN Brain Science Institute.
It was really nice to sleep in a little during the summer – I would normally get up between 9 and 10 am and eat a melon bread from the 7-11 across the street (7-11 in Tokyo is like the 24-7 CVS in Harvard Square. It has everything!) along with a glass of orange juice (Vitamin C!). Then I walked the five minutes from the international house to the central research building where I worked in the Lab for Alzheimer’s Disease studying potential drugs. While I was at lab, the cleaning staff would not only bring me fresh towels and empty my trash, but they made my bed! It was like living in a hotel, especially with the tiny bars of wrapped hand soap.
The weekends had me armed with a subway map as I ventured out to explore Tokyo – going hiking amid the ruins of ancient Japanese castles, watching fireworks during the Hanabi festival with over 900,000 other people (yes, there were really that many people there and we had to get there very early to get a spot!), making okonomiyaki — which looks like an English pancake but is filled with meat, vegetables, and cheese, getting woken up by an earthquake or two, and taking a nine hour overnight bus ride to the temples in Kyoto (including The Golden Temple, which is literally plates with gold). The coolest thing I experienced were tornado potatoes – the street vendors took a knife and cut around the potato in swirls, then put in on a stick and dipped it in melted cheese. So good.
Tornado Potatoes at the Hanabi Fireworks Festival with Stella ’10!
When I arrived at Narita Airport at the beginning of June, I only knew how to say “Good afternoon” in Japanese and how to eat ramen with chopsticks. By the time I left in August, I could have a basic conversation with my lab members and had discovered that the ramen in Japan is much better than the fifty-cent packs from CVS – in fact, I even had “Spanish-style” ramen with melted cheese and tomatoes at a café in Yotsuya. One of the great things about Harvard is the opportunity it provides students to go abroad during both the summer and the academic year to learn about other cultures. Back on campus, I have continued to research in labs on campus and have explored other cultures through Core and General Education classes that take me from the courts of Florence to the streets of London. I also arrived back in Boston with a renewed excitement for research and the decision to pursue an MD/PhD.
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