Thursday, August 13, 2015

Christina and Julius De Boer in Bristol!


My name is Christina and I am a rising junior majoring in Chemistry with a minor in Business traveling with my dragon Julius De Boer. I am writing today from my desk at work here at the University of Bristol, where for the past six weeks I have been conducting research in an organometallics research lab under the supervision of Dr. Robin Bedford. I am working with iron synthesis and reactivity so much so that you can call me that “Iron Lady” at this point. Monday through Friday is pretty much work, work, work but that’s okay because I love what I’m doing wholeheartedly. Outside of work is the daunting idea that I’m actually away from home. I think I’m one of few of my kind as I was born in Greensboro, grew up in Greensboro, and decided to attend college in Greensboro. Leaving my parents was very hard as I’m an only child, so as you can imagine the attachment levels are unparalleled. 

Some highlights of my journey: Julius at the Roman Baths, souvenirs, and the snake table scene set from the Warner Bros. Studio Harry Potter

Leaving them at the airport was so cliche. I cried my heart out and I saw my Dad cry for the first time. I was still homesick after my first week but things all started to change once I realized that I have to take advantage of my circumstances. During the second week I went to a barbecue held by the Chemistry department at the Uni, and confirmed what I already knew: alcohol and I do not mix. I also went to Stonehenge with the rest of the crew from the REU and oddly enough spent most of my time hanging with the cows that didn’t moo or move; they were almost statuesque. 

A view of the Bristol Harbour, Pimms an English drink of the summer, a view from the side of the chemistry building, the Mirrors at Royal Fort Gardens in Bristol, Julius at Stonehenge saying “Cheers!”, Julius at Weston-Super-Mare, the statuesque cows of Stonehenge, and Julius at Clifton Suspension Bridge.

I started to embrace the city of Bristol more and started doing daily walks to the Clifton Suspension bridge with Julius; he kept me going. I also spent a day at Weston-Super-Mare which is a beach just 30 minutes by train outside of Bristol. Julius wanted to get in the water, but British beaches are cold so that was a no go. I also went to the Roman Baths in Bath, and though the experience was phenomenal, a huge mishap took place here while taking a picture of Julius on the bridge. My wallet was stolen. Here I am, in another city, without my return train ticket, cash, cards, not even my key to get into my apartment, basically feeling stuck. I was able to get help and luckily a free train ride back home and everything started to turn out for the best. I was able to get everything back in order and my bank even rushed out my cards to me within 3 days.
After that disaster of a weekend, the next weekend I flew to Paris. I finally used AirBnb after seeing all of those commercials on TV. I was able to see the Eiffel Tower, Champs-Elysees, Louvre Museum, and The Pantheon. Paris was the best experience of my life I also went on cliche tourist bus tour sat on the top taking touristy videos. I also chose a return flight with a nine hour layover in Brussels, Belgium. My time in Brussels was a true culture shock, but the chocolate was just as amazing as they say. I had a chocolate-koek dubbel from Panos and it was amazing! 

Julius at Arc De Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, a view of Buckingham Palace, The London Bridge, Whoopi and I posing for the camera, Ronald Weasley’s horrid Yule Ball outfit, the “Ice” Sculpture, and the triple decker Knight Bus from Harry Potter.

This past weekend I spent time in London, and saw Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, and really enjoyed my time at Green Park which is just next to Buckingham Palace. I really loved traveling through London, because the underground and overground railways were so frequent. I also fulfilled my childhood dreams and went to the Harry Potter Warner Brothers Studio Tour. I remember when the Deathly Hallows came out in bookstores on July 21st and I made my mom get up early in the morning to take me to pick it up, and 8 years later I was able to envision all of my childhood dreams come to life. 

Some food highlights include pizza in Paris, burgers and chips in Bristol, grilled chicken topped with cheddar with mushrooms and chips in Bath, bubblegum cake with bubblegum ice cream in Bristol, Butterbeer ice cream in London, hot cookie dough and ice cream in Bristol, chocolate-koek dubbel in Brussels, and jerk chicken in Bath.

I will say I’ve definitely matured during my time here. I went from crying and feeling homesick during the first week to flying to Paris alone during week 5, and living the Bristol life. I’m really sad to be leaving my research group here as I’ve made a mini family here, but I’m also excited to be returning home this weekend because things are just a bit more expensive here than I would wish, oh and there’s that thing called school less than two days after my flight lands. 

Christina Hairston
Bristol, UK

Monday, August 10, 2015

Tory and Little Richie in Bristol!



Hey Everybody,
I’m Tory, a senior Biochemistry major, and this is my dragon, Little Richie.

How humbling to stand in front of one of the Seven Wonders of the World!

We have been living and working (doing chemistry research) in Bristol, England for six weeks now. We are very busy in the lab throughout the week, but get to explore on the weekends. In this post I am going to share my experiences of living in this vibrant city, traveling to some popular UK destinations on the weekends, and my opinion on what it’s really like to study abroad over here (aka, read this section if you are applying for this program in the future).

Bristol Life:
This is a fun little city. It reminds me of a blend of Charleston, SC (because it is on the water, has rainbow townhouses, and has plenty of upscale shopping) and Asheville, NC (because the “city center” or downtown area is full of quirky local shops and artists, graffiti is the norm here, the university sits on top of a very steep hill, there are festivals and markets happening all the time, and it overall just has a very laid back feel). I have enjoyed my time is Bristol. There isn’t too much culture shock here because they speak our language. I do still feel awkward every time I say “y’all” but I can’t/won’t stop saying it. Some things that make Bristol different from Greensboro include having two taps on the sinks- hot and cold water are not mixed, you get burning hot lava and cold. It makes no sense. Also their alcohol culture is different from ours. As you probably know, young people can drink at 18 years old. As you may not know, there are no open container laws, so it’s completely normal to see people drinking while walking down the sidewalk or sitting out by the harbour, and they also serve alcoholic beverages in the cafĂ© in the university student union.
Anyways, my daily life here in Bristol revolves around my research.  Every weekday I am in the lab from 9:30 am until around 5-6 pm. I haven’t had any days off, although I was told that it would be ok to take a Friday or Monday if I wanted to travel while I was here. My time in lab is great though. It has been a really great experience for me. I have learned new techniques and been able to work with instruments that I never used in my last two years of undergraduate research at UNCG. The majority of my readers might not speak "science", so you can skip to the next paragraph, but if anyone is interested, I have been working on synthesizing a catalyst to complete a reaction using methanol and ethanol to make i-butanol. Isobutanol is important because it is a sustainable fuel source that has more energy than the ethanol that we currently blend into normal petroleum based fuels, so more i-butanol can be blended into and ultimately one day completely replace gasoline. Past researchers in my group found certain ruthenium complexes to work really well at catalysing the reaction; however, ruthenium is in limited supply and isn’t cost effective, so it can’t be used as a sustainable solution. So I am currently testing some similar complexes that I synthesized that use iron instead of ruthenium. So far the results do not look like I am going to change the world or win a Nobel Prize, but that’s science for you. You win some and you lose some.

Wass Research Group, Summer 2015

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Karen and Envy in Florence!



Buongiorno/Buonasera!
Hello everyone, my name is Karen: a double major in Communication Studies and Psychology and also an upcoming Senior at the lovely University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I’ve been here at the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute for 2 Summer Sessions now and have taken the Intercultural Communications Class and the Leadership & Communication Class. Both classes have been extraordinarily useful in aiding my understanding of the Italian culture and the professors have been both intelligent and insightful when it comes to my education.



This here is my dragon, Envy, who has been on a lot of adventures here in Firenze (that’s “Florence” in Italian) and has become the envy of the town, naturally. A trip down Fiume Arno- which is the river that separates upper Florence from lower Florence was just what little Envy needed. Florence is rather inland,  but the Arno begins at Mount Falterona in Central Italy and flows out Westward until it connects to the Ligurian Sea. Having such a long track and uneven riverbed, the Arno has been noted to be one of the more unpredictable rivers in Italy. In overcoming the tumultuous nature of the waters, these bridges were built so as to ensure much safer travel than boats and gondolas on days where water-travel may be dangerous.



Pictured above is the famous Ponte Vecchio where little Envy has seen couples get engaged, married, and place locks around the bridge’s gates to symbolize their love and commitment. Ponte Vecchio is one of the few bridges around which still holds one of the old traditions for bridges: having shops built into the structure. While passersby are going across the Arno, this bridge allows them to see some of the finest jewelry and art stores that Florence has to offer.



However, it’s what was across the Arno that had Envy’s ultimate attention. While north of the Arno are many famous churches and museums, south of the Arno is much “greener.” The Bardini Gardens, The Torrigiani Gardens, The Boboli Gardens, and The Rose Gardens are all located in the southern part of Florence- quite the hike away from where the Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute was located.



While the hot weather- with precious little rain- makes it difficult for many of the flowers to bloom in full during the Summer months, the beauty of the gardens still comes through. This is especially true when one reaches the top of the Bardini Gardens, where one can get a great view of northern Florence. The Bardini Gardens also contains a villa, along with an art gallery, and two museums which speak of the history of this specially preserved part of the city.



However, there’s also another treasure at the top of the Bardini Gardens: the Belvedere Tower. While the view is definitely something to behold, there was also a temporary Project Human exhibit by Antony Gormley atop the tower which provided a commentary on the advancement of man and the consequences of societal process. Having one’s art displayed upon a public monument is a high honor for any aspiring Italian artist.



However, after a long day of exploring the gardens, it was time for Envy to head back across the Arno. North of the Arno, as seen in the picture, one can see the Uffizi Gallery- which is one of the oldest museums in Florence and is home to the famous “Birth of Venus” painting. Unfortunately, Envy was a bit too excited while visiting the Uffizi to take pictures, but take their word for it. It’s quite the trip.

There is so much to see and experience in Florence. Finding that balance in between your classes and your exploration of the city can be a bit hectic at first, but once it’s figured out so many opportunities open up. Living in a different country has been difficult: getting lost, overcoming the language barrier, etc. On the other hand, the experience provides you with the mindset that will allow you to be more capable in the future to deal with situation outside of your comfort zone. An Italian-to-English dictionary and a city map will only get you so far; it’s your heart and approach to any given obstacle that lets you really succeed. Studying abroad here isn’t scary. The locals are friendly and, even if they don’t understand you, they’ll all group together to help you out. Asking for help is key. You’re never alone here in Italy. All you have to do is reach out and someone will take you by the hand and lead you. 

Being a foreigner is something new to many of us. Adjustment forces you out of your comfort zone and into the norms of the society around you. All you need to do is remember that difference isn’t wrong; it’s just different. The entire world functions with so many different values and systems that a singular standard would take all of meaning out of true intercultural cooperation through compromise and understanding. And, that’s what studying abroad means to do: to shape you into an intercultural and international citizen, aware and able to analyze the world around you.
So, as Envy and I prepare to re-enter the United States, we hope that we will be able to bring our stories and experiences with you to help encourage you to join us in being international citizens.

From Across The World,
Karen Boger
Lorenzo de’ Medici Istituto
Florence, Italy