Jumbled Thoughts from the Summer of a Lifetime

One week from today, I’ll be back in the United States. As I write this, I’m currently somewhere in international airspace between Stockholm and London. Between now and my flight back to New York next Monday, I have four more days to wrap up experiments in my lab in the U.K., a roundtrip to Edinburgh, and four more iconic sites to visit in London before I call it quits on my summer in Europe.

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Corner of Riddargatan, in Stockholm, Sweden

I long ago passed the mark when the days in front of me became far fewer than the days behind me, and I’m actually okay with that. Since I arrived in London at the end of May, I’ve seen nine cities (well — eight cities and a county but who’s keeping track), lost countless hours of sleep to begin my adventures early, and felt entirely at home in a place where I have no familial ties. I’ve met people from all over the world, sweated at Stonehenge, had awkward encounters in Brussels, got sunburnt in Paris, avoided bees all over Sweden, and accepted that I’m the only person who seems to care that there is no air conditioning anywhere.

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View worth the bugs in my face at Skansen, in Stockholm, Sweden

Over the course of this ten week-long adventure that has spanned four months, I am beginning to wonder if I am the same person I was when I left. Lots of students at Hopkins study abroad for a semester, but most of my friends are engineers — and most of those are ChemBE — which means that whether we like it or not, it’s just more difficult to squeeze in a semester in an exotic location when you need to take Organic Chemistry an Biochemistry at the same time. Still hell-bent on experiencing this quintessential college milestone, I have to say that this was without a doubt the best decision I’ve made since I accepted my offer to attend Hopkins three years ago.

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Reindeer drinking water at Skansen in Stockholm, Sweden

Going abroad is like freshman year. I arrived and had to put myself in positions I haven’t had to risk since I got to Hopkins in August of 2014. The only difference was that this time, I knowingly put myself there. I had unique circumstances because my study abroad happened to fall at the end of the British term, meaning that I arrived a month before the end of the spring term, and I will be leaving only a month into the summer term. For me, that meant that I had to try to make friends twice. I’m undoubtedly extroverted, but that doesn’t mean that making friends is easy. I struggled for my first few weeks in London, but I’ve also never experienced such a short period of time in which so much has happened.

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Sunset on Gamla Stan in Stockholm, Sweden

I’ve felt the crippling loneliness of not having a familiar face to depend on, experienced the incredible independence that comes with landing in a foreign country and being on my own, felt like a true city-slicker living in central London, enjoyed the homeyness of my local Sainsbury’s and knowing exactly what tube car will get me ahead of the crowds.

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This is my local Sainsbury’s on Waterloo Road in London, U.K.

A (very big) part of me is looking forward to going home. I’m overwhelmed by the idea of seeing my mom and holding my smelly cat, Zoey. I’m excited to settle on a floor theme for my new residents in Wolman Hall, but I’m also scared. Thinking about starting my final year at Hopkins makes my heart sink and my stomach churn. I don’t think I’ll miss studying on C Level until 2AM, but I will miss sharing a table with my best friend RJ when everyone realizes it’s Sunday afternoon and there are suddenly no tables left. I’ll miss listening to Cher with Paige in times of desperation and making fun of Paige with Emily. In case the churning in my stomach wasn’t fast and furious enough, I still have to study for the GRE, because no matter how much I told myself I needed to, I never found the proper rhythm or routine this summer, but I also didn’t try hard enough.

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My zip code, SE1, which is technically the border of South Bank and Lambeth

My European adventure is still not over, but it is rapidly coming to a close. I still have to buy gifts for people at home, catch up on tracking my finances for my scholarship, and take pictures at 221B Baker Street and Abbey Road, but I also need to finalize the list of graduate schools I’m applying to, seriously hunker down and study for the GRE, brace myself for RA training, and come up with a game plan for my research project at Hopkins so I can hit the ground running when I get back.

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Where I’ve called work and home for the last nine weeks, the entry to the business school in South Kensington

As my plane makes its final descent to London’s Luton Airport, I am aware of both the excitements and worries that I am returning to. For now though, I am happy in the clouds. There is nowhere else to be but here.

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Somewhere above Sweden, in the clouds

3,636 Miles, 10 Weeks, 2 Homes, and 1 Great City

As I venture through my last summer as a Hopkins student, I am beginning to realize that writing about my highly anticipated abroad adventures is much harder than I originally thought it would be. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, and I’ve jealously read so many others, hoping to feel and portray the same magic that they have over the last few years on this website. I’ve sat down to write this blog several times, and I’ve deleted what I’ve written every time, because none of it seems to entirely encompass everything I’ve seen, felt, and experienced in my first few weeks across the pond.

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A quaint row of homes just behind my residence hall

This Friday will mark exactly one month since my arrival in London. I’ve seen so much and crossed so many things off the “London Bucket List” note that remains open on my computer, but I’ve also found time to make a “London Bucket List” and spend a few days binge-watching Mad Men. Yesterday, I got on a tour bus to take a solo day trip to Stonehenge and Bath, and the woman sitting next to me on the bus asked how long I had been in London. When I told her I had been here for a little over three weeks, she looked at me and said “Wow, that’s a long time.”

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The infamous Big Ben. I love him.

I think that what she said is true. Being on that bus was weird yesterday, because I felt out of place. My visa says short-term student, but my lab schedule is variable. The people in the residence hall I live in see me as new (and lucky — a lot of them are still taking exams and I’ve been done for over a month now), and I don’t necessarily feel like a tourist anymore either. I still stop in the middle of the street to take a picture when I see something I don’t want to forget, but I don’t need to use Citymapper to navigate campus or South Kensington anymore. Being on that bus made me realize that I’m not on vacation, but I’m not a long-term resident either. I don’t really know where I fit in this city with a population of 8.6 million people, but I do know that I’ve appreciated every minute, even when I’ve been homesick or lonely. And that has happened.

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The Queen was in the day I took this. It made me feel very properly English.

My journey to this point cannot be spoken about without a brief discussion of the Vredenburg Scholarship. I’ve written about the Vredenburg Scholarship before, but it’s worth mentioning in this blog that it is one of many opportunities Hopkins gives to its students to study abroad. For people like me who can’t swing a semester for any number of reasons, this couldn’t have been more perfect. The Vredenburg Scholarship funds students with a major in the Whiting School of Engineering to participate in research, internships, or service projects related to engineering anywhere in the world. The scholarship covers up to $8,000 for 8 to 10 weeks, including funds for airfare, housing, food, any program fees, books, supplies, and a flat amount to go to any cultural sights of interest.

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The V&A, around the corner from my current dorm

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Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I in the National Portrait Gallery

My top destinations for about as long as I can remember were London and Paris — simply put, I like cities and I’m a travel newbie, although I don’t think I’ll still be able to say that after this trip. Since I haven’t dusted off my French in about three years, that eliminated 10 weeks in Paris (though it didn’t eliminate a weekend trip, I’ll be there in July) and left me with London. It became such an obvious choice. Imperial College London is ranked #2 for Chemical Engineering in the U.K. and #6 in the world. In the last three weeks, I’ve started training in basic cell culture techniques, cell counting and viability assays, and I’ve developed a (very) rudimentary protocol for preparation of cell extracts. My project for the summer is a small part of a larger project to develop a cell-free protein synthesis system to optimize production of therapeutic glycoproteins. My “job” is to help with optimization of the cell extracts, but I’m still in the early stages, so I have yet to determine exactly what that entails.

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The Queen’s Tower, the only original building remaining of the original Imperial Institute at Imperial College London

The best part about this summer is how much I have been able to do. For my entire life, I’ve lived in New York, but since I live in the far reaches of Queens, the city that never sleeps is largely unavailable to me unless I carve out a chunk of a day. Here, I live in central London, and the entire city is right outside my doorstep. Until July 1, I will be living in South Kensington, less than a 5 minute walk to Imperial’s main campus, and after that I will be about 35 minutes away in Waterloo — a touristy, but trendy and central location nonetheless. I imagine that living in central London is something like living in Manhattan. There are endless opportunities and places to explore at a stone’s throw away (sometimes even spitting distance).

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My first afternoon “tea” where I got iced coffee instead

Thanks to my location, traveling couldn’t be easier. I’ve been to many of London’s museums, including the National Portrait Gallery, the Tate Modern, the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Science Museum. I’ve also seen plenty of iconic sights, like Westminster Abbey and Big Ben, the Tower of London, Millennium and Tower bridges, the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace, Carnaby Street and Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park, and Sky Garden. I’ve also seen a concert at the O2 Arena, had afternoon tea, traveled to see Stonehenge, drank cider in Somerset County, and eaten a Bath bun.

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The Roman Baths in Bath, UK

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Stonehenge, which was both confusing and surreal in Salisbury Plain, UK

Perhaps the best part about being abroad are all of the things you couldn’t possibly learn unless you experience them yourself. People don’t tell you that the tube is tiny and generally not air conditioned. The only exceptions to that are the Circle and District lines, but they are a bit slower than the Piccadilly line, which is the alternative in Zone 1. Each tube line has a fun but uninformative name, like Jubilee or Bakerloo, and the tube cannot be called “the train”, because there is also a train system separate from the tube. None of the streets are numbered, and everything in London is “walking distance,” even though that means that an hour walk is completely normal. I still don’t know what the proper response to “Cheers!” is and I still can’t define “cheeky.” Apparently, I have an accent (who knew?) and the way that I say “weird” is weird.

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Telephone booth carcasses near Leicester Square, so sad

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Lopsided but important photo of Westminster Abbey

Even stranger, the cars drive on the wrong side of the street, but the city of London knows that. At your feet at every crosswalk, it tells you which direction to look before crossing. There is a 5p charge for a plastic bag at most stores to encourage people to reuse their own bags. Primark sells everything from carry-on suitcases to clothes to home goods, and all at incredible prices. The average cocktail here costs £10, or $13, and student unions often feature bars because most people are of drinking age when they go to college (which they call uni here). Iced coffee is scarce and air conditioning is even scarcer.

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Cider from Somerset County at The Old Green Tree in Bath, UK

There are so many things about this city that I’ve learned in just a few weeks. I thought that going to college made me an independent adult when I left home for Hopkins three years ago, but for those of you who fancy yourselves independent people, I challenge you to travel 3,636 miles away from everyone you care about and explore a new place entirely on your own. It’s made me realize that I love my friends, but it’s also made me realize that not having familiarity doesn’t stop me from doing what I want to do. I have gone to each of the places I mentioned earlier completely alone. I took my phone and a portable charger, and I went, and for that, I’m pretty damn proud of myself.

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Millennium Bridge, for my fellow Harry Potter fans!

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Alt-J at the O2, I feel like I paid for a concert but I also got a lights show. Truly an incredible experience.

But here’s the real kicker in all of this: I didn’t think it was possible, but I think I’ve found a better place than New York City. I love you, London, and I can’t wait to see what the next 6.5 weeks hold for us.

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View south of the Thames from Sky Garden, cheers to more like this one!

Support

When I was ten years old, I broke my pinky finger. I was sitting at the bottom of a slide with my arm out behind me trying to hoist myself out when my sister came careening down. Crack. That was it; I screamed out in pain, ate a piece of pizza, and went to sleep. When I woke up, my finger was black and blue, and without a doubt, broken. I had never contemplated breaking a bone up until that point, and after the cast was removed from my hand six weeks later, I never thought about it again.

It was not until this past Friday that I had any need to recall the feeling of breaking a bone, because I broke another. Breaking bones feels like a childhood pastime; you fall out of a tree and break your arm, or you break a leg playing soccer or roughhousing. By no means do you break an ankle tripping over a chair, but that is exactly what I did on Friday evening, much to my dismay.

Immediately after my lab class, I hustled over to Bloomberg — a building in the farthest corner of campus — for my a cappella show. I got there just in time to help unloading sound equipment and then quickly went back to the room where the group was hanging out. The door was propped open with a chair and I went to step over it (in platform shoes) to no avail. My ankle twisted and buckled, and with a singular but very crunchy pop, I went down.

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Trying to laugh in a very unfortunate situation

You may be wondering what this unfortunate event could have anything to do with Hopkins and the experience of going here, and that’s where this part comes in. From the moment I went down, right up until now, I have received nothing but support.

My friend Mellissa, who was with me at the time, quickly ran out of the room to get anyone who could be remotely helpful. She arrived back with our friend and fellow group member, Isabel, who also happens to be a wilderness first responder (WFR). She assessed my foot, told me that she thought it was sprained, and helped me to keep it elevated and iced. Mellissa let me borrow her significantly lower-heeled shoes for the concert, and my friend Ben let me hold on to him when I couldn’t support myself on my own ankles during the show.

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Post-standing on my broken ankle for over an hour in our concert

When we all met up afterward, my friend Ramya made sure not to forget an ankle brace, and I thought my ankle was sitting pretty until the next morning when I woke up and couldn’t move. Past just my friends, Hopkins’ resources have been extremely supportive. I took an Uber to the hospital (in my frenzy, forgetting that security could have gotten me there for free) and the hospital took me right away. After two surveys of my x-rays, my doctors told me that I had suffered an avulsion fracture, meaning that a ligament in my ankle pulled a piece of bone from my ankle, causing a fracture.

Security drove me back to my room, and has been extremely accommodating whenever I’m in a little bit of extra pain and feel like I need a ride. I’ve had lots of friends offer to carry my stuff for me, my friend Paige rides the elevator with me whenever I’m feeling lonely, and the AD I work with in Residential Life has offered to come up with some alternatives to my rounds when I’m on call for the night. I’ve even been contacted my Case Management, which means that I am not only being supported by my friends, but I also have backing from the school administration if I need help.

A broken ankle may seem run-of-the-mill, but in the middle of my last round of midterms as a junior, right before Homecoming and Spring Fair, and on a campus where the ramps are surprisingly out of the way, all of these things combined go a long way. No matter where I turn, I am supported, and that’s pretty stellar, even though the boot I’m wearing on my foot is not.

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Boot.

On Planning Your Summer

When the snow is falling and temperatures dip below freezing, my friends are dreaming of white sand beaches and tanned skin. I revel in putting on my winter coat and the stillness of a cold, gray day. Maybe I’m a freak, but I prefer winter to summer. I’d rather be bundled up and wrapped in a blanket drinking hot cocoa than feel sticky sweat on the back of my neck on a humid August day. Still, while I’m living in bliss every winter, I am forced to think about the summer months looming ahead because whether I like it or not (I don’t), my last summer as a college student is approaching.

What this meant for me was that I had to plan my sweaty days well ahead of time. Every field of interest has relevant research and job opportunities, each with different deadlines. In my experience, engineering research and jobs often have deadlines as early as mid-December, and most are closed by the end of January. After an initial survey of the opportunities available to me in December, I decided that my first choice would be to pursue biology-oriented research abroad by applying for the Vredenburg scholarship, which Hopkins engineering students can apply for.

The decision almost made itself. I’ve dedicated this year to finding travel opportunities within my means, which translates to seeking out scholarships for educational reasons. There is a wide variety of majors at Hopkins that lend themselves to semesters abroad or even a year abroad, but mine led me to a search for a summer abroad because a semester just didn’t seem feasible. An opportunity to spend a few months in a different country and gain some academic perspective into a new research topic provided the appropriate academic component of a study abroad experience, while also allowing me to continue doing research, and (best of all), live in a foreign country.

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Hyde Park, London (I will be living across the street.)

After an extensive search and an even more lengthy application, I decided that I wanted to study at Imperial College in London, England this summer. Because I’m planning to attend graduate school and pursue a PhD in chemical engineering or a similar field, a research position felt like the right fit. I get to attend a fabulous university for ten weeks and conduct research on the synthesis of therapeutic glycoproteins, all while living in central London on my own.

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From one library to another, Imperial College library

I never thought I’d say it, but I can’t wait for the sticky summer days to get here, because that means I get to embark on my study abroad adventure.

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Majestic London skyline, I’m ready for you.

Bunnies of Hopkins

If you ask any one of my friends right now what my favorite thing is, there will be no need for any further specification. This vague question has a very pointed answer: my favorite thing right now is the bunny filter on Snapchat. I don’t know why, but it gives me a lot of joy.

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The photo that started it all.

Sometimes it’s the little things in life. It’s taking a picture of your friend while they do work in the library and watching their studious face become a cute little bunny face. It’s a friend sending a picture of themselves to you as a bunny to cheer you up when you’ve had a long day day. Sometimes it’s even a miniature war to see who can send the most inconspicuous bunny snaps.

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When an FFC lunch and work session becomes a competition to see how many people you can turn in to bunnies in one fell swoop

The thing about the bunny filter is that I’m very serious about it. I’ve lost “important” snap-streaks with people because my phone couldn’t recognize my face for a day, and then voilà: no bunny, no Snapchat. You, as a prospective student or current student may be asking yourself, why does this matter, and what does this have anything to do with being a Hopkins student?

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When your friends acknowledge that your choices are good ones

A lot of the time, as I write these blogs, I ask myself how I can still be relevant to prospective students. I often feel that I’m so far in to my experience as Hopkins that the stories I have and the experiences I’m living through might not yet be relevant to a junior or senior in high school. To those students, I say this: even though college life may seem confusing, choosing classes may seem like a distant future, and summer plans may seem like a simple return trip home, the college experience is built by more than these things.

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A level homework night gets a little bit more fun

Hopkins is the only place where all of my friends let me be all of the versions of myself that I want to be around them. Sometimes, that means I’m silly and unable to focus. Other times, it means that I’m frustrated with an assignment and angry at the world. I can be worried about my future and sleep until 12PM so I don’t have to worry about it, or I can wake up at 8AM on a Saturday to go to a city cleanup because I want to make a difference. I can be awake-until 3AM-Joanna, or Octopodes-rehearsal Joanna. Sometimes I’m bad-at-coding Joanna, and others, I’m laboratory-wizard Joanna.

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Rehearsing hard or hardly rehearsing?

For now, being myself means only wanting to send photos of people as bunnies, and I wanted to dedicate this blog to all of those who have been victims of my desire to see them as a bunny, but have still continued to love me regardless.

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My Semester in Proteins

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Asparagine (Asn, N)

My only exposure to the various studies on proteins was during my sophomore fall in Biochemistry. Every year, nearly 400 students at Johns Hopkins will memorize their amino acids, along with chemical structures and properties, three-letter codes, and one-letter codes. Now, I don’t know about the rest of those students, but I do know that as soon as that class was over, I promptly forgot all that I had learned about proteins and what makes them what they are. My inability to remember asparagine’s carbonyl and amide groups no longer seemed to matter and I let it all fade into the background of my academic studies.

Now, over a year after my amino acid flash cards, studied knowledge of peptide bonds, and in depth analysis of hemoglobin’s active sites, the amino acids are back and I have to kick the old biochemistry brain back in to overdrive. As I reach my final semesters in the bulk of my major, they become more and more specialized, and all of a sudden, two of my classes are strictly dedicated to the study of proteins.

Protein Engineering and Biochemistry Lab (PEBL, pronounce “pebble”) is a lab course in the Biophysics department in the School of Arts & Sciences. In this course, we will be working with a protein called SNase, or Staphylococcus aureus nuclease, learning about its properties using various analytical techniques, and changing one of the amino acids in its sequence to a different amino acid called proline.

Application of Molecular Evolution to Biotechnology (I wish there was an acronym for this class) is a bioengineering elective that I’m taking this semester in the Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering department in the School of Engineering. This is another class entirely focused on proteins but takes a different approach from PEBL. This course meets two times a week, and the bulk of its work takes the form of reading journal articles and reviews, focusing on directed evolution.

To top it all off, I’ve applied to work in a lab overseas this summer working on a cell-free protein synthesis project. Needless to say, if someone had told me a year and a half ago as I pored over my amino acid flash cards that I would have a semester so heavily focused on the proteins they made, I probably wouldn’t have believed it. Now I’m just trying to glean as much information as I can this semester before I (hopefully — I’m still in an application process) go abroad to experience it in a research lab for real.

Inter(ests) 3.0: Abroad Edition

One of my favorite things about Hopkins is Intersession. I have taken Intersession courses every year that I’ve been here because I love it and there’s no reason not to do it. My freshman and sophomore year, I took classes on campus and did research, always arriving on the first day that I was allowed to come back. Each time, it feels like a resurgence in my independence after spending several weeks at home. It’s all of the fun of college without any of the stress of classes (as most Intersession courses are 1 credit and graded S/U), and I look forward to it every year.

This year, I started to get a little restless, and I decided to do something a bit different. Since my trip to Israel last summer, I’ve been really anxious to go abroad more, but my coursework doesn’t lend itself to spending a semester abroad. This situation could be ameliorated in two ways — Intersession and summer. While I worked on applications for this summer, Intersession seemed fairly straightforward. There was a short application and a few pre-departure meetings, and before I knew it, I was on a plane to Germany on January 10th.

The class I took was called Collective Memory and Memorial Sites and was tough by Dr. Hanno Balz, a visiting professor through the German Academic Exchange Service. His research focus is on contemporary German history, particularly Nazi Germany and the persecution of Jewish Germans. Intersession classes abroad are quite different from those that happen on campus. For starters, this class was 3 credits and could not be taken S/U. We spent the first week in Bremen, where our professor is actually from, and then we traveled to Berlin for the second week. We spent all of our days taking historic guided tours, visiting memorial sites, important historical venues, and museums. We also got to explore the nightlife in Bremen and Berlin, and we ate incredible food every day.

Two weeks seems like a short amount of time, but it isn’t when every day is jam packed with activities, seminars, and incredible memories. It’s difficult to put into words everything we did and saw. As I write this blog jet lagged and wide awake at 7AM, I’m realizing that the only way to explain everything I experienced is through photos.

Jan. 11: Historic Tour of Bremen

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Bremen Town Hall

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Bremen Historic Cathedral

Jan. 12: Walking Tour and Wine Cellar Tour

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First “Stolpersteine” or stumbling stone I saw, used to memorialize the last place where a Holocaust victim willingly lived

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“Schatzkammer”, or treasure chest, of very old wine at Bremer Ratskeller, an old wine cellar

Jan. 13: Bremerhaven Immigration Museum

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Willy Brandt Platz, Bremerhaven Harbor

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Julia holding hands with a mannequin in the immigration museum

Jan. 14: Town Hall and Colonial Heritage Tour

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Cookie the size of my face and I loved it so much

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Me and Riley at the colonial heritage monument

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Stained glass in Bremen Town Hall

 Jan. 15: Bunker Valentin

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Bunker Valentin

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Snowy beach, adjacent to the bunker

Jan. 16: Arrival in Berlin and Reichstag Tour

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Brandenburg Gate

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The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

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Candid shot of Riley in the air in front of the Reichstag building

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Parliament Room

Jan. 17: Topography of Terror Museum

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First Käsespätzle

Jan. 18: Tour of Olympia Stadium

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Home of the 1936 Olympics

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Seats over 70,000 people

Jan. 19: Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

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Sachsenhausen is an hour outside of Berlin

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Extremely popular kebab stand that also has vegetarian food

Jan. 20: Exploring Berlin

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Riley and Christine in a very heavily graffitied building

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Graffitied door that I loved

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Large bison stuffed animal in a Berlin mall

Jan. 21: Last night out and about in Berlin

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The squad ready to roll out

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Gave up on the night out for falafel, didn’t get a picture before half of it was already eaten

Jan. 22: East Side Gallery

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Retro photo booths all over Berlin, we failed miserably

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Thierry Noir’s Berlin wall masterpiece and the squad

Jan. 23: Last seminar and Checkpoint Charlie

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There is a museum for currywurst, which was the theme of our trip.

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Last Käsespätzle

Jan. 24: Flight home

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No person in the middle seat on our 7 hour flight!

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Get me home please.

More Firsts

Now that I have been firmly planted in my apartment in New York for a week and a half, it feels like a good time to reflect on all of this semester’s happenings. As my junior spring rapidly approaches, I’ve been forced to face the reality that I’m more than half way done, and I need to start coming up with a game plan for my life, or at least post-graduation plans. Each month of this semester was exciting, scary, stressful, and wonderful in different ways. Even two years later, Hopkins can still throw a curveball, and this was still a semester of firsts for me. Without further ado, here’s my list of junior fall firsts:

  1. Octopodes auditions: I was accepted into the JHU Octopodes my sophomore year, so this fall I got to experience my first round of auditions from the other side of the table. It’s all fun and games until you’ve been sitting in Hodson 216 for more than 12 hours, you haven’t eaten a meal that you didn’t purchase at Brody in 3 days, and you’ve got 4 problem sets due at the beginning of the week following the grueling 3 days audition process. I thought auditioning was hard, but evaluating 80+ auditions is much harder. Going into delirium with your friends takes the friendship to a whole new level.
  2. All-nighter: As a direct result of auditions, I also pulled my very first college all-nighter. I’m sure this might come as a shock to my Hopkins peers, but I’ve never had to watch the sun rise in Brody. My first all night homework session was this September, for a paper written with a partner. We gravely mistook the amount of time it would take us, and our original estimate was doubled in real time.
  3. Semester as an RA: I closed out my first semester as an RA and I absolutely loved it. While most of my friends live off-campus, and it’s nice to walk in to a house and feel independent sometimes, I wouldn’t change my experience as an RA in Homewood for the world. It’s been an incredible semester, and I’ve been really lucky to have such fabulous residents with strong, smart opinions and tons of motivation to make an impact on campus.
  4. Independent research project: Some time during the middle of the semester, I realized that the project I’m working on in lab is my own! I consult with a PhD student about a lot of what I’m doing and I always get tons of great advice and direction, but the project is my own, and it’s been really thrilling to be trusted with that kind of responsibility.
  5. Voting in person: I changed my voter registration to the state of Maryland so I could go and physically vote in the presidential election. It was truly an incredible experience. Even though I waited in line for two hours and it was crowded and loud and hot, I got to exercise my right to vote, and I actually got to hand in my ballot instead of mailing it out.
  6. School trip: Several of my friends and I “skipped class” to go to a pharmaceutical facility tour at Bristol Myers Squibb in New Jersey. We spent our Tuesday learning about the responsibilities of different engineers at the company, and it was a great introduction to a career in industry.
  7. Intersession Abroad application: After spending two Intersessions in Baltimore, I decided to change it up and apply for an Intersession Abroad program. I applied to a course called Collective Memory and Memorial Sites which will be held in Germany, and I got accepted to the program. We leave January 9th, and there have been a few pre-departure meetings that have made me really excited for the trip.
  8. Executive board election: In November, Theta Tau had elections for executive board for the calendar year of 2017 and I got elected Treasurer, which was super exciting. Now I get to work with four other awesome members of executive board to make 2017 a great year for Theta Tau.
  9. Sleepover: Since everyone lives within walking distance of one another, it seems silly, but my friend Paige and I had two sleepovers this semester. One of them was the day I left for winter break, so it made me really happy that I got to say goodbye to one of my best friends at 4:30 in the morning.
  10. Being away: This is the first time I won’t be in Baltimore for Intersession, so it’s the first time I really won’t see my friends for over a month. I already miss them, and it hasn’t even been two weeks, but I know that I’m going to have an incredible adventure in just ten days, and all of my friends will be where I left them when I get back.

Here’s lookin’ at you, 2021

In the spirit of Early Decision release being just under a week ago, I wanted to share a few things that Hopkins has for the Class of 2021 to look forward to. Here is a list of amazing things that you’ll definitely find, learn, or experience when you arrive this fall, from people and events to places, and just general Hopkins things.

  1. Neighborhoods of Baltimore
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View from the roof of The Academy on Charles (located on N. Charles St and E. University Pkwy, Charles Village)

Before you venture to Federal Hill, Fell’s Point, Mt. Vernon, and a variety of other neighborhoods that Baltimore has to offer, you have to experience the basics. The two easiest neighborhoods to see when you arrive on campus are Charles Village, which is where Homewood campus is located, and Hampden, just north of campus and within walking distance. Charles Village is popular with students for its accessibility, food, and upperclassmen housing — after all, you’re already there. Hampden isn’t much further and is popular for Hon Fest, Miracle on 34th Street, all of the fantastic food options, window shopping, and most importantly, its love of flamingoes.

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Photo of Miracle on 34th Street courtesy of the fabulous photography skills of my friend RJ (located on 34th St, Hampden)

If you’re feeling a little bit more adventurous (or it’s already October and Parents’ Weekend is around the corner), get your parents to take you to lunch or dinner in the Inner Harbor. Seafood is
fabulous, there’s tons of shopping, in addition to the National Aquarium, and attractions like the dragon boats.

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Dark view of the Inner Harbor, photo taken from the dragon boats (located somewhere in the Harbor)

2. People Excited to Get Involved with the City

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My friend Greg pulled this tire out of the sand it was embedded in while we were cleaning up this beach

There are endless opportunities to get more acquainted with Baltimore. If getting acquainted with a city means experiencing its food, museums, or concert venues, Baltimore has plenty of those, but I think that the best thing to do is to get to know a city’s people, and the best way to do that is by giving back. There are tons of community service groups on campus, and the university itself has plenty of goals for student involvement within the city. There are opportunities to clean up the city and surrounding areas, tutor students of any age, and so much more. On top of that, there are people who will want to take part in all of that with you, which has been truly motivational.

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At Hopkins, we like to commend our friends for awesome things and also embarrass them with bad pictures.

3. Friends Who Get You

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We capitalized on the hot chocolate (and the free foliage?)

You’ll find friends who are willing to ask adults why there’s free hot chocolate sitting in Levering courtyard and capitalize on the free things, because the 10:30AM struggle is real and when you need to sit through a class that’s an hour long, you might want a warm beverage to keep you company. You’ll find friends who also want to do the bare minimum when it requires getting dressed up for a picture on a hot August day, and they’ll even stay friends with you when you show up in Birkenstocks and just ask for the picture to be waist-up. Even when you have a bad day, you’ll find friends to wallow with you, or to do everything they can to cheer you up, if that’s what you’re in to.

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Hunter’s proposal ft. my Birkenstocks.

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Me and Ramya being very, very sad. We were just having a bad day — it happens.

4. Favorite Places on Campus

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The ever majestic Gilman Hall

Everyone’s favorite place on campus is different, but the aesthetic of Gilman Hall is unparalleled at sunrise, sunset, and anywhere in between. As an engineer, I hardly find myself in Gilman (sadly) but I can still revel at its beauty and roam its halls searching for empty classrooms to use as group study rooms on the weekends. Beauty can be found everywhere and anywhere on campus during all seasons. I never get tired of strolling campus and taking photos like it’s still my first week. There’s no shame in it!

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Every branch was icy so I stopped my walk to class and snapped a picture.

You’ll also find your favorite place to study, which is a process that takes many semesters. I’ve gone through phases of studying in the Brody and Mudd Atria, on MSE M and A Levels, and in various campus cafes and the Reading Room, but my current favorite place is MSE C Level. This might still just be me coming off of finals talking, but when I need to work alone, C Level has always had my back.

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This is my favorite cube and when other people sit in it, I hiss at them.

5. Making the Best Out of Everything

The last and most important thing to know about Hopkins is that the experience that comes from it is entirely determined by what you want. So my advice to you, Class of 2021, is this: join all of the clubs, do all of the things you think you might even have the tiniest interest in doing, and then choose what you want to spend your time on what you enjoy most. College is about you and nobody else; the people you choose to surround yourself with will make everything worth it. Late nights of homework are made better by trips to FFC late night, and weekends are made better by spending your Saturdays exploring.

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I’m all for graffiti if it’s going to be inspirational like this.

So get excited to come to Baltimore in about 9 months, because the best four years of your life are fast approaching. Don’t forget to savor the rest of your senior year, pore over the bedspread you’re going to buy to match your college aesthetic, and read all of the blogs. Before you know it, you’ll be living it, and you’re going to find a brand new family.

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As excited to meet all of you as I was to meet Octopodes’ new freshmen just a few months ago!

A Pode’s Journey to Hopkins

Auditioning for an a cappella group was without a doubt one of the best choices I made at Hopkins. I love my graph paper and pencils, understand the necessity of my Transport II homework, and study weekly for my Probability and Statistics quizzes, but there’s nothing quite like singing in a group. What makes it particularly special is that I get to sing with my best friends. I often think, how did I get so lucky to meet such phenomenal people? The answer to that question now seems obvious. We all chose Hopkins and we all chose it for a reason.

The a cappella group I’m fortunate enough to be a part of is called Octopodes. No matter how many times we go over the story, I can’t really say exactly how the group got its name, but I love the people and I love the quality of music we produce, so I’ve never bothered to remember the group’s origins.

Octopodes allows me to spend time away from academics and the work grind to sing with incredible, fun, kooky people who I undoubtedly would never have met if not for Octopodes. So now here’s the question: how did all of these true Podes arrive at Hopkins? Below are five brief introductions to some of my Pode friends, and the reasons we all wound up together are somewhere between the lines.

P.S. We just released a really dope album called Oceanborn, and it’s available on Loudr and iTunes.

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Katrina Estep is a senior Molecular and Cellular Biology major with a minor in Spanish for the Professions from Boise, Idaho

Campus activities: Octopodes

How did you get to Hopkins? I worked very hard in high school and knew I wanted to pursue a major in biology, so Hopkins made a lot of sense! Most people from my high school went to college in-state but I knew I wanted to branch out and go somewhere on the east coast for a change of scenery. I visited Hopkins and fell in love with the campus and the people, and the rest is history!

What’s your favorite Hopkins memory? My favorite hopkins memory is winning ICCA Quarterfinals with my best friends! My other favorite memory would have to be the epic snowball fight showdown of  Snowpocalypse 2015.

What are your post graduation plans? I will be pursuing a PhD in Molecular Biology, but I’m not sure where yet!

What’s your favorite thing to do on campus or around Baltimore? I love exploring all the cool street festivals Baltimore has to offer and checking out all the restaurants in Hampden.

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Sophia Porter is a sophomore Physics and Applied Mathematics & Statistics double major from Leawood, Kansas

Campus activities: Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, JHU Octopodes, Research at Space Telescope Science Institute

How did you get to Hopkins? A car ride, a 2.5-hour flight, and an Uber.

What’s your favorite Hopkins memory? Early in my freshman year, when I was still getting to know my fellow physics majors, our Classical Mechanics teacher dropped a whopper of an assignment on us. Several of us went straight from Bloomberg to the FFC, grabbed to-go boxes, and discussed homework questions over a picnic on the Freshman Quad. It was one of those unbelievably gorgeous fall days, with a bit of a breeze and dappled sunlight. We couldn’t stop laughing. I felt like I was living the college dream.

What are your post graduation plans? I’m planning to either stick around for a master’s in Applied Math, or hunt for a job in the aerospace field.

What’s your favorite thing to do on campus or around Baltimore? I can’t get enough of Hampden! Whether I need ice cream at The Charmery, a new quirky antique centerpiece, or am just experiencing a sudden pang of puppy withdrawal, Hampden always provides a wonderful break from the homework hamster wheel.

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Isabel Evans is a senior Public Health and East Asian Studies double major from Lexington, Massachusetts

Campus activities: Octopodes, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Outdoor Pursuits (Sea Kayaking), Public Health in Asia Symposium, Woodrow Wilson Research Fellowship

How did you get to Hopkins? I toured a bunch of schools that were in urban areas that had good Chinese programs, and then ended up applying to a handful of them. I got into Hopkins, but still didn’t know much about it. I came to SOHOP and fell in love. I knew immediately, from the people that I met, to the activities fair, to the arts showcase, to the class I took on public health (my first intro to what would become my primary major!), to my SOHOP host, that this was the school for me.

What’s your favorite Hopkins memory? All of the memories I can think of that I could say are my “favorite” are about the incredible people I’ve met here. Whether it’s lying on the beach or spontaneous jaunts into Baltimore or C-level study sessions filled with coffee and chocolate, this place is important because of the people.

What are your post graduation plans? Finding a job in public health!

What’s your favorite thing to do on campus or around Baltimore? Outdoors trips! Eating at various places! Lounging on the beach! Being a total nerd in the Gilman Hut or a C-level table! Food trucks at Spring Fair! Drinking an obscene amount of coffee from Brody Cafe! Performing with Octopodes!

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Kahler Suzuki is a sophomore Cello Performance major at the Peabody Institute from Aiea, Hawaii

Campus activities: Octopodes

How did you get to Hopkins? I was admitted to the Peabody Conservatory of Music after auditioning in Manhattan in the Spring of 2015. It’s a terribly inconvenient (and expensive) chore to fly from Hawaii to New York with a large instrument — I buy a seat for my cello!

What’s your favorite Hopkins memory? I cherish the memory of trying my first deep fried Oreo at Spring Fair last year. It’s probably one of my favorite things in the world.

What are your post graduation plans? I plan to attend graduate school as an orchestral conducting major.

What’s your favorite thing to do on campus or around Baltimore? I love hanging out with my Homewood buddies! Somehow I feel the need to relieve them from the intensity of the Hopkins study environment, and if I can do that over lunch or on a trip to the mall, I’m more than excited to do my part in helping them smile or laugh a little more.

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Mellissa Picker is a freshman Molecular and Cellular Biology major from Brookline, Massachusetts

Campus activities: Octopodes, ECCO, Thread

How did you get to Hopkins? Car, train and plane.

What’s your favorite Hopkins memory? Gathering with friends in the TV room of AMR I and watching shows or football.

What are your post graduation plans? Travel? Medical school?

What’s your favorite thing to do on campus or around Baltimore? Try new foods!