Category Archives: Beyond Baltimore

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!

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.

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.

Arrivals and Departures (But Mostly Arrivals)

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Trying to be a work of art

I’m excited and I’m exhausted. For those who don’t know, this summer I took Organic Chemistry lab during Session I of summer classes, held a paying lab job in the Chemical Engineering department where I worked between 25 and 40 hours a week, and got a taste of what it’s like to be an RA by working on summer staff. Needless to say, it was quite a busy summer. I split my time between living where I work and working close to where I live, and for that reason, I’m just the tiniest bit tired, but still far from drained.

Because . . .

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Thumb, muffin, and potato ft. reflection of feet in a work of art at the BMA (left to right)

At this time three days from now, I’ll be on a train back home to New York, and I couldn’t be more excited. This summer was so much more fun that I could have possibly anticipated. Organic Chemistry lab wound up being my favorite Hopkins course to date, and all of the graduate students in my lab treated me like an intelligent human being, not a pipetting machine (although there was a lot of pipetting to be done too). I made bubble tea for more than sixty people at least six times this summer, and I spent two weekends at home. I even got to take a trip up to Rochester to wrap up work on the Octopodes album, coordinate a weekend when both of my sisters could come to Baltimore, and spare just enough time to watch all six seasons of Game of Thrones.

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Horrified by Snapchat filters

It was a busy, productive, exciting, and fun summer, but even with everything going on, there was only one thing that fazed me, and it was that I got homesick last week. With friends from all over the country and the world, I almost felt a little guilty. I live three and a half hours away by bus and I went home twice this summer. When I took a step back to think about it, I stopped feeling guilty, because I realized that I haven’t been home for more than three days since December. I’ve never been away from home this long, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting the hours until I get on the train. The role that home has played has shifted pretty drastically in the two years I’ve been at Hopkins. It feels like vacation now, and I can’t wait to vacation at home.

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Looks a million times better than it tastes

I’m longing to put on my semi-angry “I-don’t-care-about-your-problems-I’m-going-somewhere-important-so-get-out-of-my-way” face and swipe my MetroCard to get on the subway. I want to visit my friends on the Upper West Side, the Village, Midwood, and Forest Hills. I want to eat in cafés that exclusively serve things covered in matcha. I want to pester my mom to let me drive short distances, and yell things to one another from across our apartment.

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Come back now so we can lay on the floor during finals.

Still, the most exciting things in life have also been arrivals. I’m excited to arrive home, but I’m also excited to arrive back in Baltimore on August 15th. RA training for the school year (with all 70+ staff members) is rapidly approaching. I’ll only be home for a week and a half, but for me, that will be enough. I’m looking forward to spending a few weeks with a big, new part of my Hopkins family before classes start because I’m hoping (praying) that I can find a floor theme that I love. I want to deck out the 3rd floor of Homewood. If you’ve read this far, make a suggestion! (Please send help.)

On Summer and Independence

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Kicking off the summer with excessive Charmery scoops (Thai tea and mint chip)

I’m closing in on upperclassmen territory and I don’t know how I feel about it. My friends a year older than me are now rising seniors and my friends two years older have left campus altogether. I don’t know how the past two years have gone by so quickly, but they most certainly have; now, even the summer is close to half over and I’m just kind of dumbfounded. Inevitably, time is going by, but at least I’m running out the clock on this summer in the best ways I can think of.

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So many bubbles

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At the vigil for Orlando in Station North

This summer has primarily been spent in the basement of Krieger working in the Schulman lab, which is in the ChemBE department. I’ve spent 25+ hours there each week working with a graduate student in addition to taking Organic Chemistry Lab, which I know sounds horrible, but it’s actually been one of my favorite classes at Hopkins to date. I forged an alliance with a group of people at my lab table and made new friends where I didn’t expect to. We even have a GroupMe, so if that doesn’t scream friendship, I don’t know what does. I might even miss capping off my day in the UTL now that the class is over, but I definitely won’t miss the lab reports.

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My sister even came to visit, and we went to Woodberry Kitchen for the first time! (Not pictured: fabulous breakfast potatoes)

During the weekends, you can find me at my friends’ house, delightfully nicknamed “The Alamo” because three of its five residents are Texans, walking around Hampden, at the Waverly Farmers Market, goading my friends into eating off campus with me, or watching the newest season of Orange Is The New Black. I’ve said goodbye to the remaining Octopodes graduates and learned how to successfully finish a round of Mario Kart without coming in last. I’ve also finally learned how some of organic chemistry works (I use “some” very loosely, because I’m about to take Orgo II), and best of all, my Grignard didn’t explode.

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The acclaimed pizza of Johnny Rad’s

I’m still working my way down a list of restaurants and events, but spending summer in Baltimore has definitely not been disappointing. I’ve gone to concerts, found pizza almost as good as New York pizza, and successfully learned how to make bubble tea en masse.

Best of all, I’ve gotten to live almost like an adult (despite the free housing and meal plan), and even though I miss my mom, my sisters, and my cat, I’m loving my summer in Baltimore. I even have a Spotify playlist to prove it.

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The Tallest Man on Earth (@ Rams Head Live) is in fact only 5’7”.

A Charmed Summer

Even though my last final was under a week ago, it feels as though it’s been an eternity. Half of my suite’s doors are locked and closed for the summer, and there are only a handful of people on campus right now. Over the summer, there’s a variety of things that students can do; among them are going home, staying at Hopkins, going to other universities to take classes or do research, and studying abroad. It’s going to be pretty sleepy in Charles Village until next week when the first session of summer classes begins, because a lot of people are taking the opportunity to be home for a week or two before it gets busy again. Still, despite what you might think, the summer is a great time to be on campus and there’s a lot to do!

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We survived.

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Date nights with Kate (and Izzy and Jasmine)

During my freshman spring, I remember someone said, “Take this summer to recuperate and rejuvenate, because it’s the last summer you’ll have to yourself.” In retrospect, I took this way too seriously, and I don’t think I should have taken their advice to heart quite in the way that I did, because it’s totally not true. Last year, I went home, put my head down, and worked a 9-to-5 job. I had some time to myself; I figured out what progress I had made my freshman year and made goals for my sophomore year because I had so much free time — but it was boring! My freshman year, I figured out how to study, where the coolest places on campus were, and I learned how to say no (although I’ve learned this year, that I still don’t take advantage of that all too much, because I still don’t want to). Sophomore year was undoubtedly more rewarding: harder lessons to learn but bigger payoff.

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Octopodes music geniuses ft. Drake.

Most importantly, I solidified my love for this school, and I learned that taking a break smart though it was, didn’t necessarily have to happen in New York. I came back earlier than most of my friends to help coordinate freshman move-in, and was thrilled to be living in my fancy new dorm, which is bigger than my family’s New York apartment. At this realization, I decided about half way through sophomore year that I was going to stay in Baltimore for the summer preceding my junior year, and I made that decision for a few reasons.

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Im going to miss this room so much though.

I started doing research in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering department this spring and was offered a position to stay over the summer and work on an extension of the project I began this year. Since I really enjoyed the freedom of going into the lab by myself and figuring out the best way to run experiments, I was really excited at the prospect of staying to further my knowledge. I also figured that while I was here, I could get ahead on some schoolwork. I’m still currently on a pre-med track and felt that it might be smart to take a load off of my junior spring by taking Organic Chemistry Lab and Organic Chemistry II during each session of the summer. On top of all of it, I’m going to be an RA during my junior year, so I applied and was offered a position as a summer RA in the same building where I’ll be working in the fall.

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Hey, Georgetown.

Not only do I get to experience a small bit of what my future job will entail, but I get to move in without any of the chaos of move-in during August. I’ll also get to be really fully immersed in my research, and I’ll have the luxury of only focusing on one class at a time. That means more trips to Washington DC to visit my sister, more time to explore Baltimore, and more free time to spend with my friends, a lot of whom also decided that staying here for the summer would be productive, rewarding, and fun. None of these things are in full swing yet, so until Monday, I’ll just be moving into my new room a little bit at a time, and sneaking in a few episodes of Lost while I track down my lab goggles and decide on my floor theme for next year.

Putting on the Brakes for Spring Break

Somehow, it’s already Thursday and my much awaited Spring Break is more than half over. I don’t know who thought through school schedules and decided when breaks should be, but I think whoever those people were deserve a pat on the back. It feels as though every time break comes around, I am beyond ready for it, but whenever the end is in sight, I’m eager to get back to the grind (and also the Daily Grind).

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Rainy library ft. somber Drake

Last week, which now feels like an eternity ago, was one of my most exam-heavy weeks of the semester. With a Transport exam on Monday, Cell Biology on Wednesday, and Thermodynamics on Thursday, there was no easy way through it, but I’m sitting here typing this, so I did in fact make it out alive — sick, but alive.

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Basically how last week made me feel

For the first time since I’ve been at Hopkins this year, I got sick and it was not fun. I take for granted my ability to wake up at 8:30AM without complaint, but when I’m sick it feels like the entire world is coming to a grinding halt. For the greater majority of my week before spring break, I was running to rehearsal, completing Theta Tau pledge tasks, all while trying my best to get out of the library before 2AM. Most weeks aren’t like this; they’re always busy, but the stress isn’t usually quite as imminent as it was last week. Every day last week, I would wake up and take everything I needed with me for the day, only returning to the comfort of my room when I was ready to collapse and go to sleep. It was just one of those weeks.

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Ignore that there is Orgo on the board and that this was taken last semester. The sentiment still stands.

On Friday afternoon after my classes ended for the day, I stretched out in the sun and laid on the Beach until 4:30PM, when I packed my bags and got on a bus headed for New York. Armed with two books and Netflix in tow, I headed home. I managed to read a book, finish both Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, and complete my Linear Algebra homework all while getting at least ten hours of sleep each night. Even though I’m supposed to be relaxing and taking the week off, I’m still on the go, so yesterday I boarded a plane to Nashville, TN to visit a friend from high school who is studying at Vanderbilt.

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When you get home to Chinese food and you feel #blessed

I’ve only been here for about 18 hours, but having been here once before, it is very obviously different from Hopkins. You get the same feeling that you’re surrounded by smart, motivated people, but the feeling on campus is much more summery. As a Hopkins student, I always feel like I’m going. I don’t know if I have an off switch, but I don’t know if the general student body here has a switch. Vanderbilt feels laid back while Hopkins feels charged. Even studying here feels different (I still have problem sets due when I get back), but it’s been really interesting to see how students at similar universities live. I’m loving my time here — the campus is unarguably beautiful, located in a really cool city, and has one of my favorite people on it.

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Vanderbilt being casually beautiful

Still, I’m looking forward to my room, familiar pathways, and familiar faces. It’s been nice to put on the brakes for a little bit, but a little bit was all I needed and now I’m ready to get back into it.

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Kan Jam on the Beach

Israeli Hot

For me, being Jewish has always come with an inherent sense of community and pride, but I learned only a few years ago that it also comes with a ten day round trip to Israel. With over 500,000 Birthright participants in the past fifteen years, all wearing brightly colored lanyards and name tags, doing loud count-offs in English, and blocking crowded alleyways in the old city of Jerusalem, passing Israelis would see our group, smile, and ask “Taglit?”

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Glasses, headphones, and sweatshirts. Are we related yet? (30,000 ft, Somewhere in the sky)

It’s practically an institution, with universities from across the United States and other organizations around the world sending out dozens of students at a time to experience Israel. My family has no connection to the country; nobody from my family had ever even been there before and we are not of Israeli descent, but I was still quite determined to understand the Israeli piece of this Jewish puzzle that I have come to define as my identity.

So on Thursday, May 28th, we flew from New York to Tel Aviv. We got off the plane, where our Israeli tour guide greeted us. We walked outside into the beautiful, Friday afternoon sun, we said the Shehecheyanu (a prayer that’s supposed to bless new experiences) and there was challah. It was Shabbat, after all, and in a country where the majority observes, there’s even a siren to bring it in at sundown every week.

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First step out of the airport required a photo (Ben-Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, Israel)

I was already sold, I could get used to fantastic bread on every special occasion.

We got to visit the Western Wall, the room of the last supper, and King David’s tomb in Jerusalem. Fast forward two thousand years, and we got to see the square where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated, and Independence Hall, where David Ben-Gurion declared Israel’s independence in 1948. We visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Mt. Herzl, its national cemetery for leaders and fallen soldiers. We swam in the Mediterranean, went to Jerusalem’s biggest open air market, and saw Israeli short films at the Maale film school.

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Spices in Jerusalem’s open air market (Machane Yehuda, Jerusalem, Israel)

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Western Wall (Jerusalem, Israel)

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The last thing you see when you leave the Holocaust Memorial Museum. It shows what was awaiting the Jews at the end of WWII. (Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, Israel)

We drove south toward the desert where we learned about the lifestyle of Arab Bedouins living in the Negev. We got to ride camels, walk through the desert at 11:00PM and look at the stars, hike Ein Avdat and Masada, swim in the Dead Sea, and kayak in the Jordan River.

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The very angry camel behind us was not having it. (Bedouin Tents, Negev Desert, Israel)

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4AM wakeup call: $0. 5AM hike up Masada: $0. Seeing the sun rise over the Jordan River: Priceless (Masada, Negev Desert, Israel)

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This part of the desert is considered “wet” because it gets 10 mm of rain each year. Not exactly what I’d call a tropical oasis. (Ein Avdat, Negev Desert, Israel)

We ended our trip in the north with a brief visit to Tzfat, where Kabbalah has its roots, and then finished close to where we started, back in Tel Aviv for Taglit Tel Aviv Day. 1,000 participants spent the day enjoying free falafel and learning about modern day life and arts culture in Tel Aviv. Finally, the perfect ending to a perfect trip was a Hadag Nachash concert in Tel Aviv Port. They’re an Israeli hip hop group that performs mostly in Hebrew — I could die, their music was perfectly obscure so obviously right up my alley.

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Another incredible city with another incredible view (Tzfat, Israel)

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Thirty minutes from Syria (Golan Heights, Israel)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hadag Nachash Concert (Tel Aviv Port, Tel Aviv, Israel)

All of this was incredible, but you would never know just from an itinerary what the experience was like. You would never know that on our trip north from the Dead Sea, the air conditioning on our bus broke in the middle of the desert, and a handful of kids got out only to find that we were in the middle of the West Bank. You would never know that even on the Jordan River, rafts full of Israelis were still asking “Taglit? Taglit?” as we tried not to row directly into the brush. You would never know that they made us close our eyes on the walk to the Haas Promenade so that the view would be a surprise, but I think I tripped on the person in front of me maybe four times. You would also never know that one of the Israeli soldiers who joined us on our trip made it to the top 100 on Israeli Idol.

I’m not a small town girl, but I had been living on this microcosm of the east coast for my whole life up until this point. The world is huge, and spending about fifteen minutes in the Negev desert will show you that. For me, that was a huge part of finding my Jewish identity on the trip, and as corny as that sounds, I do think I understand more where I fit in as far as my Judaism goes. I’m one small person on a massive planet, in a massive solar system, in a massive galaxy, of which there are at least one hundred billion. At the end of the day, my being religious or secular will not impact anybody but myself. I choose not to be religious because I’m not sure if I believe in God, but that doesn’t make me any less Jewish.

The president of Birthright spoke to us on our first day and yelled at us, “Judaism is NOT a religion!” A lot of people seemed puzzled by this, but I understood it before he explained it. I identify culturally as Jewish. People ask me my nationality, and I respond that I’m Jewish. I don’t know yet if I want to be more in touch with my religion, but I did learn that I want to be more in touch with my culture. I’ll probably be at Hillel more, and I might go to some of the Shabbat services because I like the singing. I would love to join an activist group focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and I’m looking in to taking Hebrew or Yiddish during my time at Hopkins. My religious view didn’t fundamentally change, but I think I know a little bit more about myself as a Jew.

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I want to live here. (Jaffa, Israel)

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A view of Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean from Jaffa. Spent the entire trip stumbling on views like this (Jaffa, Israel)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our tour guide said to us on the first day, “A tour guide that I know once said to a group of Americans, most of them like you who had never been to Israel, ‘Welcome home,’ and I couldn’t understand why he was saying that to people who had never been here. But on your next trip to Israel, I would like to be able to say to you, ‘Welcome home’”.

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One of the only meals that did not involve hummus, but I love my shakshuka (Jaffa, Israel)

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The first of many falafels in Israel. Home is where the hummus is, no? (Jerusalem, Israel)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And he mostly certainly will, because I’ll be back soon.

Plus I get to say that I had my Bat Mitzvah in Israel. How cool is that?

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This picture is worth way more than 1,000 words. (Haas Promenade, Jerusalem, Israel)

Summer in the City

Summer in New York City is infamous.

It is notorious, famous, fabled, storied, and legen—wait for it—dary.

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I felt that this was appropriate.

To be honest, the main reason for that is the heat. By August, you can crack an egg on any street and fry it from the steam emanating from the sidewalks. Still, summer in New York is something to be savored. A population of 8.5 million people finally retire their black on black on black clothing (I am guilty and proud) and anyone who can afford to go on vacation in a place that is less humid does. The New Yorkers that are left brave the humidity and find solace under the shade of the trees in Central Park or heavily air conditioned museums and movie theaters.

So here I am. Along with another 8.5 million people (just replace the vacationers with tourists who decide August is a good idea to visit Times Square), I am spending my summer in the city. Unfortunately for me, there will be no afternoon naps in the shade and my museum trips will probably be limited. My original plan was to spend about a month at the beginning of the summer working on Johns Hopkins’s med campus down in Baltimore. A kind of inconvenient series of events and a less than ideal financial situation forced me to turn down the opportunity, and I found myself largely without a plan. As I pulled my last garbage bag out of my dorm room and returned my room key, I was frightened by the vastness of this three month summer that I had to fill with something.

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I had time for one quick adventure — even in New York, finding a store that literally specializes in skulls and strange animal knick-knacks is just weird though. (Evolution, SoHo, New York)

That was when I got an e-mail from my old boss asking if I could come back to work for the summer. At the end of May, that kind of opportunity is almost unheard of, so I snagged it. The job is mostly data entry, but it’s super convenient for my mom because we work in the same building. It’s nowhere close to my major or what I want to be doing in summers to come, but I get guaranteed work five days a week in an air conditioned office building, so I only complain sometimes — it’s in my nature.

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Plus my job keeps me out of nature, where the killer bees are lurking. (I was sincerely confounded by this store.)

Since my days are pretty much set and I’m generally too tired to go on any great adventures after work, my summer will be largely uneventful, but not entirely! Exactly one week from tomorrow, I will be taking a ten day trip to Israel as a part of Birthright, thanks to some awesome people at Hopkins Hillel and the Taglit Birthright program. It will be the first time I’ve been out of the country (unless you count Canada or the Caribbean) and all I’ve bought for the trip is a hat. Needless to say, this week will probably be a little hectic, but it’s definitely giving me something to look forward to, and soon!

I’ll also finally be learning how to drive (fingers crossed I pass my road test the first time) and hopefully volunteering with various critters at my local pet store. All in all, it’ll be a pretty low key summer. After this spring semester, it is much needed, but I’m sure I’ll already be packing up on August 1 because it’s only been five full days since I left campus and I miss it. College is fun, and I definitely know why people say it will be the best four years of your life.

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Tried to be inconspicuous while taking this, but actually just took a horrible picture.

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True fact: The flamingo was therapeutic during finals.

Getaway for a Day

“There’s something about springtime in D.C. that makes me want to eat meat on a stick!” I laughed, as we passed about a dozen grills preparing various meat skewers, lo mein, fried rice, and pad thai. I’ve been a vegetarian for about seven years now, but who’s counting anyway?

After one of my fullest weeks at Hopkins this year, I decided to head in to Washington D.C. for one of the final weekends of the National Cherry Blossom Festival. With two exams, an essay, the first week of SOHOP, and registration for the fall semester finally over, I packed my polaroid camera with my sunglasses and made the trip into D.C. with my friends Ben and Cynthia.

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Photo of a photo

 

After a short trip on the MARC train and a few stops on the red line of Washington D.C.’s Metro, we made our way to the Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival, which stretches six blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue. We got to play Japanese games, survey tents with various knick knacks, and find out more about Japanese history. I had the chance to meet up with my sister who goes to school in D.C., we sat in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue just eating lo mein and catching up.

 

 

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Two young bugs in sunglasses

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Street food is the best food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At around 6PM when the festival closed, we made our way to the Washington Monument and the Tidal Basin. It was in this location that 2,000 cherry trees were donated by the Japanese Embassy to President Taft over a hundred years ago. This weekend marked the anniversary of the agreement, and it was the height of the cherry blossom season, so the National Mall was busier than ever. People from around the world come to Washington D.C. to see the cherry blossoms. Even though I tend to see the beauty in concrete and skyscrapers, the cherry blossoms really were breathtaking.

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Cute stuffed animals or organs?

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The only one who understood this

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Escaping the fortress that my mind has been for the past week was just what I needed. The weather is improving and I think spring is finally here to stay. Having Washington D.C. so close made a much needed getaway possible and exploring off campus is never a bad idea when you have good people to do it with.

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A lot has happened in these past few weeks. I thought that first semester would have all the twists and turns, and things would settle down in the spring. I couldn’t have been more wrong, but I think I’m a stronger person because of it. I’ve met people who have changed me and I hope I’ve done the same, but there’s no use wondering about the past or guessing what the future will hold. The cherry blossoms don’t last forever, and neither will this year. Pretty soon, the flowers will have fallen off the trees and a month from today, I’ll be on my way home.

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