Tuesday, August 5, 2008

"Sounds like you're learning a lot about more than just science!"

That's what my rabbi said when I emailed home about what I've been up to in Zurich. Well, it's true. Even though I'm a participant in the Biology Undergraduate Summer School (BUSS) here in Zurich, I'm learning a lot about more than just research.

The 25 BUSS participants come from 14 different countries from around the world. The lab I work in at the University of Zurich is home to an equally impressive collection of internationals including a post-doc from Greece and a PhD candidate from Costa Rica. Being around such an eclectic mix of people every day, it's hard not to discover new things about the world.

Before coming to Zurich, I didn't know how to really work with C. elegans and had pretty bad lab notebook habits, but I also didn't know about the wonderful cheeses produced in the Canton de Vaux, the four regions of Catalonia or the long tradition of Christianity in Armenia either.

One of the most rewarding experiences I've had in Switzerland was a cross-cultural exchange of sorts that I did with other BUSS members. I went to my first mass with three other BUSS students who are Catholic. In exchange I took those students as well as some others to an Erev Shabbat service at the synagogue I've been frequenting in town. We were able to ask each other questions and learn more about a different religion that we were only familiar with on the surface in a non-confrontational atmosphere.

Participating in such an international program as BUSS has been a crash course not only in transposon mutagenesis, PCRs and structural biochemistry but in international history, world politics and foreign affairs as well. And, as with any big group of people, we have had our share of culture clashes and heated debates. But at the end of the day, this is just a valuable lesson in foreign diplomacy.

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