Monday, June 29, 2009

How old will you be in 2050?

So I am finally posting here again after what has been a rather emotional two weeks immersed in the world that is climate politics. Before I jump on my dark-green soapbox, I would like to reflect what an incredible experience attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn, Germany was. Thanks to my connection with SustainUs, I was able to attend the conference with a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone agenda (research and youth action). SustainUs is a member of the youth delegation so after an email stating I was coming to Bonn, I was invited to join SustainUs and the other youth delegates as they organized all of their efforts to get the delegates attention that solving the climate crisis is MANDATORY to our future and the survival of our species (not to be too cliché or anything). These young people are some of the coolest, dedicated, organized, on-top-of their-stuff people I have ever met and having the opportunity to interact and chill with them at the Conference and the youth hostel was inspiring. I got to meet two other guys who were also researching US climate change policy who were awesome to talk to and share some ideas.

Last year in Poznan, Poland the Youth movement closed the UN conference with huge banners declaring “Survival is NOT Negotiable”, and after watching a video of this action along with the hundreds of youth chanting, my body was covered with goose-bumps and I became teary eyed. This time the youth delegates participated in several actions, my favorite involving camels rented from the Zoo displaying signs saying “We spit on Weak Targets”. The camels (and sand that also made an appearance) represent the world’s deserts and how they are going to become much worse. There were speeches made from leaders of Africa and India detailing the increased heat and loss of water which made me recall the devastating genocide that is going down in Darfur over water. The worsening deserts action hit a personal note for me since I now attend Arizona State University. Even if I only lived their for eight months thus far, I am fully aware of the water issues Arizona faces and how its getting much hotter thanks not only to climate change but also to the heat island effect. I love checking the weather and despite the weather being in the 50’s in Switzerland, I realize it is so much better than 110 degrees that Phoenix experiences almost everyday. Arizonians tell me that 110 degrees isn’t that hot and that I should be around when it hits 120. Thanks but no thanks. So the camels hit home I guess and I started thinking how cool it would be if camels replaced cars in Phoenix. According to a friend, there are some wild camels running around in Arizona somewhere. Apparently they were used in the civil war and afterwards escaped or were set free or something (more investigation is needed).

This conference the youth sold blue t-shirts with “How old will you be in 2050?” on the front with “Solve the climate crisis for your children” on the back. The t-shirts were sold to raise funds to support the global south (developing countries) youth so they can have an opportunity of attending Copenhagen in December. This cause is really important since the global south represent the poorest countries and ultimately the countries which will be most affected by climate change.

The “science” tells us that in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, countries need to commit to a 40% decrease in our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from 1990 levels by 2020. The current bill going through Congress which I am basing my ThinkSwiss research on only reduces emissions from 1990 by 4%. The US tries to sound more impressive by saying 17% by 2005, but they do not have the global community fooled. At the conference, my heart was breaking as one of the South American countries (Bolivia I think) brought a man to represent the indigenous people and pleaded with the gathered assembly to stop the emitting so much GHG and to help stop deforestation. Afterwards the entire conference stood and applauded and at the end of the session the youth delegation performed a rap.

So what did the US delegation say? Well they can’t say that the US will simply reduce more because that is a decision by Congress and if the US delegation went back home with a drastic promise to lower emissions Congress would take all deals off the table and we would be in the same situation as Kyoto. In order to participate in the post Kyoto agreement (which will be drafted in Copenhagen at the end of the year) the US needs to have climate change legislation already in Congress so the US delegation can tell the world what they are committing to. Without a bill in Congress, China and India will not set a goal because they feel it is not worth it if the US will just continue to pollute. At the same time, the US feels the same way about China and India with many republicans saying they want to wait to see what China and India does. The whole thing makes your head and heart hurt.

Last week the executive branch of the US released a report detailing the impacts of climate change in the US. The report stated that there would be more deaths among the elderly due to more summer days over 100 degrees in the next hundred years. Even though I am already highly emotionally involved in the subject of climate change, this statement made me think about the T-shirts because in 2050, I will be 62. It all makes me wonder if I will be well enough to survive such heat. I wonder how much the oceans will rise, how warmer the winters will be, and how much different my grandchildren’s America will be from my own. I also look at Switzerland and wonder how long the glaciers will last and how much snow will remain in the winter. It all reminds me how important the bill in Congress is, which is still not strong enough to make a huge difference. I am usually a glass-is-half-full kind of person but I am afraid that climate change is evaporating a lot of that optimism.


Savasana -- my favorite yoga pose. On my back, feet open, palms open, heart open. My breath is slow and I can feel the warm Suisse breeze from the window -- I'm embracing the moment. It's only 8 p.m., yet the sun is not entirely low in the sky and I'm grateful that I'll get to enjoy the daylight until 10 p.m. I've been enjoying the chance, now that I'm free from school and have a relatively regular work schedule, to practice yoga and go on jogs along the Rhone and through the parks in Geneva. I'm remarking the differences between here and Brighton, England, where I spent late nights drinking cider outdoors in delightfully old pubs, or Baltimore, Maryland, where nights would be spent hosting dinner parties and drinking wine in the garden. I'm incredibly thankful for the chance to experience these different ways of life.

There's so much time for exercise and quiet reflection as, after 7 p.m., the stores and restaurants close and the streets begin to empty. It may be inconvenient for those unsuspecting newcomers (luckily I was warned in advance!), but it's in keeping with the philosophy of allowing for a nice life for all citizens. Minimum wage here is high enough to provide a comfortable lifestyle, despite the high cost of living...although I'm still not sure why a bag of groceries (40 francs, enough to last a few days...and you do need to bring your own reusable bags as expendable ones are bad for the environment) cost more than twice that of my phone (15 francs, and surely a luxury in comparison to food!). Perhaps cell phones really are a necessity these days.

My trip here from California was relatively uneventful. I enjoyed reading papers from the lab of which I am now a part on the way to Amsterdam and a nice nap on the plane to Geneva...until I felt something extremely hot on my leg and heard a yelp from beside me. The woman next to me had spilled coffee on herself and me and I was extremely sympathetic as I had done the same (my roommate can attest to it!) and burned my leg a few months earlier. She was a professor at the University of Geneva (where I was headed!) but spoke only Japanese, French, and a little English. Unfortunately, my knowledge of Japanese was nonexistent and my French consisted of "bonjour" and "merci" at this point, but somehow we managed to communicate and she gave me a tour from the air as we approached the city. I experienced the extreme generosity and openness of the people of Geneva (the majority of which are immigrants or visitors), as she quickly ushered me to meet her husband, who was picking her up, and insisted that she take me to my dorm. She left me with a map, an invitation to dinner, and a hug...what an incredible opening to my visit to Geneva!

I am extremely lucky to have found a place to stay in Geneva, let alone a place that is clean and only costs $555 a month. There is apparently a 0.4% vacancy rate in the city and
it is extremely hard to find housing (as I realized when trying to acquire a room from the US, all the while harboring nightmares about spending nights on a park bench). The all-girls dorm that I am staying at, the Foyer l'Accueil, is run by extremely friendly nuns who are eager to speak in French (luckily, I am picking up key phrases). Everything (from directions at the train station to food labels) is written in three of the four official Swiss languages: French, Italian, and German, and sometimes (as on the currency), Romansh, an old language, similar to Latin, that was spoken by Roman occupiers long ago. It is rare to find someone who doesn't speak at least 3 languages (my PI speaks 4!) and I am constantly amazed by the diversity of the city that puts knowledge of all of these languages into practice (in these two short weeks I have met a representative from all of the inhabitable continents...although meeting someone from Antarctica would now hardly take me by surprise!).

Work has taken up the majority of my time during the week and I am enjoying it immensely! Everyone in the lab has been extremely supportive -- even holding meetings in English, as my French is extremely limited
but ever expanding, as I strive to learn to use a French version of Excel (although I have yet to find a use for "trier, masquer, afficher" in everyday conversation!). I feel like I am learning a lot from my PI and mentors and, with any luck, will be able to make some progress on this clinical DTI project before my time here is up!

Last weekend I was able to enjoy a walk along Lake Leman -- only a 20 minute
walk which took me through the main shops along the river. The view of the clear, bluish-green water juxtaposed against the surrounding mountains was stunning and I kept being jarred into the realization that I was finally and actually in Switzerland. I experienced European gelato (magnifique!) and spent too long enjoying the swans and a few ugly ducklings riding the wake on the water. I was also lucky enough to arrive in time for fete de la musique, an outdoor festival that went on all weekend and showcased hundreds of bands and music of every type. An unforgettable experience, to be sure!

These two weeks have absolutley flown by, as time seems to do when a routine becomes set, and I feel that I am settling in to Genevan life very well. I am very much growing accustomed to shopping before 7 and taking my espresso with cream and my beer with lemonade. And most importantly, I'm taking the advice of Zachary -- a wise man I met while on a hike up the Saleve -- and staying open to new places, new friends, and new experiences.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Paris and Bern

My travels and research continue here in Switzerland. Since I last posted, I have spent a wonderful week in Paris and a day in Bern. So without further ado, let's head to Paris!

Paris is quite an amazing city, and is very helpful in terms of understanding French Switzerland. Switzerland is such a diverse place that the particular French culture can be at times difficult to pull out, but in France it's impossible to miss. The life of busy Paris and its endless metro system stands in stark contrast to the relaxed atmosphere of its many cafes and patisseries on every street corner. People just hang out in parks, enjoy the sun, take coffee after every meal, and often stop for crepes while on the road. The bread is fantastic, they don't even bother serving it with butter as that would ruin the experience. The the many pastries in the patisseries are enough to send you to the moon and back, and are perfect for breakfast on the go, as that is certainly required to see most of Paris in a week!

First of all, if you are in Europe, the thing to do is take the TGV for the convenience and the experience. It's a high speed train that goes between many of the major cities, going around 279.4 km/h! The trip from Lausanne is only 4 hours and is a fantastic display of scenery; especially memorable is going through a mountain to get over the border. Once you arrive in Paris, the first thing to do is take a cruise along the river Seine, from which you can see most of the major sights and get a chance to enjoy and plan your trip!

The first picture is of course of the famous Eiffel Tower, built as a temporary attraction for the World's Fair and just never taken down. I went up at night, where you can get a first-hand glimpse at why Paris is called "the city of lights". The second picture is of the Tuilleries, a garden built right in front of the Louvre, from which you can see all the way down the shopping haven of the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe (3rd picture). The Louvre was a palace inhabited by French kings since the 12th century. If you can find it, there's still a part of this famous museum that remains from those early days.

Even though the Louvre (4th picture) is large and grand, spanning many blocks and a couple metro stops, the French monarchy turned an old hunting palace into their main residence at Versailles. The palace also has two other large houses on the grounds that they would retreat to. Napoleon lived in one of those because he balked at the expense of repairing the main palace after the French Revolution. Versailles also has some beautiful gardens (5th picture) and a canal; in fact, from the palace to the end of the canal is a 45 minute walk! A part of the gardens is public, and it's definitely a spot for locals to come and let the kids play in the park.

The cathedrals and basilicas of Paris are also quite a sight! The grand 12th century Notre Dame (6th picture) towers over the Ile de la Cite, and is the setting for the novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame, which sparked a desire to return the beautiful church to its original glory. Then there is the Basilica of Sacre Coeur, positioned on the top of a hill called Montmartre. It is a quiet place where prayer for the world never ceases, making it a much more serene atmosphere than the bustling Notre Dame with all its visitors. Finally, the Basilica of Saint Denis is the burial grounds for 3 saints and most of the French Kings from the 12th century forward. It's a great way to wrap up a trip and recall the history you have learned over your time in Paris.

And there's so much more, too. Les Invalides has an army museum and Napoleons' tomb. The Luxembourg Gardens were a gift to a queen, Catherine of Medici, and are just a beautiful place to spend time. And it doesn't end there, but I think you get the picture. In Paris, I learned to just enjoy. It's not awkward here to spend time at a cafe by yourself, just reading, soaking in the atmosphere, with a coffee or a meal. I've taken that back to Lausanne with me, and I went out to dinner and ordered something I didn't even understand. It was a delicious meal, and so relaxing to just sit and enjoy that part of the city.

So then comes my discussion of Bern, the diverse and beautiful capital of Switzerland. It is a short 1 hour ride from Lausanne, but it feels like a world away as the culture and language change over that short ride (German is the language in Bern). Bern is one of the few city-states of Switzerland, as it and Geneva are both cities and cantons (it would be like New York or Boston being a state). Old town Bern is basically 3 streets, so it's very easy to walk everywhere. Fountains are every block or two along the main road, which is open only to pedestrians and the trams.

The major sight to see is the Zytglogge, an old 12th century clocktower that once served as the center of city life. But also in the center of it all is the Einsteinhaus, Einsten's apartment from 1903-1905 and the place where he developed his theory of relativity. An old cathedral, the Munster, stands on one of the streets overlooking the Aare River. The river cuts right through the city, dividing old from new areas, and is just so blue! The tower of the Munster is a great view of the city (all cathedral towers here in Europe seem to be the best way to get a panoramic) and is the highest in all of Switzerland at 100m tall. The city is much more touristy and prone to speaking English than Lausanne, but given its significance I shouldn't be surprised.

One of the neatest parts of this street is the setup of the buildings, which are the most efficient use of space I've ever seen. All shops are on the first floor (and if big enough, sometimes the 2nd or 3rd floors too) and have a cellar, with the double doors opening out from the ground (like in that scene from the Wizard of Oz). These cellars are either for storage or are separately owned as bars, shops, or cafes. Above all this are many apartments, like the Einsteinhaus, that are amazingly still inhabited (I think the Einsteinhaus is the only one that isn't). Across the river from all this is the Barengraben, a pit housing bears, the symbol of the city of Bern. A legend regarding the founder of the city and a bear have inspired this choice, possibly along with the name of the city (Bern may come from the High German word for bear). I finally also got to try Rosti, a Swiss specialty that's basically fried potatoes (kind of like hash browns) topped with whatever you want - egg, cheese, ham, onion, etc. I'm a fan, it's filling but perfect for all the walking you do!

The other great view of the city comes from the Rosengarten, situated on the top of a hill across from the old city. It is an incredibly well-maintained garden with roses of numerous varieties. This really is the jewel of the city, and a must-do for anyone who goes there, even though it is quite a trek up there. It can't be captured on camera, and it's much, much better than my picture would suggest. If you go, look for the Pink Panther and Scentimental roses, they're quite a sight!

That's all for now, but stay posted for my upcoming voyage to Milan, Italy!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Thank you and Good-bye

Dear ThinkSwiss Participants,

Thank you again for all the interesting posts and nice pictures. The articles reveal that you are having a great time doing interesting and fulfilling research in Switzerland, but you also have enough time to travel and discover the beauty of Switzerland!

Good-bye and Handing Over the Reins
My internship in the Office of Science, Technology and Higher Education ends on June 30. Ursina Roder, who will take over from me, will be glad to answer any of your questions, starting on July 1. However, you have a chance to stay in touch with me: The world is small, Facebook is huge and I will stay at the Embassy of Switzerland until the end of September 2009. It would be great to hear from you!

I wish you all the best for the rest of your time in Switzerland. Enjoy and have lots of fun!

Warm regards,

Office of Science, Technology and Higher Education
Embassy of Switzerland in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Basel and surroundings

So this is a bit over due as I have already been in Switzerland for 3 weeks. However, I apparently have not yet managed to integrate into the Swiss way of life as I find myself wandering to supermarkets to get food for dinner 10 minutes after closing time. I feel like I am still back in college, working late enough to miss dinner.
But on a much happier note, the work here is exciting and inspiring. Besides struggling through learning a new programming language, I am quite enjoying my time here. The most of my first couple weeks has been working on background reading and getting an understanding of the models we will be working with the next couple weeks. I will be attempting to understand how children acquire language and if there is a difference in the way slow learners acquire language as opposed to normal or fast learners.
My boss is an American and all my work is in English so I am not getting to use my German major quite as much as I hoped (not that Swiss German is anything like the German I know...) but I am definitely integrating myself with the RAs (HiVis) in the lab. Which has been great. Already have invitations for dinner and visits across the whole of Switzerland, if I could only afford it. I am also starting to participate in a reading group. The papers are in English mostly but I am hoping to discuss the material in German.
My weekends have been thus far filled with travel guests. The first weekend I visited my friend in Freiburg and the last two weekends he has visited me. We tried to go hiking in the Swiss Alps but the rain changed our plans. It ended up being a great change. We went to this smaller town outside of Basel, where I am currently located, by about a 10 minute train ride. We ended up hiking up to the top of this hill, about a 2 mile hike. It gave us a great view of Basel and the surrounding area. On the way down we stopped at the most beautiful castle ruins I have ever seen. It was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately all our picture are on his camera, I will work at getting a copy so I can post them.
Just today I found out someone in my lab is just as into mountaineering as I am, maybe more so, and he promised to take me along if the opportunity presented itself.
There is so much to look forward to!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Into the 4th week now:

In the first week, I counted how many weeks to go before I return but now as I have entered my 4th week of stay here in Lausanne I have started counting how many weeks of “mountains, lakes, cheese ,chocolates and EPFL” I can still cherish before I leave. The past three weeks and the weekends have been a perfect combination of work and leisure that I always longed for. The best thing about this place is that I can visit places over a day without having to plan too much – just get a train ticket (now cheaper with my “demi tariff”) , reach the desired destination, get a map from the information “I” centre and go around. That’s what I have been doing along with my flatmate, nasreen and a fellow thinkswiss recipient, Erin over the weekends. Now, I have already seen Geneva, Zurich, Montreux along with a mountain ride up the roche de Naye. Montreux and Roche de naye were simply magnificent and have been described in details by Erin, so I leave out that part. Both Geneva and zurich being the 2 big cities, have similarities in that both are set along lake geneva and lake zurich respectively. However they have a lot of differences too, the major ones being the different languages and cultures. I was fortunate enough to get to see the inside of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. The old town in Geneva is a place that one should definitely visit and I have to go back there before I leave for my swiss shopping . I visited Zurich mainly to meet up with an old friend of mine and we went to the Rhine Falls which according to google is the largest waterfall in Europe. A boat-ride allowed me to get a very close view of the falls which was quite enjoyable except for the overcast sky and frequent drizzling. I also went up a cathedral in the old town of Zurich to get a 360 degrees view of the city which was awe-inspiring. I also got a chance to taste the swiss McDonalds sandwich and chicken wings which were far better in taste than the American counterpart . To give you a flavor of the diverse places that I went to, I am attaching a few pictures that I took. Next week hopefully I will be seeing the swiss capital city.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

La Dôle

I just realized another two weeks have past since I last posted. It's crazy how quickly time flies by.
Last weekend, a church friend and I went for small hike to "La Dôle" in the Swiss Jura mountain chain. La Dôle has an altitude of 1,677 m (5500 feet) and from up there you can degust a gorgeous view of the lac plateau extending from Geneva on the far right side to Lausanne on the left side and on a cloudless day you can also see the Alps mountain chain.
The weather is pretty unpredictable on the mountain. Just when we started to hike the sky was spotless and just as we reached the top rain started pouring. At the top, I realized I did not wear hiking shoes. Great, I can either stay and wait until the grass dries or basically slide down on my butt! Luckily, it was not the Alps!

Since I've mentioning unpredictability, I should mention I've been victimized by the store opening hours in Geneva, supposedly my hometown (I think I've gotten too used to CVS and 7-Elevens). Yesterday, for once I finished work before 7 pm so I decided to go grab a bite in Geneva with a friend. To our surprise, all the streets were empty and supermarkets and stores closed. I forgot that Swiss stores close at 7 pm during weekdays except for Thursday when some can open until 9 pm. Sunday shopping are obviously VERBOTEN!

Before I go off, I've a quick question. Is anyone also interested in going to taking a tour of CERN and possibly going 100 m underground to seeing the particle accelerators?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Settling into Switzerland

Hello ThinkSwiss Community,

I have now been in Switzerland for almost two weeks and absolutely love it here. In this post I am going to talk about my adventures to date involving housing. Where to begin though....

A driving factor for my time here has been housing. My apartment lease did not begin until the middle of June and I arrived at the beginning of June. Through a mutual acquaintance I had arranged housing during this void. Then, one day before my flight my housing plans fell through! After many phone calls and much scrambling around, it appeared I was going to be sleeping underneath the bridges of Lausanne or pay 200 Sfr for a hotel. About 3 hours before I left for my flight I recalled reading an article on "Couchsurfing." It is a group of individuals who make their couches available to travelers and often show them around the city so that visitors get a more authentic feel for the city than by doing the typical hotel and tourist activities.

I was skeptical of this arrangement: should I be concerned about what kind of couch I'll be sleeping on? Are these people going to end up being weirdos? Well, I didn't have any other options so I did it!

Before my flight left I had already had someone agree to host me for the first few days! It was a group of students at EPFL in housing near the lake.

Upon arriving in Switzerland I headed over to their flat. They were four guys and a girl, a mix of masters and bachelor students, all studying computer science. They turned out to be incredible poeple and it was the best thing for me to have done. They made a traditional Swiss meal, Rosti, the first night and we sat around and chatted. It was wonderful to learn so much about Switzerland first-hand and also try to learn a bit of French, too. The next night we went for a jog by Lake Geneva... it was perfect.

Then I switched couches. The new group to host me lived near the city center, near Flon. They were three PhD students at EPFL in physics and bio-engineering. Again, these were fabulous individuals. We ate good food, talked, watched Italy beat the U.S. in soccer (two of them are from Italy so they were happy). Also, we went out a few times to pubs and a music festival.

So now I am done with Couchsurfing and have my own apartment, but I am very glad I had this experience. I have only had great experiences with the people I have met here. In the upcoming weekends I hope to do more jogging and go hiking with my new couchsurfing friends.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Of Labs and Mountains

Hello again from Lausanne! This past week should prove to be more typical now that I am finally settled in here (I think). It's really quite incredible to leave work and immediately be greeted by the alps and Lac Léman, and I'm already starting to dread my eventual departure. Fortunately, I will not have to do that for a while! The pictures this week are, except one, of my weekend trip to Rochers-de-Naye and Montreux, which I'll talk about later in this blog.

As I said in my last blog, I was invited out to a little Swiss village to visit my mentor from the lab. It's only about 20 minutes by bus, but it's an entirely different world. It's a place where you can buy milk from the guy across the street, the presence of whose children in the yard tells you whether or not he's still open for the day; a place for growing your own vegetables in the yard, mushrooms in your cellar, and parsley in your window; and finally, a place to just get away from it all for a day. Probably most I learned about Swiss milk and its uniqueness. It all derives from the richness of the alpine plants which flavor the milk. I was told that you can "taste the difference" in the fresh milk when cows are let out from the barn after a long winter. Unfortunately, there are no pictures, as it was truly a kind of rainy afternoon. There's always the imagination, though!

Doing laundry is very different here. Many people in apartment complexes have "laundry day", where it is their day (or half day) to do laundry. Fortunately where I am it's only a sign-up sheet, but still, this is unusual for me.

Let me first say that it is incredibly challenging to pick out appropriate laundry detergent and softener when all your choices have labels in 3 languages, only one of which you are somewhat capable of understanding. I got through the buying stage, just to be briefly confused by this washing machine. The washing machine speaks in 4 languages, which you can switch between using a singular button. The construction of this machine, I am told, is the same as my Grandmother's very first...take a look at the picture of the closing tub on this top-loader for a trip down memory lane!

The work in the lab is interesting, and I am already noting so many differences between US and Swiss lab work. For instance, starting lab work in the US means going through endless safety classes and lab tours, regardless of your previous experience. In Switzerland, a general understanding of lab safety is passed along by those who supervise you, and there are no forms or "red tape items" to complete. However, working with lab animals, like mice, is much more time consuming in Switzerland. In the US, it is simply one more of the overviews you must listen to before starting work. Here, it is a week long set of classes with both theory and practical elements. The quality of work in both places seems totally unaffected by the difference, though! I am also getting used to changing the way I write the date on things, day first, then month, not the other way around!

While sitting at lunch one day, I was discussing with other Tschoppies (people in my lab, given our PI, Professor Tschopp) ideas for places to visit while I am here. One place that came up was Rochers-de-Naye, a beautiful mountaintop less than 2 hours by train from Lausanne. Up there, I was told, there was a "marmot reserve". After figuring out that US marmots are termed "groundhogs", I immediately followed with "Oh, in the US they are considered pests and we generally try to shoot them." Response from a Swiss-French: "Why do you Americans always want to shoot things?" Answers, anyone?

Another fantastic lab tradition is the annual soccer (football) tournament. All the biology related labs from UNIL and the CHUV (the area hospital) gathered at a field by the lake to play football together. For the most part, my lab was not that serious about this - we just wanted to have fun. Unfortunately, some other teams were not of a similar persuasion, as they came in cleats and jerseys. The first team we played was particularly serious, and when I asked why, I was told "Well, they're Italian". Guess that little bit of cultural knowledge has been lost on us Americans. But, it was a great opportunity to talk to others from all over the world about football in their country. So far, the tally of people calling it "soccer" are the US, Australia, and Japan. The Australians have their own special flavor of football, which is more similar to rugby from what I can tell. The Japanese, however use "football" to refer to American football. I thought all other countries called soccer "football", but I am lucky enough to be in a lab with people from 2 countries who don't!

For my little travel trip of the weekend, Ishita (also a ThinkSwiss Scholarship recipient, you can read her blog!), her flatmate Nasreen (from Pakistan), and I teamed up to go to Rochers-de-Naye and Montreux. I really wanted to see these famous marmots, and the statue of Freddy Mercury of Queen in Montreux. The trip up the mountain was absolutely stunning. You ride up in this little train with cogwheels in between the two typical tracks for the steep climb. Very quickly the view of Lac Léman appears in unusual splendor as it ducks in and out of the trees. After a 2km climb, ears popping through the last bit, we finally arrived at the top. The view was just outstanding. We all took so many pictures, but agreed that none of them really did justice to this place. The setup is a series of ridges you climb around, with an alpine garden on one side and a marmot reserve on the other.

We first climbed across the ridge to the alpine garden, set into the side of the ridge. All these delicate little flowers had signs beside them giving the name (often in many languages). I was told to watch for the Edelweiss, of Austrian and Sound of Music fame. I looked all over for it and finally found it - although a rather different sight than I thought! Little flowers were all over the place, though, not just in the garden. We took pictures among them, and the most prevalent was this little white flower, the picture of which I have posted here.

The marmots are divided into 7 parks (or enclosures) by area of origin. They even have a little tunnel you can go through to get a sight of them underground, although I didn't see any that way. They're not too active or too outgoing, these marmots, but it was a very novel thing to see! After walking past the marmots, you get to walk along to the very last ridge. It seems to be a European tradition to mark the top of mountains (especially the highest point) and maps of the surrounding region, so you know what you're looking at from each direction. Overall, it is hard to describe, the pictures are your best guide.

Even though we never really wanted to come down from the mountain, we did, and went to Montreux. It is a very beautiful city just about 14 mi east of Lausanne, with an incredibly well-manicured lakefront dotted with palm trees, flowers, and docks. The "jewel of the Swiss riviera" is also home to the Freddy Mercury statue. He recorded his last album here, and so this is the home of his now immortalized figure. It seems to be a tourist magnet, as people pop out of the crowd to take their picture with Freddy. It's a 45 minute walk from Freddy to the Chateau de Chillon, one of the best-preserved 14th century castles in all of Europe. This, again, is hard to describe in words, so the pictures will be your guide here. The castle sits right on the water, and so getting to the top of the highest tower is rewarded by an astounding view. Another bit of trivia - loopholes are little round windows through which archers can shoot. One of the pictures is of this strucutre. Gives a little more clarity to the meaning of the term, now doesn't it?

Another note, if you ever intend to come here (which by now you should), it is very worthwhile to look into rail passes before your arrival. I paid 150 CHF for a railpass, which gives me half off every Swiss rail fare for a year. They also have rail passes for shorter periods of time, but given the reliability and flexibility of the trains here, it's definitely worth the money. So on that note, au revoir! I will post again after this next week, when I take a little break from lab work for a trip to Paris.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Zurich Arrival

I landed in Zurich a couple of weeks ago after taking a direct flight from JFK that was about 8 hours. Overall the flight wasn't too bad - food and drinks on international flights are free, apparently, which was a pleasant surprise. On the morning of Saturday, May 30th I arrived at my room at the Oase, a student house with close to ideal location as far as I can tell. I am but a 2 minute walk to the office at the University of Zurich where I will be working for the summer, and less than a 10 minute walk to the "old town" here in Zurich where there are many cafes, shops, etc. I was so lucky to have the secretary at the Swiss Banking Institute at the University arrange all the necessary accommodations for the summer, as I've heard finding an apartment here can be a pain.

A few days after arriving, I met with the Phd finance student who I will be working a lot with over the course of the summer. The aim of the project I'll be assisting with is to examine how an individual employed by high-profile investment bank can engage in behavior that is detrimental to the bank's reputation, yet increases the individual's payoff. This issue is clearly very relevant today, and I look forward to contributing to the project. After getting some logistics squared away last week, I was able so start working this week by pulling data on past litigation against investment banks.

Other than that, I've been able to check out some of the attractions in the city. The picture to the left was taken from the top of the Grossmunster, one of the cathedrals in the city. For the most part, everything is within walking distance from me, although taking the tram is quite convenient as well. Overall the weather has been great, basically 65 and sunny every day. I was also able to meet up with Katie Peige, who is studying at the University of Zurich as well. Finally, I got to check out some of the clubs one night. They were all very posh and laid back, as I've found the city and it's people as a whole are all pretty easy going. Everyone here also speaks pretty good English, which was a relief since I don't know any German at all. Another thing I quickly realized is that nothing in this city is cheap whatsoever. A Big Mac meal here was something like 13 chf. I've been doing my best to buy groceries to avoid eating out too much. I hope to do some traveling on the weekends in the next couple of weeks and really start to dig in to the work I'll be doing for the summer.


Tuesday, June 9, 2009

1st week at EPFL

I've arrived in Switzerland for less than a week and boy it feels good to be back among my mountains and cows! After engorging myself one year of college take-away fast food, I have regained my degustation sense of fine délicatesse Vaudois and Jurassien: Wine, Cheese and Saucisson! I still considering myself a mountain boy!

VOILÀ! This is where I will be staying all summer! Indeed, EPFL (Lausanne Federal Institute of Technology) can boast its idyllic location. It is situated right on the shore of Lake Léman and lies in the foothills of the Alps mountain chain.

The Swartz and Hubbell bioengineering laboratory in which I work is composed of more than 60 scientists and literally takes up an entire building floor! I am amazed at how my laboratory integrates people with various expertise into research. My post-doc mentor, Susan, is a chemical engineer by training. Physiologists, Medical physicists, Biomedical engineers, Biochemists, Histologists are also among the team. We even have a dentist researcher! It is truly an amalgamation of interdisciplinary and multicutural scientists.
This first week, I have been familiarizing with the kind of research my lab undertakes by reading tons of papers and reviews on immunity and lymphatic systems, nano-particles… My first experiment will be to determine the kinetics of serum opsonin uptake by nano-particles. It's really exciting because once we know the kinetics we can determine the duration of exposure of the nano-particles in serum for various purposes.

The weather around the Lake Geneva is comfortable yearlong. During the summer, you don't sweat like crazy when standing outside for 5 minutes and the temperature will rarely exceed 100˚F, so people here often do not understand how air conditioning is paramount in the US.
The winter is mild and is coldest in January and February. Almost everyone here loves skiing, so snow is not a big issue.

As many have pointed out, Swiss possess one of the best railroad network in the World; such is the advantage of a relatively small country. In fact, in the winter, a lot of people hop on train to go ski in the Alps and return on the same day. The trains are very convenient, comfortable, efficient and PUNCTUAL!
Latecomers, you better adhere to being on time!

Here are a few tips if you are considering traveling around Swiss a lot:
- Look out for supersave tickets on CFF (you can save up to 60%)
- I strongly urge you to buy a Half-price season ticket "Demi-tarif abonnement," you will save a lot with that.
- If you can afford it and depending your amount of traveling you can a Monthly General Pass "Carte Mensuelle." With this pass you can travel anywhere using any type of transportation in Switzerland freely.

CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) is another hub for scientists from all over the world to share and gather ideas and advance science. It is one of the must-visits while you're in Geneva.
They offer free tour visits to the particle detectors 100 meters underground.
Geneva houses so many international organizations that you'd find strange to find someone who does not speak at least 2 languages.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

My 1st weekend in Lausanne:

I arrived here on june02 and since then its been an enriching experience for me. An Indian by heart, lived in Chicago for almost 3 years and now in Europe – its quite an experience switching from one culture to the other, the culture here however being closer to my roots. My lab at EPFL is awesome and proved to be above my expectations. I start to work in the real sense from Monday though. The first week was a bit tough for me as I do not speak any French, however it was fun making people at the stores understand what I wanted and getting directions from people. The weekend trips to downtown Lausanne , the Olympic Museum and the lake front were simply refreshing and enjoyable. In fact I met Erin and we have plans of going to the beach today. I tasted the pizza here which was a pleasant treat to my taste buds that were almost numbed by the American pizza (a popular free food). The metro service is excellent which connects almost every part of the city. I am posting some of the pictures that I clicked over the weekend.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Bonjour de Lausanne!

This blog comes to you from beautiful Lausanne in the Canton of Vaud. Switzerland has completely surprised and enthralled me. It is a beautiful place, full of very interesting and diverse people. The views are just picture-perfect...I feel like I'm living in a postcard! This picture to the left is the view from my bedroom window!

I arrived this past Monday at a groggy 8AM in Geneva. I was able to get on a train right from the airport to Lausanne, a 45 minute trip around Lac Léman (Lake Geneva). The trains are always on time here, you can set your watch by them (in fact, most of us do). The culture has come as a bit of a shock to me, as the people are much quieter here than in the US. The train was so quiet I felt that one could hear a pin drop, literally. The train itself was very clean and the people very nice.

Lausanne is on the north side of the Lac Léman and is home to two major universities: the Université de Lausanne (UNIL) and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). As such, it is a very well-educated and sophisticated place, full of culture and activity. Both schools are actually adjacent to each other on the west side of the city. I work with the Tschopp Lab of UNIL's Department of Biochemistry. It is not, however, close to the main UNIL campus. Rather, it is farther north in a village called Epalinges. Fortunately, all of Lausanne is effectively networked by the metro (subway). Lausanne is the smallest city to have a functional metro. True to Swiss form about being on time, in the newest metro (the one I take to work, the M2), there are signs above the waiting area telling riders how long the wait is until the next train. You never wait more than 6 minutes. The town is also home to the Olympic Committee, and has an Olympic Museum, a park with many statues of olympic events. A picture of the park entrance is above.

All of Lausanne is built into a hill, so much of the city has a view of the lake. One of the great things about the two universities is that they share housing all over the city. I live in student housing La Maison de Falaises, which means "the cliffs". It's a small room, but it has a great view and is close to work (5 metro stops). I live by the city's hospital (CHUV), and have an amazing view of the city. A 15 minute walk gets me directly into downtown, termed Le Centre or Le Flon. Especially neat about the downtown is that it is about 2 stories below the streets above. It is not underground, but rather just set into the land and open to the sunshine. Most of the shops are on pedestrian cobblestone paths that cars cannot drive on. The next two pics are of Le Flon - the first gives perspective and the second a feeling for the shops and main area.

The way of life is so different, here, too, and much more French in culture. For example, every meal is "celebrated" here. There is not a lot of fast food, very few places will sell food you can just eat on the run. The food is very bread, cheese, and fruit-centered. There is a LOT of coffee and expresso around. After lunch together at the cafeteria, much of my lab came back and chatted over an expresso before going back to work; it's part of the enjoyment of life, food, and people. But people are very unassuming and quiet here, they generally do not strike up conversation with people they don't know. They also don't smile to be polite, here that would make you look, as a German friend once put it, "stupid".

I am so fortunate to be among a very international group of people. Very few people cannot speak some English, although I have very quickly become known as "the American who speaks good English". I am the only American in the lab, and the only one I have met here so far. But we have a couple of Germans, some Italian Swiss, some German Swiss, some French Swiss, 3 Australians, an Indian, two Japanese, one Chinese, and some French. People switch seamlessly between languages, depending on who they're around. It's so very unusual to hear, but awesome all at once.

These last couple of days I went to Les Rasses, a little village in the Jura mountains. Switzerland has two mountain ranges, the Alps and the Jura. The glacially-formed Jura are north of the tectonic Alps, making them smoother and thus less desireable for skiiers. Our lab spent time walking to the top of a mountain, though, which was such a beautiful view. We passed many cows on the way up, and I had many opportunites on the couple hours hike to learn about different European cultures. At the top, you could see the French border, as the Jura run along the Swiss-French border from the Rhône to the Rhine. No big fences like in North America - that hasn't been there for many decades, so I had to keep asking people around me where the border was. This last picture is a view from the hotel, only partway up the mountain!

All in all, it has been a wonderful learning experience so far, and I certainly have not been exhaustive here. I will be going out to the Swiss countryside this weekend to enjoy village life with my mentor from the lab, a German post-doc. But for now, here are some pictures of the journey!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Settled down in Switzerland

Looks like I am the first to post. I have been in Switzerland for two weeks now which is amazing how fast time goes! It feels fantastic to be finally settled down after finishing my finals in Tempe, AZ then leaving for Baltimore two days later, followed by Zürich a few days later.

It was the first time I flew directly from the States to Zürich so I was surprised the trip only took about 7 hours. Going through the airport there is a tram which is like a ride in Disney World, you enter the tram, it starts, and the next thing you know you hear birds chirping, the authentic sound of Swiss cow bells, yodeling, and as you look out the window, Heidi blows you a kiss. It’s pretty awesome when a country can make fun of themselvesJ.

I am staying with the same family I lived with when I was here five years ago. Our village is called Freidorf which is located in Kanton Thurgau which is right on Lake Constance (Bodensee). I get great views of the lake from the train, my bedroom, and from higher places in my village. There are many farms in my village and after walking around you can see cows, llamas, chickens, horses, donkeys (who sound their alarm system when anyone gets near them, any time day or night heehaw!), sheep, cats, dogs, and of course the rabbits that are kept outside in their cages (we have three rabbits). It’s cool living close to these animals and convenient because we get our milk and eggs directly from the farmer. The house is only five minutes from the train station by foot and across the street from the post office and the Volg, which is a little convenient store. My Swiss family consists of Doris and Christian, my Swiss parents, and their son Bernhard who is a year older than me, 22. Not much has changed since I have been gone except the solar panels have been upgraded and some of the rooms have been reinsulated (totally energy efficient!). As for the village, there are many new houses including a row of houses next store which is the home of a day care center in the end init.

Monday through Friday I go to Zürich to do my research. The ride is an hour and a half: ten minutes to St. Gallen where I wait about 15 min. for my next train to Zürich which is an hour train ride. Some people think this is a crazy commute but I love it. Of course my first purchase in Switzerland was my halb-tax and later an abonnement that lets me travel from my village to Zürich for 237 CHF (Swiss Franks) a month, opposed to 31CHF round trip with my halb tax and 62 CHF if I paid full price round trip. The trains are so peaceful as I travel through the Swiss hills, with great views of little villages, larger towns, sheep with their newborn lambs, and the classic Swiss cows. In the morning I either take a cat nap with my cell phone alarm waking me before we get to Zürich or I read or I work on my laptop. On the way back I usually do the same except for the sleeping part. One of my favorite things about taking the train is that you never know who you are going to meet. Doris often asks me who I am going to meet on the train today since I used to have a knack for bumping into people I knew. So far, I have bumped into three people I know just by accident. Boy, were they shocked to see me!

The University is a five minute walk from the train station, well at least the Political Institute is. There I share an office with Sofia who is the only native Swiss student on the floor except the tutors who pop in a few times a week. Sofia is from Schaffhausen and is working on her doctorate research on the topic of poverty eradication. Sofia was quite shocked and impressed to see I spoke High German (Hochdeutsch) and Swiss German (Schweizerdeutsch). To practice we agreed that we would speak in Swiss German and if I don’t understand switch to High German and if all else fails switch to English (which happens when I am explaining things to her about my research, since I haven’t the slightest idea how to say things like “cap and trade”).

My research is going well now but in the beginning I was a bit lost in the language since the new bill is fairly complicated. I remember it took me all last summer to understand all the rules and amendments to RGGI, the cap and trade initiative that ten northeastern states are apart of. I worked for Maryland Department of the Environment on the Climate Change Initiative. Since last year much has changed and now there is a bill in the House which I am now currently researching. My research consists of investigating what groups are lobbying to push for more or less international offsets, which ties into the international carbon market so I am also doing background research on the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is a part of the Kyoto Protocol. On Monday, I get to go to Bonn where the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) in meeting to witness how climate change talks go down, and to hopefully get some insiders information about who is lobbying for more international offsets and who is calling for less. I am excited because I will get to participate as an unofficial US youth delegate with SustainUS, a group that I have been involved with in the past that sends their youth delegation to UN conferences involving sustainability. When I told them I was going to Bonn they invited me to join their delegation as well. Exciting!

I guess that is it for now, I will certainly post again after the Bonn experience! Until then Enjoy the pictures! My House, a calf, Zurich at dusk, and the llamas