Wednesday, July 22, 2009

KNACKERED in Lausanne

Hi, my name is Hallie Rozansky and I'm a rising junior at Yale University, majoring in chemistry. I'm originally from Rydal, PA, a suburb outside Philadelphia, and this summer, for the first time in my life, I'm living for two months outside the United States. I'm spending my summer in Lausanne, Switzerland, working in the Swartz laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL). As you may have gathered from the title, my past two weeks in Lausanne have left me absolutely knackered. For anyone who doesn't speak British English or doesn't have a good friend who does (and for both of those things, I feel sorry for you -- one of the highlights of the past two weeks has been repeating back, in my best British accent, the wonderful phrases I hear from Delwen, my Belgian friend who has an English "mum"), the definition of knackered is:

knack⋅ered

–adjective British Slang. exhausted; very tired: He is really knackered after work.


I should clarify though. Knackered
may seem like a bad thing, initially, but considering that I'm only knackered because I've spent all my time either: a) working in a fascinating lab, learning how fibroblasts affect tumor cell migration b) hanging out with the 25 other students in my program, who are smart, funny, love science as much as I do, and are giving me a captivating window into other countries and cultures (we comprise, I think, 14 countries among us) c) traveling around Switzerland and d) playing volleyball, soccer (football for the non-Americans), and swimming in the breathtakingly gorgeous lake that's only a fifteen-minute walk from my apartment, I couldn't be happier about it.

So where to begin? I think my only option is to break down this blog (and apologies to everyone reading this, this is about to be a long one) into those four sections.

a) The Swartz Laboratory. My lab's overarching theme is the lymphatic system, a system of vessels, capillaries, & other pathways through the body that is similar to the circulatory system, except it carries lymph, a combination of fluids & proteins that is similar to blood plasma. The lymphatic system is important as a transport system and as a regulator of fluid flow through the body (it prevents fluid accumulation, and therefore swelling, in tissues) but is maybe most familiar these days as the transport system for tumor cells, which can travel through the lymphatic system to the lymph nodes and metastasize. My work is primarily based off the finding that fibroblasts, a type of cell, seem to be able to aid tumor migration, and perhaps in that way aid metastasis.

I'm lucky -- my work is both really interesting and fun, and my experiments are fairly short (about 1 day each) so I can get results quickly and then decide where to go from there. The people in my lab are also really wonderful, and my post-doc is an excellent mentor, and has taught me a ton in just the last two weeks. I'm looking forward to the next 6 weeks here -- whether or not I get any conclusive results (although that would be GREAT), I’ve learned a lot already and look forward to even more, and the experience I’ll gain here will be invaluable in whatever I choose to do next.


b) The other students in my program. There are students from the United States, Turkey, China, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Morocco/Canada, Russia, Ireland, Poland, Hungary, and Romania. And this is just the
students in my program. The students we hang out with from outside the program are also from Taiwan, Algeria, France, and Canada, to name just a few. As I've written home to nearly everyone, it sounds corny, but learning about other people's cultures has been one of the most incredible parts of this program. Not only do I now have some fabulous vacation spots where I can stay for free whenever I decide to travel the globe, but I also am meeting people with backgrounds and perspectives that are vastly, vastly different from mine. I've learned more about Eastern Europe in the last two weeks than I think I have in my whole life, and whether we're talking about the country’s cuisine, poverty issues, the police force, or the night life, I'm constantly amazed by the experiences and the insight of my fellow SRP(Summer Research Program)-ers. The best part is, we really are so so different -- different backgrounds, languages, culinary tastes, sometimes senses of humor -- but we connect so unbelievably well, and we are so similar underneath it all. Sometimes the jokes we make are phrased differently, but the same ideas are still funny to everyone. We all love science and get into conversations about patch clamps or cell cultures that would be incredibly boring and nerdy to any outside observer. And generally, we all share the same curiosity and desire to learn about each other and each other's cultures, to travel, and to explore our new home, and we all love to hang out with each other. Some of the best times I've had so far have been sitting in Planete Bleue, the complex where the majority of the students are staying, throwing Smarties into each others' mouths, playing run-around ping pong, nearly breaking dishes with our insanely bad volleyball skills, and just generally laughing and having a good time.


c) LA SUISSE! I came to Switzerland fully expecting that, as an American living in Europe, I would do a tour of all the big cities. I'd jet off each weekend to Paris, Rome, Barcelona, London, and Prague, sleeping in hostels, hiking on weekends, and taking cheesy pictures in front of monuments – essentially, a scene straight out of any “young American tours Europe” movie. Little did I know that a) the cost of living in Switzerland is way too high for me to have tons of spare change to be tossing around the globe and b) ... even if that wasn’t the case, I wouldn't want to leave the country. Over the past few weekends, my friends and I have begun to start traveling Switzerland and I can safely say it is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. I don't plan on leaving much at all during these two months. So far, we've only traveled to/explored Lausanne, Broc, Gruyeres, Montreux, and Verbier, but we've made a list of about 6 other cities, and plan to travel nearly every weekend. Two weekends ago, we started off by going to the Montreux Jazz Festival (http://www.montreuxjazz.com/), which actually felt like a bit of a misnomer -- some of the biggest acts were Prince, Lily Allen, and Alice Cooper, and we spent most of our time that day/night listening to a Brazilian band. But jazz or not, the festival was incredible. We strolled by the lake, listening to outdoor music, sat in the park and watched the Brazilian band play for hours while we all took a billion photographs, and then moved to the Jazz Club at night, where we heard the same Brazilian band play and this time, danced along, too. We then crawled our way onto an absolutely packed train and made it home in time to catch the pyjama bus, the legendary nighttime bus that runs from 12 a.m. - 4 a.m. every weekend, after the metros have shut down.


The next morning we woke up, and before going to the lake to swim and play volleyball and soccer, two of my
friends and I (Liza and Delwen, for anyone interested) decided to check out a museum in Lausanne. We finally settled on the Art Brut museum (http://www.artbrut.ch/) -- not an easy feat, since there are at least 10 in the surrounding area, all of which seemed great -- and after navigating Lausanne with Liza as our guide (Delwen's and my senses of direction are not to be trusted anywhere), found the museum and spent the next three hours wandering around, awed by what we were seeing. All the art in the Art Brut museum is done by people who were either diagnosed with psychological disorders or, I believe the description says, are "outcasts or loners" or otherwise unusual people. The museum and the art were very different from anything else I’ve seen, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone visiting Lausanne (Family, this is for you).

Basically, each weekend gets better than the last. Last weekend, instead of settling for just two cities, we decided to go for four. On Saturday, we visited the Cailler chocolate factory at Broc (yum), then walked over to the chateau and cheese factory at Gruyeres (yum again), took the train into Montreux for the last night of the jazz festival (good music and good Movenpick ice cream = double yum). Then on Sunday, we went to Verbier to watch one of the stages of the Tour de France. I know I’m raving about everything, but all these places were just so fantastic – so unbelievably beautiful, so much fun, and so different from anything I've seen before. The chocolate factory was cool in and of itself, but the grand finale at the end – a chocolate bar for visitors with bite-sized pieces of all the different kinds, was like something out of Willy Wonka. And I imagined, when I was heading over to watch the Tour de France, that it would be crowded and impossible to see the bikers – when Lance Armstrong rode by, he was about 8 feet away from me! Had I wanted to sabotage the Tour de France, I could have done so. (Instead, I cheered.) I also didn’t imagine the enthusiasm, singing, and free giveaways that were everywhere (we got some interesting hats), or the beautiful views from the side of the trail. All in all, this country is unbelievable.


d) Over the past two weeks, we’ve have taken to calling a certain portion of the lake “our lake.” Too bad for everyone else there. There are volleyball courts, a football/soccer field, beautiful warm water that’s perfect for swimming as long as you steer clear of the (apparently ferocious) swans, windsurfing and kayaking that we plan to take advantage of, and a grilling area that’s about five minutes away and was the site of our barbecue last night. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s the perfect place to go after work, and every time I sit there I’m struck by how beautiful the lake is and how lucky I am to be here this summer. Swimming, playing an intense game of beach volleyball, eating burgers and kebabs, or having a seaweed fight late at night – whatever we’re doing there, it’s peaceful and wonderful and just makes me so glad to be here.

It’s 12:43 my time and I have to wake up in less than seven hours for lab, so it’s probably time to get going … this post is ridiculously long anyway. But there it is – the beginning of my “Suisseventures,” as Liza calls them. Can’t wait to have more : )

Hallie

2 comments:

lizascorner said...

actually I can't take credit for "suisseventure" because it is really a knockoff of "spainventure," a title someone else came up with for a trip I had with friends to spain :-)
-Liza

Arleen said...

Those pictures are so cool, I love them specially the last one because I love the beach and the boats. I will buy a boat next week with my Viagra Online order. Thanks for sharing this pictures.