by Claudia See
My summer experience in Japan was truly one of a kind. As a rising junior at Yale majoring in biomedical engineering, I applied to the Nanoscience Global Summer Program (GSP) Program hoping to get an international experience in science research (thanks to the recommendation of Julie Chang, another Yale student who went on the trip last year!). What I gained was so much more – it was an astounding variety of knowledge from renowned professors, a precious community of classmates from worldwide universities, and a new love for Japanese culture and food.
For one, the lectures amazed all of us students in their range of topics as well as depth of research. From using silkworms as model animals for drug discovery to explaining the fundamentals and applications of spintronics, the great variety of lecture topics made sure each of us sometimes felt in our element and other times totally new to the topic. The professors who gave us the lectures are simply incredible at what they do and were eager to explain their research to us. Visiting their labs brought a day-to-day perspective of their research, and definitely, the seemingly normal practice of wearing slippers in lab there was surprising to many of us! Additionally, getting to visit two great research institutes in Japan, RIKEN and AIST, was one of the highlights of the program!
As for the students in my program, I loved that we were so international yet connected so well to each other. Hailing from Oxford, Cambridge, National University of Singapore, University of Copenhagen, ETH Zurich, Australian National University, UC Berkeley, and Yale, we really were an international bunch with our different accents and spoken languages. We made the most of every moment we had in Tokyo by visiting popular places like Asakusa and Shinjuku Crossing, experiencing a karaoke bar, waking up at 3AM to see the tuna fish auction at the Tsukiji Fish Market, and most memorably, spending a weekend hiking Mt. Fuji. On that Saturday, we hiked from the 5th Station to the 8th Station of Mt. Fuji and spent the night at an inn there. Little did we know a typhoon was just ending that day, but we definitely felt it from the strong wind and fog. On Sunday, we woke up at 2 AM and started our hike up to the top, hoping to get there in time for the sunrise. Extraordinarily, we seemed to spend more time waiting in line than hiking, because so many people were there too! Although the sun rose as we were still climbing up, it was nevertheless a victorious and grand feeling when we finally reached the top.
Lastly, through this GSP experience, I have gained a new appreciation for Japanese culture and food. One of our first field trips in GSP was making soba noodles and then visiting the Nikkō Shrines and Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The noodle-making was a new and exciting experience for me, and I was amazed by how thinly the chefs could cut the noodles. Visiting the temple was also very cool because it introduced me to the religious and historical side of Japanese culture. As for other cultural tid-bits I picked up over my two weeks here, I learned the bare necessities of survival Japanese language (such as how to say “doko desu ka” and “Sumimasen!”) and fell in love with the cute stuffed animals at Tokyo Character Streets. As for food, some of my favorites are okonomiyaki, onigiri, beef tongue, udon noodles, and green tea ice-cream.
Lastly, I would take this time to express my sincere gratitude to Friends of UTokyo for making this experience possible! This program has been so much more than I ever dreamed of, both academically and personally. The engaging research lectures and labs have inspired me to consider pursuing a PhD in biomedical engineering. Also, the many friends and memories I have made in Tokyo entice me to return to Japan one day soon!