Lost in Europe

Ever wonder: how can I study abroad with a highly technical double major and also not pay for it? Wonder no more! Here is my tale of unexpected opportunity, subsequent thrilling scientific discovery and European adventure.

I’ve been involved in research since I applied to a lab through URAP (Undergraduate Research Apprenticeship Program) my freshman year. After studying spider chemical ecology in this lab for a year(spiders are pretty neat I’d say), my supervising grad student presented me with an incredible offer. A PhD student working in Germany and former undergraduate in the same lab was looking for undergrads with Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry (GCMS) experience to investigate Argiope cryoprotectants at her home university over the summer. Intriguing! Tell me more. The student selected would be awarded a fellowship and grant covering travel, housing and food expenses. MOST INTERESTING! How can I get my name on a list??

A successful application meant I was off to Germany for three months! With absolutely no knowledge of the language I was feeling confident. I’d play my dumb, monolingual American role like a champ.

I spent the first days getting settled into a small university town north of Berlin and being shocked by the lack of egg refrigeration. I met my lab group and was introduced to my superiors, all of whom, mercifully, spoke perfect English. My weeks for the next few months were occupied by lab work and data analysis while on weekends, I was free to roam.

Greifswald
Evening sky in my summer home.

Lab work began by working up an extraction protocol for our spider raw material: namely picking solvents to maximize extraction of both polar and nonpolar compounds. Samples were then run through the GCMS and the data analyzed extensively in order to identify potential cryoprotectants in spiders experiencing harsher overwintering conditions.

I visited a different place almost every weekend. First there was the Island of Rügen. We romped through Jasmund National Park to the Königsstuhl on a beautiful sunny day.

Königsstuhl on Rügen
Königsstuhl on Rügen

The next weekend was a whirlwind adventure in Prague, a city and public transit system ripped from the pages of a (probably modernized) fairytale. BART could learn a thing or two.

View of the Charles Bridge on the Vltava River.
View of the Charles Bridge on the Vltava River

Berlin has to be a favorite. It felt very modern and cosmopolitan. I’m moving back as soon as Bayer hires me.

Reichstag Building in Berlin
Reichstag Building in Berlin

The next weekend I was bathing in Budapest and the next enjoying the local offerings in Krakow. A week later I was horking down pretzels in Munich.

Munich
Munich

Dubrovnik was a dream. They have it all, from beautiful beaches to haunted abandoned hotels. I’ll be back to Croatia as soon as my finances allow.

Dubrovnik
Dubrovnik from above

My last weekend was spent in Amsterdam exploring the city and appreciating art. It was a lovely conclusion to the most fun summer I’ve had thus far.

If you have the opportunity to travel, alone or otherwise, take it. Berkeley is chalk full of such opportunities if you are willing to seek them out. I was fortunate enough to have one fall into my lap. This speaks to my broader belief that chances are for the taking and you make your own luck. Involvement is so important in getting the most out of your Cal experience. Join early, join often, and HAVE FUN!