Biking in Germany

He flies past me, clad head to toe in black, no hands on the handlebars. He stops, dismounts, locks the bike up, lights a cigarette, and strolls away.

Everything about this short scene—lasting no longer than a minute—irritates me. First, he did not ring the bike bell to let me know he was passing. I startle easily, and there is nothing quite as startling as an unexpected biker. Although, I have recently developed a fear of bike bells. I hear one, my heart races as I look around for the incoming machine. After a few close encounters, it doesn’t take long to learn that pedestrians do not belong in the bike path. Very quickly, a nearly instinctual response develops in response to the chime of a bell. The first stage of reaction is a quick startle created by the noise itself. Followed by an assessment of surroundings to determine the directionality of the approaching noise. The final step is two-fold: simultaneously moving out of the way paired with minor annoyance. All from a simple “brringg- brringg.” Pavlovian conditioning at its finest.

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Lüneberg skyline from the top of the water tower. 
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I took a biking organ concert tour on one of my first weekends here. The fleet of German bicyclists was extremely impressive and somewhat terrifying. 

Another irritation is the biker’s outfit. He wears a black shirt and black jeans, maybe  even a light jacket. It is not particularly hot here, but neither is it cold. I cannot imagine how hot he must be in his ensemble. I am wearing a sundress and am sweating as I attempt to power my own machine up a hill. I love dresses. It’s frequently breezy here. I am reasonably certain I have flashed half of Germany  while biking to class. My strategy is to either wear shorts under my skirt or at least make sure I am wearing cute underwear. (I’m kidding about the underwear Mom—sort of.) Perhaps not the greatest solutions, but they have been working.

 

 


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Schwerin castle and gardens

 

 

The roads, particularly those paved with cobblestones, can be quite bumpy. He rides without hands, while I am doing my best to maintain my balance with two hands on the handlebars. The final straw? He is breathing steadily while I am now dripping in sweat. I am panting with each pedal up the hill that stands between me and class. Normally, being out of shape would frustrate me. He is breathing steadily. As I am trying to catch my breath, he pulls out a cigarette. A cigarette adds insult to injury.


 

Biking is an exceedingly popular mode of transport here. Bike trails and lanes are easy to find.   Cars whizz past bikes, as drivers are familiar with seeing

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Munich Rathaus

them on the roads. Popular destinations, such as schools, shopping centers, and churches have bike racks filled with the machines.  Despite my previous grumblings,I think the prevalence of bikes is amazing. Perhaps I am just irritated that biking is not as common in America, although it has been growing in popularity. Perhaps I wish I had packed another pair of pants. Perhaps I wish I felt as graceful and effortless as our friend looked. Perhaps I just want to make halfway up a hill without needing to catch my breath. And perhaps one day I will.

New experiences!

I traveled to Mumbai, India for a research abroad internship earlier this summer. It is a two month internship at a renowned chemical engineering university (The Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay) in the field of research on nickel-platinum alloys for the purpose of cost-efficient catalysts. I left the United States knowing the adjustment I would have to make for this experience would be hard and although I was a little nervous at first, I can confidently say that this chance is worth all the worries I felt.

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The start of an unbelievable experience!

I am absolutely enjoying my time in India! I have traveled to India before to meet family here, but I never really got the chance to explore and understand the rich culture that resides in this country. Mumbai is a metropolitan city situated on the beach which just makes it better! Two days after I arrived in India, I decided to walk to a beach close by and what I saw on the way was beyond amazing. On a Sunday morning I came across a laughter club being held to motivate the participants for a fun-filled week to come and enlighten their day-off.

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I caught a laugh too at this laughing club!

Further on, once on the beach I saw stalls of food, called Indian chaats, vendors selling toys for kids and people of all kinds. Some walking, some playing cricket or soccer (both extremely loved sports in India) while others just staring in awe at the beautiful rising sun. And there in the middle of all chatter from vendors and food stalls, I found the beauty of this big city. On one side of me was the endless sea roaring with every wave while on the other was the  famous Mumbai skyline and amid it I stood in a city that seemed so warm and welcoming, all my nervousness seemed to disappear.

After being in India for a few weeks I have gotten used to a few things and have rather begun enjoying them. It is about 90 degrees here during the day so I am getting acclimatized to being in the heat more often but I quite like it cause it gives me an excuse to eat ice creams and drink smoothies a lot more! The traffic in Mumbai is ridiculous to a point that it takes about an hour to travel 5 miles (that too aside of peak office hours) but thanks to this traffic, I have completed watching several seasons of an amazing TV series!

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The traffic situation I often encounter!

Not only am I living the ‘big city’ life, but I am enjoying every bit of it! I am getting to know new people, learning a lot in my field of educational interest and eating a lot of delicious Indian food. Furthermore, I am travelling and exploring more than I have before in a city that is beautifully unfolding itself to me. I am glad I have a few more weeks in this astounding and marvelous city and I am very excited to see what these weeks have in store for me!

Namaste from India!

Dachau: How Numbers Deceive Us

There are twelve inches in a foot, three feet in a yard, and one-thousand seven hundred and sixty yards in a mile. A mile contains one point six kilometers. The Dachau concentration camp was over one square kilometer when it was liberated in 1945. An estimated 41,500 people were murdered within this space. These are numbers and facts. They are unavoidable. The sheer numbers stand alone, horrifying in the vastness of their scope. They are persecution and terror in stark black ink on a white page. We associate numbers with clarity. Despite a few conversions between systems of measurements, numbers often transcend language barriers—a recognizable figure on a receipt or otherwise unreadable plaque.

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Each plot marked where the barracks once stood. This yard stretched on and on, out of sight
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A section of the fence, with a guard tower in the distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dachau demonstrates that numbers can fail us, can deceive by packaging experiences into a figure. A visit to Dachau forces an examination of the meanings behind the numbers, that they represent the systematic and industrialized torture and murder of innocent people. The realization is unquantifiable, an attempt to understand infinity. I could easily say that I don’t have words to describe the terrible vastness of the camp. It would not be an inaccurate statement: Dachau is appallingly enormous. The yard that once held the barracks brimming with prisoners stretches on and on. As you walk down the central road, away from the infamous “Arbeit macht frei” gates towards the back of the compound, near the cruelly efficient crematorium, every step is a wish that the road would end. It doesn’t, not until your feet and your soul ache. Every step by every marked plot for a barrack building is a haunting reminder of the thousands that suffered in that very spot. It puts numbers into perspective.

 

 


I could say that there are no words to describe the moment that numbers become inadequate. It would be easier than scouring the dictionary and thesaurus for a suitable word. I would not have to recall the eerie feeling of standing in front of the execution wall, where countless people spent their last moments facing a firing squad. I could try to let the shock of seeing storage rooms dedicated to corpses awaiting the flames of the crematorium fade away. I could let the horror of bold black letters advertising  a gas chamber as a shower dull with time. Personal experiences generate visceral reactions that we must process. Numbers fail us, words fail us, pictures fail us. But we must continue to attempt to record our reactions, our experiences, to capture them at their most poignant. I can not, I will not, and I absolutely refuse to allow myself to dull this experience into “I can’t describe it.” For me, attempting to interpret a day visiting Dachau is a reminder, if only to myself, that it is impossible to quantify the amount of suffering in an inch.

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“Ashes of the Unknown Concentration Camp Prisoner

Venture to München

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Hello! My name is Stacy Solomon and I love trying to call everything an adventure, but some experiences fit the definition a bit better than others. While I have traveled internationally before, it’s always been with close family or friends and never venturing further than the Americas. Getting to travel to Germany for the first time with a group that I’d never met outside of the trip was an astounding adventure and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

To begin with our trip was part of a Global Health course, a valuable field of study for almost any student. As a result, our group was a unique mixture including six females and one male, seven nursing majors and one biology, and ranging from sophomore to graduate student. Each person brought a different perspective and personality to the group and these people combined with a great professor are really what made this trip a great experience 🙂

It also helped that Munich is an incredible and beautiful city. Munich was a city of everything, a large and modern city with medieval structures and rich history, surrounded by beautiful countryside.Schloss Neuschwanstein

A few of the places we visited…

Schloss Neuschwanstein

If you ever choose to visit Munich, you will see a lot of castles…so many castles… and cathedrals. Munich is a wonderful place for anyone who loves history. There’s lots of opportunities to learn history from visiting various sites, but even if history isn’t your thing, it was incredible for me to experience the setting of a world that was so different from my own and imagine what it was like to live there. There are many castles within a small radius of Munich and each castles has a very different character and illustrates the different priorities and qualities of the ruler who built it. All of the medieval architecture combined with street musicians and the culture make Munich into a stunning city.

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Dachau Concentration Camp

One thing that surprised me in visiting Dachau is that it was full of local kids and teenagers on field trips to see the concentration camp. Every country has dark history. I was amazed by how adamant the German people seemed to be about learning from their mistakes and being honest about their past. In America, often history books often seem to gloss over the darkest parts of our history such as the way Native Americans were treated, at least for the sake of young children. In Germany, it did not seem like young children were shielded from the past but instead shown it in person to make sure the same mistakes weren’t made again. In Germany, political buildings are made of glass to illustrate their attempts at being a transparent government for the people. When asked to describe German ideals, many Germans will include tolerance as one of the most important. Overall, the Germans seem to be very intentional in acknowledging their mistakes as a country and learning form them. Dachau is also a good example of how experiencing a place is so different from just hearing about it. It’s one thing to hear the numbers of Holocaust victims and something entirely different to see the barracks and prison cells and gas chambers and individual stories.

I wish I could write about everywhere we visited but this is a sample of a bit of what we were able to see in Munich. In my next post, I’ll write more about Germany in regard to global health. To be continued…

-Stacy

The Journey Begins

My name is Natalie Davis and I will be spending a month studying abroad in Costa Rica. Although this is not my first time traveling outside of the country, traveling by myself, or even visiting a country in which my native language is not spoken, something about this trip feels very different. I think it is the combination of all of those things that make it both so terrifying and exciting. Although I don’t mind traveling alone, the idea of going to a place where I know no one is a pretty scary thought. In addition to that, I am relying on my language studies to even survive! Although I’ve studied Spanish for a long time, I’m now doubting all of my abilities because I’ve never been fully immersed and using it all the time.

I’m flying out this morning and will arrive for lunch to meet the host family that I will be staying with over the next month. Over the next few days I will be in orientations before starting classes Monday. I will keep updating as fun and exciting things begin to happen, but I just wanted to do one practice post from the states before my journey begins.

Wish me luck!

Natalie

An Experience Abroad

Hello friends!

My name is Kristen Bertrand. I’m a senior nursing student, a member of the Honors College, a lover of vegetarian food, an (extremely) average photographer, and most recently, a world-traveler.

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That’s me. I’m saying “Auf Wiedersehen” to America and embarking on my very first ever trip abroad! My destination: Munich! Or, München, as the locals call it. This moment was what I had been anticipating since I had made the decision to study abroad almost a year before. This moment was a culmination of a year of saving all of my extra money, trying (and failing) to become fluent in German on DuoLingo, applying for the Honors College SAGA program, packing and repacking my suitcase a million times, and a week of sleepless, excited nights. Even after all of that, I had no idea in this moment that I would be embarking on the most rewarding 11 days of my life.

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Most of the Germany crew at Schloß Neuchwanstein!

Since I have returned, so many people have asked me questions like “How was Germany?” or “Did you have fun in Europe?” The questions are simple, but the answers are not. I find myself wondering how I am supposed to answer. How do I sum up 11 days worth of an overwhelmingly wonderful and enriching cultural, educational, and personally life-changing experience in a concise way? How do I describe what it’s like to stand in the middle of Marienplatz with the famous Rathaus-Glockenspiel towering overhead packed tightly against shops like H&M and Urban Outfitters? How do I explain the feeling of standing in the foothills of the Alps, staring up at their breathtaking peaks? How do I make people understand the nerves of being dropped off on a bus in the Czech Republic, where every sign is in a language you don’t even know how to say “hello” in and the currency system uses a type of bank note that you can’t even pronounce? On that same note, how do you make them feel the confidence and pride you felt at the end of your 31-hour trip, when you find yourself feeling blissfully at home in that very same country?

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A view of Prague from the Strahov Monastery.

NymphenburgIn my next blog post, I will talk all about the experiences that I had while abroad, but for now I want to close with a simple, loaded request. All of those who are reading this that are trying to decide whether or not you want to study abroad, I’m asking you to take the leap. Get out of your comfort zone. There is nothing more humbling or confidence-building than immersing yourself in another culture. During this experience, I made friends from around the world, learned about some of the darkest parts of our world’s past, celebrated the beauty and history of cultures much different than my own, laughed, cried, sang the entire Sound of Music soundtrack in Austria about a hundred times, and most importantly, I have left my footprints in three different countries that will now forever be a part of my personality. Life gets a little bit bigger when the world is your classroom.

Auf Wiedersehen for now,

Kristen Bertrand (@krismariebe)

 

Musings from Germany.

In the 11 days my group and I spent in München, Germany, we gained a new perspective about the lifestyle of a very beautiful country. Walking around the city, talking to the local people about German ways of life and their healthcare system, and eating delicious food all helped me become more oriented to the similarities and differences between the American and German lifestyles. Here are a few small things I learned to appreciate and will miss slightly too much.

Escalator – stand on the right. Pass on the left.

Bicycles – very common method of transport. You’ll see a well-dressed man in a 3-piece suit riding around on a bicycle, and it’s perfectly normal. I have a slight crush on these beautifully handy machines, especially the folding ones (they’re just so convenient; you can ride around town, and then fold it up when hopping onto a bus or tram).

Also, with these views, I’d take a bicycle over a car any day. Or a moped.

 

Weather – … is eventful. During the month of May, it ranges from the high 40’s to low 70’s and sometimes is accompanied by rain. However, it changes within moments. When it comes to weather, layers were my best friend. Overall, it’s a good thing to be prepared for literally anything: cold, hot, rain, hail, cute dogs. Example: in the middle of a very hot, sunny day (with a 40% forecast of rain) in the marketplace, the German skies started hailing and thunder-storming. Be prepared, kids.

Transportation and accessibility – the public transport is incredibly efficient and clean. Major modes of transport are by foot, buses, trams, U-Bahn and S-Bahn (underground trains), babies riding in attractive strollers, cars, taxis, and bicycles. The public transport system bypasses traffic, is cost efficient, and you don’t have to search and fight for parking (Yass to all of that!). Feel like people-watching? Take the U.

The majority of the time, we walked everywhere… we averaged at around 10-12 miles each day. It is easy to get from one part of the city to another by using a combination of these methods. This in addition to the compact structure of the city makes everything more accessible as well. One major advantage of public transport is that people who are unable to or do not drive benefit from the accessibility and independence it provides.

The city – is condensed. In other words, a very large city is fit in a slightly smaller area. For a large city, the compact structure means that with a public transport system, you can get to places fairly quickly, given that you do not take the wrong train in the wrong direction. It took me a couple of days to finally start understanding how the U-Bahn (underground train system) operated. The maps look intimidating at first (and second) glance, but after getting lost several times, you learn to enjoy the adventures and get more efficient at map reading each time. #progress.

Dogs – a major attraction in the city streets. We see a lot more pets traveling with their owners daily here. Big dogs, small dogs, fluffy dogs, all cute dogs. Ian, our tour guide on a day trip to Salzburg (Austria) bought his dog with us for an entire day, and nobody complained. Several pets don’t even have a leash on, which starkly contrasts with pet norms and policies in the states. My extensive analysis on this important subject matter is that since pets spend more time with their families in the busy streets of larger cities like Munich, they are more used to outdoor interaction and are very well-behaved.

Food – is really good! Being a vegetarian, I was initially concerned about the options I would have available to me, mainly because Google implied that I may struggle. After all, German restaurants are known to offer some pretty great meat options. All in all, I found vegetarian food very easily and at almost every restaurant we went to. In fact, there were several purely vegan and vegetarian restaurants throughout town. In addition, there are many small places to eat in almost every part of the city that offer a considerable variety.

Architecture and views – any word I use will be a major understatement. Basically, imagine a postcard. Imagine being inside of it. Castles, super green grass, canola fields, busy train stations… it’s all stare-worthy. One problem I did run into while abroad: I had to give myself a time limit for staring.. and then remind myself that time was up. Talk about a real challenge.

 

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Out of an outrageously long list of things I’ve seen and learned, there’s my very small but useful but small list from my time in Munich; maybe it has convinced you to consider Munich as a place you should (definitely!) visit; if not, don’t worry I’ve still got more to say. 🙂

I plan to write more about the global and healthcare based observations I made in my next post! Hope you guys are having a wonderful summer as well! J

A Week in Dublin (and a day at the Giants Causeway)

My day started as any normal day would, except that this was not a normal day. This was a 36 hour day that would start in Huntsville, continue on in Charlotte, before having a real change of scenery by finishing in Dublin. That first day in Dublin passed in a haze of tiredness. Aside from simply taking in Dublin and walking through various stores, we visited the Book of Kells and the Long Library. We ended the day with dinner at Murray’s, which was the right choice.

Day 2 we had a bus tour of Dublin, that also included tour of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. This was a really cool place to visit and had a lot of history to go along with it. After this we went to the University College of Dublin. We attended a workshop based on design thinking, where we were shown a very neat process of designing, really anything. That night was the first night we went out to find a pub for some food, we settled on the Long Stone. We made the right choice.

Day 3, what a day, what a lovely day. The Giants Causeway is one of the coolest places I have ever been, it has been called the eighth wonder of the world, and it deserves this title. After this lovely trip we returned to Dublin and went to dinner with our tour guide, Joe, at the Old Storehouse. Once again we made the right choice.

Day 4 began with a walking tour of Silicon Docks. This was the section of Dublin that included a lot of financial firms, banks, and tech companies (such as Twitter, Google and Facebook). After lunch in a cafe we went to the Natural History Museum. That was quite a treat, they had a a huge number of animals to look at. For dinner we went to Beshoff Bros, a fish and chips restaurant that was the right choice.

Day 5 was our final day to tour Dublin, we first went to a workshop and learned how to make our own portable speaker for our phones, that was fun. We also revisited the Book of Kells and the long Library because everyone else wanted to see it once again. After this we went to Christ Cathedral and had a tour of that, which was really cool as well. The tour guide took us up to the bell tower and I had a great time ringing the bells. Sadly that was the last day in Dublin, as we went to bed that night we all wished we could stay for another week.

The Story of a Few Steps

“The ship begins to move. The band still plays, we continuously swing handkerchiefs. I have to keep from crying again… Germany! Goodbye!”
-Fritz Pauli*, 1953

     Everyone wants to know what the “mosts” or the “bests” are of traveling. The most fun. The best food. The prettiest city. The most awe-inspiring church. The most difficult or most frightening moment on a trip. We rabidly seek out “can’t miss” experiences. I found my most difficult moment at the airport.

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A good-bye breakfast before my flight!!

I can carry fifty pounds of luggage up a flight of stairs. I can get lost in a new city and find my way back. I have navigated bus routes and language barriers. I have walked for miles with blisters on my heels, but the most difficult steps I have taken were the first ones away from home. I thought it would be easier, this time, my second time studying abroad. As I stood in front of the security line, saying goodbye to my family, I realized I was wrong. I said goodbye. They said goodbye. I said goodbye again, and they did too. We said goodbye a third time, for good measure. I threw up a “peace out” sign and got in line. They were still on the other side of the glass when I made it through security, watching me walk away. I spoke with other students studying abroad. From all parts of the country, we shared a similar story. There is something inherently difficult about a few short steps, despite months of excitement and planning. The word “travel” shares etymological roots with “travail” for a reason. Travel is not always easy.


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My dad watching me progress through security.

Those vital first steps are the most difficult. They were difficult the last time I went abroad, and they were difficult this time. Those steps are when the decision is made to leave. Applications may have been filled out and accepted months prior. Fees may have been paid for weeks. An interest in travel and exploration cultivated over many, many, years. Tickets bought well in advance of those fateful steps. But that simple right-left-right that it takes to leave? That is the decision. Everything else is paperwork and checks on a list.


I hypothesize that this moment humanizes leaving– it puts a face to your home. It is a face filled with sunny streets, days soaked in laughter, and nights dripping with memories. It is a familiar face filled with comfort. Most accurately, it is the faces of your loved ones valiantly trying not to cry in the middle of an airport. And because these steps demand the sacrifice of the known, of the comfortable, of the loved, they are the most difficult of a journey. I hope that they never get easier.
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Sunset above the clouds
*My great-grandfather, who was an Operation Paperclip scientist, wrote an account of his trip to America entitled “Der kleine Rutsch: Ein Umeiedlung von Europa nach Amerika.”

My Week in Dublin, Ireland

My first trip across the Atlantic to the European city of Dublin, Ireland began with a short flight from Huntsville to Charlotte, followed by a not-so-short transatlantic flight into Dublin. Our group of six started our first day in Dublin with a walking tour of the historical area of the city. We had the opportunity to visit the Book of Kells and the Long Room in the Trinity College Library — both humbling sites to see. IMG_4669.JPG

We started day two of our trip with a bus tour of the city. Some of the highlights of the bus tour was getting to see St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin’s historical Georgian Squares where every door is a different color, and the beautiful Phoenix Park. Following this we traveled to the Innovation Academy at the University College of Dublin for a Design Thinking Workshop where we learned about how different ideas from individuals can be merged to create solutions to problems. We participated in an exercise where we were assigned with redesigning the umbrella. In this exercise, we were required to conduct interviews with passers-by around the university and then discuss as a group the data gathered from the interviews. From this data we continued the design thinking process of creating a prototype, testing our redesigned umbrella, and presenting the prototype. It was a fun exercise, and we learned about how each other thinks as well as how we, ourselves, think.IMG_4781

Day three was my favorite day. As if the four hour drive to the northern coast of Ireland wasn’t beautiful enough, we got to see the natural phenomenon known as Giant’s Causeway. As we got off the bus, we took a twenty minute hike down the mountain to see  the naturally formed hexagonal columns that extend from the water. As I stood on the columns looking at the waves crashing in from the sea and looked back toward the massive mountains, I couldn’t help but be in awe of God’s handiwork. IMG_4924

The fourth day of my trip started off with a walking tour of Dublin’s Silicon Docks. With Ireland’s 15% corporate tax rate, large companies such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and others house their European headquarters in the Silicon Docks district. After eating lunch we visited LogoGrab, a technology company known for its technology in logo recognition software. Many companies such as Coca-Cola, AT&T, and other companies with trademarked logos seek out LogoGrab to have analysis on the use of their logos through social media posts. This is a way they can monitor when and how their logo is being used. If you have a public account on Facebook or Instagram, there is a great chance that a photo you have posted is in LogoGrab’s database and has been part of a logo analysis. Following this lecture, one of my classmates and I walked over to the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute where we had the opportunity to interview a postdoc Ph.D. about her research in cancer. She informed us of the innovations of today in cancer research, including immunotherapy in which she specializes. After the interview she took us to her lab for a quick look.IMG_5040

On Friday, our last day in Dublin, we attended a MAKESHOP workshop. MAKESHOP is a place owned by the Science Gallery at Trinity College where the public can attend hands-on workshops where they can actively learn about science and put their knowledge into practice. Our group learned how to solder on circuit boards. We used the knowledge we acquired to create a portable speaker that can be plugged into an auxiliary port on a device.

We did have to come back to the USA on the seventh day, but I will never forget the incredible experience I had in Dublin, Ireland. The opportunities I have had at UAH are incredible. I was humbled to receive the Honors SAGA airfare grant, and I am forever grateful for that. Below are some of my favorite photos. Until next time, Dublin.