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Weeks spent on the other side of the World

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Posted: February 8, 2018

By Stephanie Velez (Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences major) “I didn’t know anything about China, nor a single word of Mandarin, but instantly decided, this is rare, I’m doing this.”
The Great Wall, Beijing, China

The Great Wall, Beijing, China

I remember sitting in class whilst Dr. Lu gave a brief presentation about this internship opportunity with a research lab in China. I didn’t know anything about China, nor a single word of Mandarin, but instantly decided “This is rare, I’m doing this”. Flash forward a few months and I’m sitting on 14-hour flight to Beijing with Dr. Lu and two other students, preparing to spend 5 weeks in a country so different than my own.

We spent 3 days in Beijing being transported around and treated by Dr. Lu’s friends. From the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall to Tiananmen Square and the Olympic Park, we got to take so many photos. The days were jammed packed with sightseeing. The people we met were very friendly and many wanted to take photos of us, simply because we were Americans.

After day 3 in Beijing, we took a flight to Nanning City to begin our internship at the Guangxi Veterinary Research Institute. The institute housed us in an apartment they owned and supplied us with all our meals and needs. Many of the researchers spoke English but in varying levels. Talking was sometimes hindered but translator apps helped us out.

Over the course of 5 weeks, we improved our laboratory skills in pipetting through hemagglutination tests (HA/ HI). We also worked with virus isolation by inoculating embryos with suspected virus, monitoring death rate and harvesting allantoic fluid for further use in diagnostic procedures. The last few weeks were spent working with molecular processes where we extracted viral RNA and performed reverse transcriptase, PCR and gel electrophoresis to determine the size of the DNA fragment.

When we weren’t working in the lab, we were free to explore. Several of the workers in the lab took us on day trips to varying locations in and outside of Nanning during the weekends. We first explored their local university called Guangxi University, which featured several colleges and a beautiful campus. It was in a downtown area of Nanning but hosted several ponds throughout campus. Additionally, we hiked Qingxiushan Mountain and got to overlook the city of Nanning. The top of the mountain featured a Buddhist temple containing hundreds of people celebrating a holiday. Another weekend, we spent in the city of Guilin which is world-renowned for its famous boat tours. Along the tour, there is a scenic background that is featured on the Chinese 20yuan bill. Our last weekend, we spent in the coastal city of BeiHai. Although it rained, we still put our feet into the South China Sea and got to see hundreds of pearls collected locally.

Overall, this experience has helped me grow personally and professionally. It is very difficult to travel to a place you don’t know especially when you also don’t know the language. I’ve learned to leave my comfort zone and try new things like geese or foreign fruits and vegetables. At the laboratory, I performed lab techniques different from what I’ve experienced in a class. Prior to leaving for China, I had very little actual laboratory experience so interning in a functional laboratory improved my lab etiquette greatly. I can now perform several diagnostic procedures without much supervision.

In my journey to veterinary school, this can help set me apart from fellow applicants. Traveling abroad is always an amazing opportunity and I was honored to be able to experience veterinary research in a country such as China. They use most of the same diagnostic procedures with some variation, but the culture and lifestyles are so different. In a conversation with a future employer, I can explain that this opportunity has inspired me to take risks and step out of my comfort zone; to experience the field of veterinary medicine on a global scale.