First Person: From Atwood to Abroad

“I got the chance to see more countries in these five months than Fluorine has electrons”

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View of the Cathedral from a Christian monastery’s garden in the heart of Salamanca. Photo by Juan Cisneros.
View of the Cathedral from a Christian monastery’s garden in the heart of Salamanca. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.

By: Juan D. Cisneros (Emory College of Arts and Sciences)

Entering my penultimate year in the College, I signed up to spend a semester in Spain through Emory’s Center for International Programs Abroad (CIPA). Choosing to major in both chemistry and Spanish at Emory has given me the opportunity to develop two vastly different ways of understanding and appreciating the world around me. My original thoughts on a semester abroad were that it would be spent adjusting to cultural differences and touring historical monuments – learning in a pleasant yet unscientific manner. However, when I spoke to former CIPA enrollees, they detailed their experiences in a fashion strikingly similar to that of a young researcher presenting their work at a conference for the first time. Adjusting to, and incorporating yourself within an entirely new academic setting seemed not only daunting, but dependent on the spread of skills and applied knowledge. Deciphering a restaurant menu would be one thing, but integrating myself within an academic community and excelling among newfound peers would be another. It would be a chance to apply what I’ve learned in my language and culture courses in an analytical fashion. Their enthusiasm resonated with me and so my decision was made. I landed in Madrid the first week of 2016.

During my five month stay, I was enrolled at the Universidad de Salamanca, just two hours west of Madrid. Founded in 1218, it is the oldest standing Spanish university and overflows with jaw-dropping buildings and a rich and royal history. Most of my classes were held in the Palacio de Anaya, a neoclassical palace just steps away from the Cathedral (pictured above). Whether on foot or on my motorcycle, I always enjoyed the to and from commute to class. It did take some time to acclimate to the very different Spanish undergraduate routine – classes splattered throughout the day from 09:00 and 22:00.

In one of my courses within the Department of Philology, titled Scientific Research Writing, I developed a cross cultural analysis paper on Green Chemistry over the length of my stay. The idea originated when I had to drop the course Bromatología: Analytical Chemistry in Food Processing due to a conflict in my mandatory course schedule and longed for some basic science learning. The paper itself was partly informed by my research on the current standards of research labs in certain European and South American countries and their efforts towards more sustainable chemistry. The analysis was based on a survey I developed of Principal Investigators and post-docs from these labs as well as current literature. Writing science in another language proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated, but with the help of my tutor and the faculty within the Department of Chemical Engineering and Philology at USAL, I was able to complete my work and gain valuable insight on how the perception of sustainable chemistry and engineering in foreign countries is formed and processed. One surprising difference is how some European nations that are not part of the EU have less interest in funding these types of labs and how scarce undergraduate involvement in research is across Europe compared to in the U.S.

My faithful two wheeled companion on many weekend adventures. Photo by Juan Cisneros.
My faithful two wheeled companion on many weekend adventures. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.

In addition to my coursework, I worked remotely for the National Hansen’s Disease Program TravelWell Clinic at Emory Midtown Hospital. My job was to organize data flowing in from a recent pilot on a developing project involving associated disability variables of Mycobacterium leprae. I first got involved in this project during the fall semester but it was not until I was in Spain that the vital pieces of data began to emerge. With bi-monthly Skype calls and some dedicated research time, I was able to move the project along and submit an abstract to the 2016  American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene National Conference for an oral presentation, titled “Preventing Mycobacterium leprae – associated disability: Identifying social and clinical factors associated with nerve damage in an endemic area of Brazil.”

Tasting hydro-alcoholic solutions in Porto, Portugal. Photo by Juan Cisneros.
Tasting hydro-alcoholic solutions in Porto, Portugal. Photo by Juan D. Cisneros.

When I wasn’t working on these aforementioned responsibilities – often from my unofficial office in my favorite Café-bar – I got the chance to see more countries in these five months than Fluorine has electrons. I could fill 6.0221409×1023 posts with all the pictures and videos I took but some of the highlights were touring the Spanish countryside on a motorcycle, hiking Portuguese mountains, cliff-diving in Majorca, running a half marathon through the streets of Athens, and doing a lap on the world famous and adrenaline-inducing Nürburgring. I am very grateful for my study abroad experience and am excited to be back home, bringing with me a broader understanding of how sustainable chemistry, and science in general, is viewed in foreign cultures as well as treasured memories. I am eager to be back in lab this summer as a visiting scholar in the lab of Professor Dan Mindiola at the University of Pennsylvania.

Student Spotlight: Ryan Fan Reflects on his “Summer in Siena”

From L to R, Alexis Kosiak, Ryan Fan, and Alex Nazzari visting the lab of Gianluca Giorgi, a collaborator of Emory chemist Vince Conticello, at the University of Siena.
From L to R, Alexis Kosiak, Ryan Fan, and Alex Nazzari visting the lab of Gianluca Giorgi, a collaborator of Emory chemist Vince Conticello, at the University of Siena.

“Sprawling in Siena”

By: Ryan Fan (Emory College)

Without a data plan or service to access a map, and with street signs posted on obscure buildings rather than poles, roaming around Rome turned a “15 minute walk” to our hotel into an hour of circling the same street over and over again. “Well, this is going to be difficult,” I thought as I entered my hotel room, passing out from jet lag. I sincerely hoped I wouldn’t continue to feel as lost and disoriented as I did on that first day.

Thankfully, most of the study abroad experience in Italy went better than my first hour in Rome. “Getting lost” turned into culturally-motivated wandering—from the Coliseum to the Vatican Museum to the 551 steps of St. Peter’s Basilica. My personal favorite experience was climbing the Basilica to see the view of Rome’s skyline. But it wasn’t solely a race to the top – climbing the dome was special for what you see on the way. At about 200 steps, you get a birds-eye view into the Basilica. Pilgrims travel thousands of miles to see the work of artists like Michelangelo and the crypts of Paul and Peter. The whole climb, from start to finish, was a privilege.

Studying chemistry in Italy gave me a behind-the-scenes view of some of what goes into restoring and protecting the kind of art that I admired in the Basilica . One thing we studied in particular was the use of lasers to restore art and architecture. I have always thought of art as purely a humanities discipline. However, we learned that while artists are the ones to make beauty, scientists are needed to help preserve it. Every time a piece of art needs to be restored, it requires an entire team of art and science experts. Part of their goal is to make the smallest amount of alterations possible while restoring a piece. As a chemistry and creative writing double major, this changed my perception that my two fields of study are mutually exclusive. Rather, they can co-exist together to form the best possible product. This also happens in developing makeup, making art supplies, and authenticating pieces of art.

We arrived in Siena, a city in Tuscany on May 27, 2016. One of my favorite things about Siena was the massive hills. As a cross country runner, I found no shortage of places to run because of the hills, which increase the difficulty of my training. The central square, El Piazza Del Campo, is the heart of the city with tourists and native residents alike picnicking at every hour of the day. El Piazza houses a biannual historical race known as the Palio di Siena. This is a horse race with 10 jockeys, each representing a contrada, or district, of the city. A victory brings tremendous pride and celebration to a contrada. After six weeks of living in Siena, we ended our program by attending this raucous event alongside nearly 50,000 other spectators. Of course, as an Emory student-athlete, I support the Eagle contrada.

The only complaint I have about the Summer in Siena program is that it goes by too fast. It feels like just a second ago that I was feeling lost and nervous in Rome. I initially went on this trip just to study chemistry, but I’ve learned so much more about art, culture, and collaboration between the arts and sciences on the way. When I get home, I plan to try to convince my mom that we should take a trip to Italy as a family–that’s the only way I can truly show them how great this experience was.

Interested in applying to for the “Summer in Siena” program? Details are available on the Center for International Programs Abroad (CIPA) website.