The great thing about joining a lab team was the vast amount of experience I was able to gain. Almost every single day, I either observed or joined in on different experiments that the team was working on. Even though we had to sometimes use a translator app, they worked hard to explain what the experiments we were doing was and how it benefited the study. At the end of the program, I had the chance to go and help collect samples in Huzhou. Being able to go to the field sites and witness first-hand the areas that I had been researching changed my perspective of the study.
This is the reason why I travel. One can read all about a trouble area and develop solutions, but being able to obtain the local perspective will allow one to truly understand what needs to be done to help an area while respecting their ways of life.
The students I worked with were from all around China: Henan, Guangxi, Sichuan and Xinjiang province, along with Ningbo in Zhejiang province. In just six weeks, I was able to learn about vast amount of cultures and lifestyles from all over China thanks to my graduate students. Every now and then, we would take a break in the lab for them to teach me random parts of Chinese culture that one would not read in a textbook. This ranged from Chinese tongue twisters to different foods to popular music. The cultural exchange was not one-sided. I had the opportunity to teach the graduate students about American culture. There is a very different perspective about America abroad, both positive and negative, so it was wonderful to be able to show them an American perspective, especially during a time of political history and grief, following the largest mass shooting in the United States. Outside of the lab, my graduate students showed me parts of Hangzhou that I did not get the chance to see during the program trips. They took me to restaurants that hosted food from their hometowns (the Xinjiang food was my favorite, but I couldn’t tell the student from Ningbo that after he showed us his hometown food) and I was able to see how beautiful West Lake is at night.
The cultural knowledge I gained from this program has been invaluable. My global perspective has grown to encompass another culture. The connections I made during this trip with my graduate students, professors, and fellow program attendees, are lifelong connections.