David Burke has worn lab coats for years, but this past summer, he wore a kimono for the first time.
Burke, a senior studying chemistry, traveled to Japan this summer to perform scientific research.
He was one of many undergraduates who used internships abroad to continue continue their education while also gaining cultural experiences.
“It truly was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and left me with a deep appreciation for Japan, its culture and people,” Burke said.
Burke spent six weeks working at the University of Tokyo this past summer in the nanospace chemistry laboratory at the Graduate School of Science.
Burke synthesized crystals using organic and metal compounds.
Chemists use these crystals to change molecular structures to create pharmaceutical drugs.
Simple changes in molecular structure can cause drastic results.
A small change in the structure of thalidomide can mean the difference between two drugs: one that treats morning sickness and one that causes birth defects.
But lab skills weren’t all the internship experience had to offer.
After studying Japanese in high school and college, Burke had many chances to practice the language when he was away from the lab in his daily life.
While purchasing tickets for the Japanese railroad system, asking for directions and speaking with waiters in restaurants, Burke could practice the language like never before.
Exploring Tokyo; Yokohama, Japan; Osaka, Japan; and other locations, Burke prepared origami, participated in a traditional tea ceremony and wore a kimono for the first time as part of the University of Tokyo Research Internship Program.
Rayne Kim, a senior majoring in neuroscience and biology, spent six weeks this summer at an internship in South Korea.
Kim worked under a Korean pioneer in neuroscience and used deep brain stimulation to study neurodegenerative diseases.
Kim also observed, collaborated with and assisted researchers with ongoing projects in the medical field while in South Korea.
“For the first time, I saw just how instrumental research was to the medical field,” Kim said in an email. “Not only was this eye-opening to how science could save lives, but it was also a full-on cultural immersion experience.”
Kim’s work involved implanting electrodes into rats’ brains and training them to respond to the environment.
Another ongoing project injected color-changing chemicals into the body to fight plaque buildup in the brain.
Away from the bench, Kim’s experience with the IU Journal of Undergraduate Research and bilingual background allowed her to help with editing manuscripts and abstracts.
Kim said she was able to immerse herself in another culture while understanding diseases she had previously only learned about through coursework.
“At first, the culture felt unfamiliar and living in so-very-urban Seoul was a bit overwhelming,” Kim said in an email. “However, I was quickly able learn how to adapt to a foreign working environment and was able to greatly improve and refine my Korean language abilities.”
In many unforgettable and hilarious conversations, Kim would teach her fellow researchers English while they helped her refine her own Korean.
Burke also said he cherished time with new people while researching abroad.
“More importantly, I made some amazing new friends within UTRIP, who I’ve continued to stay in touch with since the program concluded,” Burke said. “I hope to visit them in their home countries sometime soon.”
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