Ni hao! Wow! I am in China! The flight was incredibly long, but well worth it. It is beautiful! Xiamen University is nestled into a mountain side and nature is incorporated throughout the city landscape, giving the hustle and bustle a sense of serenity and relaxation. The campus is as big and certainly has the feel of a small town. It is quite a site to see, the reason why hundreds of tourists shower campus daily! Not only are there are several shops, canteens (cafeterias), and green spaces on campus, but, I soon came to find that the large pond in the middle of campus that has become home to a few black swans! As a lover of wildlife, this was an exciting discovery!
As a westerner living in China, I am stared at a lot, but it’s not the negative stare you would think, it is just curiosity and I find it easy to get used to. I just smile and continue on with my day. With all of the things to do here, I do not miss too much from home yet–except washers and dryers. It would definitely be nice to have those in travel size!
The bus system is incredibly helpful in getting places, although it is not too hard to walk the city for the most part. Usually we will walk somewhere and catch a bus for the return trip. The past few days I have been familiarizing myself with the area. I have tried some native fruits like waxberries and guava, eaten meat and bread for breakfast instead of typical cereal, and had a dinner feast that included cooked fish with the fins and head still attached. My first week in China has certainly been interesting! Professor Duncan, Maxine, and I visited Gulangyu Island a few days ago where, of course, my first stop was the aquarium! It was small, but had a good collection of creatures from penguins and tarpon, to woebegone and an albino shark, and also a small resident population of piranha that hung by strings in a gel substance, looking quite sad.
The Mandarin language is quite difficult, therefore, I have not learned that much. Having Maxine (my roommate from Eckerd who is from Singapore) translate for me most of the time is extremely helpful, although hopefully I will learn a lot more in the upcoming weeks. Sometimes there are English descriptions on foods and such, but not often enough to get by.
Yesterday was my first day working in the lab. The graduate and Ph.D. students I am working with are very nice. As I help them with their English, they teach me a lot about Chinese culture. Being a student researcher at a Chinese university is different from Eckerd in a few ways. Of course, most of the equipment and reagents are in Chinese, but the processes are very similar if not the same in some cases. One of the girls in my lab is doing work on DNA using a PCR method which is exactly what I would use as a Genetics teaching assistant, so I felt very happy to recognize what she was doing. Yesterday I was introduced to the specimen that I will be using in my project: the mudskipper fish. On my first day I learned how to recognize the sex and extract the gonad from both male and female fishes to use for our melatonin study. The project I’m working on is something completely new and I am very excited to learn more about it!
China has been quite the experience so far, and I have only been here for a week! I am very grateful for this opportunity. This research experience is more than just petri dishes and chemicals. I am learning new techniques in a new country which has a completely different culture than America. Being able to adapt to these changes and embrace the Chinese way of life is a challenge at times, but absolutely incredible.