Reading my posts, it looks like I am more enjoying the cultural part and almost forgot the main reason I crossed the Atlantic with the Fulbright wings.
The first month in the lab was more a warming up. Where is my desk? Where is the cell culture rooms? How do they run it? How different is it? So, many microscopes – am I capable of imaging? And so on and so forth…
My typical day starts at 8-8.30 am and finishes once all is done. It may be 6pm or 10pm. Once the experiment is set up, I have to monitor cells every 24 hours for 5-7 days with no weekends or days off. The monitoring includes imaging. Lots of imaging. Every condition has 20-30 single cells to follow up. Each cell gets its own GPS tag manually to be able to image exactly the same cell as it grows and becomes a group of hundreds by multiplication. For example, I am running 8 different cell lines in 3 experimental conditions. So, 20-30 cells per all 24 combinations give us 480-720 individual cells to follow up. The imaging takes ~5 hours every day. After 5 days, I will have 2400 – 3600 pics of cells to analyse. It will be fun! I may need lots of Guinness to fly through that numbers.
At the next step, I will select some of the conditions for video recording to trace cell fate from a single neuroblastoma cell to a metastatic niche consisting of hundreds of them. This video will show me how it all happens minute after minute.
The first month flew in a flash. Vibrant and exciting. What did surprise me? Well… No public transport in Baltimore as we got used to in Dublin. Driver friendly environment. I like street indications at the junctions. Helps a lot in navigation. Clear and straight to the point. You can drive anywhere, you find a parking spot within 1-2 minutes, though the fee can be very high if in town. Around Johns Hopkins Hospital street parking is just 1 USD per hour, though limited to max 2 hours. You can turn on ‘red’ if no danger posses. As it always happens some drivers read this rule on demand and turn on ‘red’ even the additional road sign prohibits it. Many jammed/bumped cars in use.
Ok. Baseball. I and some man from my host family went to see a match of the local team Baltimore Orioles vs Chicago White Sox. I like their positive team colours – orange. It was sweet to get a free orange hoodie at the game and eat a standard size ice cream cone – enough to feed 2-3 people. Their stadium is a big museum of Orioles success. Nice to rambler around. The team is not doing well in the current season. They lost 0:2. Many players are traded in and out. Did I gain all insights of the game? Hmmm… But, wish the team and the fans best of luck in the next season!
What about the American Church? Yep, I did it, too! I attended the worship service in Glen Mar Church – a United Methodist congregation. Wikipedia says that the United Methodist Church (UMC) is a mainline Protestant denomination and a major part of Methodism. Did not hear about it much, but I am staying with the family who is not just active members of the UMC, but the head of the family is a recently retired pastor. So, I went there for his last service. It is very different to Catholic or Orthodox and the feeling that you get entirely different. Pastor and church members interact actively and not passively. It feels more like a family or person consulting and support environment rather than a dogmatic lectureship.
However, my main highlight is NASA. And it deserves a separate story.
This is how my journey began. On Tuesday, I received an invite from the Children’s Medical Research Foundation to attend the Annual Summer Gala Dinner at the Water Club in Manhattan on Thursday the same week. Are two days enough to plan your trip? Perhaps it depends on many things, I had no reservations. The only one uncertainty was car parking logistics.
Those, who are familiar with Baltimore history and current life, know that your car is your Castle. After the Internet search and chats with my host family, the plan was to get a bus to NY which provides a designated car park.
Three hours on the bus flew in a flash. Wide roads with trees on both sides did remind me of some motorways in Russia. Gigantic tolls – almost 12 lanes in both directions. An impressive tunnel under the Hudson River connects the mainland with Manhatten. One can see a borderline dividing the tunnel into New Jersey and New York parts on about halfway.
What was my first impression of NY once I got off the bus? Many snapshots instantly jumped in linking with Hollywood movies that pictured NY. Mostly from ‘Sex and the City’. A traffic jam here and there. Crazy Taxi and car drivers. Brainless pedestrians. Everyone on the run. Madness. I did enjoy it as a tourist. Would I cope with it on everyday bases? A very big question!
Unfortunately, thanks to the hurricane Florence, not much sightseeing was on offer. All tall buildings were hidden with clouds. Tourists were queuing for hop-on-off.
I had 2 hours before the bus to Baltimore. My choice was Times Square. A classical picture – huge screens are talking to you offering pleasure and entertainment. Come in, relax and enjoy!
Strolling around Cafe shops, theaters, food vans. Looking at tourists and locals. Feeling and absorbing… Short, but sweet.
It is also the unofficial end of summer when many people arrange family gatherings or holidays. So, did our lab. We were all invited to our boss’ house to have a BBQ and chit-chat. As you may expect almost everyone in the lab has a multicultural background which is very proud of. You are in America, babe! I am not an exception. A proud Irish-Russian.
Everyone took advantage of and benefited from that mix. We had Mexican, Argentinian, French, Irish, Jewish, Ethiopian and American Indiana, Idaho, Florida, Maryland bites. Juicy steaks (raw, medium and well done) and burgers grilled by the host Andy were delicious. Have to admit that meat was tastier than I used to buy in Ireland. Should probably look for a new butcher when I come back!
What did surprise me the most? I have been thinking about it on the way home… None of 15 guests did check their mobile or take a pic of food/selfie during that time! Though everyone had this thing in the pocket. We were chatting and laughing. Maybe it is just that people… Fantastic company and a great day out.
Air Canada was my first bridge to connect me and Baltimore. A new luxury plane with great service brought me over Atlantic to Montreal in 7 hours. Watched many films and TV movies starting with ‘ Battle of the Sexes’ and finishing with re-running some episodes of ‘Young Sheldon’. Food was excellent, fast service, great taste. The US Customs met me with two state flags flanking a copy of the Liberty statue at the Canadian Airport, so had no need to do anything at the final destination. My 2nd leg was way shorter – just 1.30hrs!
At BWI a lovely American family picked me and my bag up and brought to their sister’s house – my American home for the next 4 months. It is promised to be a true cultural experience. How I found them? It is a story for a separate post to follow.
My American house is in Baltimore outskirts and in 30 min drive from door to door. My first drive to work was a break of all statistical predictions about tyre’s punctures. One of the tyres went flat almost on the half-way in probably not a very safe neighbourhood. With no cell phone, no roaming and no a spare ‘donut’!
What happened next? ‘Emergency lights’-ON, pulling my hand out to stop anyone with a cell phone. After a couple of dozens passing by cars, one pulled down, a nice couple of doctors offered me their help. Phoned to my host family and explained the situation. “Stay in the car with locked doors, we are on the way”. While I was waiting for them a nice man from the Afro-American neighborhood tried to help me out. “No, no… thank you… I am fine… Help is on the way…” in a sort of fear I replied.
Next, both I and Rod (the head of the family) were looking for a spare ‘donut’ and tools to lift up the car. Nothing. The same nice man came again offering his help. We did not resist. He pulled his brand new shiny Lincoln Continental and brought all you can dream of in my situation. A jack to lift the car, an electric screwdriver to get the tyre off… His name is Melvin. I and Rod run into the nearest garage to fix the tyre, while Melvin was looking after my car.
Forty-five minutes later, I continued my journey and arrived 2 hours later than planned. Rush to hunt the ID and car parking. A long queue of new commenced stuff needed exactly the same and disappeared in 25 min. Interestingly, I got the spot in 5 min for my use during the next 4 months as all the rest from the queue. Imagine, to get something like this in Dublin Centre area. Now, my car is parked in 5 min walk from the building I work in. A nice end of the first day!
Now, when the Fulbright Awardees have been announced at the Official Ceremony in the US Embassy last Thursday, I am happy to say that my first challenge 2018 brought me the Award – Fulbright-HRB HealthImpact Scholar 2018.
I am opening a new chapter in my life by taking this great opportunity to go to Johns Hopkins University and study how cancer cells travel to different destinations in real-time in our body. Indeed, it will be not only about the research but also about new experience meeting new people, learning a new culture and seeing things around. I am delighted and over the moon.
Past awardees organised the Dinner in Dublin Castle to welcome newbies by sharing their experiences and promoting networking. These wonderful people were celebrating their start of the US journey last Fri. Some are going off in coming days, other not till January. It is a completely different feeling not to be ranked by your academic achievements but your personality is a key. What a rewarding feeling to join the Fulbright Family. Absolutely enjoyable…
Wish everyone the best of their experience and make a difference in their field of study!