After we finished the hike, we went to the beach for an hour. There was a typhoon on its way in, so the beach was roped off, literally. There was yellow caution tape strung along the shoreline. We stood behind the tape, but we could still get our feet wet as the bigger waves came in. One wave was much bigger than we expected, so we got splashed up to our waists!
The ocean was very beautiful but very wild from the typhoon winds. I kept thinking of this poem by Clive Barker:
Life is short
And pleasures few
And holed the ship
And drowned the crew
But O! But O!
How very blue
The sea is.
After this we stopped by the hotel to clean up and then we took a bus with all of the other workshop participants to a sashimi restaurant by the sea. The first course was the sashimi, served as slices of raw fish over some kind of white noodle thing that we were not supposed to eat. I forgot to get a picture of the sashimi, but here are photos of the many side dishes we also got.
One of our favorites was the fried fish. We got three orders! It was cooked and served whole, skin, bones, and everything. Chopsticks made it pretty easy to pick around the bones though.
I really liked the similarly-to-tempura fried vegetables. Some of the weirder things I ate included this snail-like thing. We used our chopsticks to pull the end of the snail out, but it was very difficult to pull it out all the way. One of the girls just bit the end she could get out of the shell and then pulled the rest out with her teeth! I thought it tasted okay. A little chewy, but not notable.
We also had shrimp, which were served whole. I had to pull off the legs, rip off the upper body and pull the shell of the tail. It was good, but I think I prefer my shrimp pre-dismembered.
After dinner, Professor Tae bought all of us ice cream. Some of the popular ice cream here is served in a soft plastic bottle where you rip off the top and then squeeze out dessert as it thaws.
There was a stand on the beach selling fireworks, so Ahbi bought some for us. We held them in our hand and around thirty fireworks burst out the end. It was super fun and so pretty.
Back at the hotel, we had a strange lab meeting. I think it was not very unusual here, but the behavior of everyone at the meeting would have been considered bizarre in the US.
We all met in one of the hotel rooms we had rented. The students arrived first, and we arranged all of the beverages and snacks in a circle on the floor (We usually all sit on the floor; I don’t know if this was mentioned before.) We put the bottle of drink and a tray of snacks directly in front of an empty spot for the professor. When Professor Tae entered the room, we all stood up until he sat, and then we sat again. One of the students next to Professor Tae poured him a drink using two hands. In Korea, when pouring or accepting a drink from someone older than you, you need to hold the bottle or cup with two hands, or hold the bottle or cup with one hand and touch that arm with your other arm. After the professor had his drink, he poured for each of us in turn. We shuffled up, held out our cup with two hands and then shuffled back to our patches of floor after he poured for us. We all drank together, and then it was pretty silent.
Professor Tae suggested to one of the boys that he should sing, because he had a really funny falsetto voice, and so he sang a Korean pop song. Then it was Jaeeun and my turn to perform our dance. Now, remember that we had practiced for about six hours total almost two days previously. We were both laughing really hard because we were so nervous, so it didn’t start too well. After the first few bars we got into it, and I think we were doing okay. We had to BS some parts where we forgot the moves and about halfway through the embarrassment level was so high that Jaeeun pulled us back to our seats. I still thought it was pretty fun. The lab members were very nice; they teased us about our dancing inability, but in a nice way.
After us another of the girls performed a dance. She was much, much better than us. Finally, we moved on to a general discussion of research and the lab. Unfortunately for me, this conversation was mostly in Korean, so it was difficult for me to understand. Jaeeun had to keep poking me to keep me awake.
This meeting was interesting to me because I could not think of an American equivalent. I still can’t think of a situation in the US where such deference comes side by side with silly performances.
The next morning we had to get up early so that we could drive to Wonil’s house, a couple hours away. Wonil is one of the graduate students in the lab. His home is near the location of the 2018 winter Olympics, so the other students say that they are going to come stay with him then, too. We were relatively close to the DMZ, so we saw a lot of soldiers. We passed many different military vehicles on the road.
Wonil’s house was interesting to see because it was very rural, as opposed to the Korean cities I’ve seen. Here is a picture of me standing in a field of Korean onions just outside of Wonil’s family’s house to start you off. Tell you more next time!
Like many students at Caltech, I suffer from a slight boba addiction, where side effects may include over caffeination, minor sugar highs, and of course, a large toll on one’s wallet. This addiction is not helped by the fact that there are at least three boba shops within walking distance of campus. So, after an entire term’s worth of boba runs, I came back from winter break with a new year’s epiphany: it was time to get a job. Rather than try to curb my addiction, I decided to find a way to subsidize it.
Research at Caltech looks different for every student, and can often vary term by term. As a chemistry major, my course requirements are on the lighter side for a Caltech major, and many chemistry majors take advantage of the lighter course load to join research groups. This can be whenever the student wants, but many people join labs during their freshman or sophomore years. Some may work in one lab only, and some may switch between labs during the course of their undergraduate studies, depending on if their interests change.
SURF, short for Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, is a quintessential experience for any Caltech student. It is a widely accessible research fellowship for Caltech students that funds your proposed research for one summer term. While many of my classmates did their first SURF the summer after their freshman year, I sent in my first application to the program as a sophomore. As a CS major, I was trying to chase meaningful work that intersected computation with the field of neuroscience. I ended up doing a SURF at the Stanford School of Medicine that first year, studying hand gestures in children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Since then, I’ve been working in the research space of applying computational analyses to ASD.
This summer, from the confines of my Brooklyn apartment, you could find me typing away on a tiny 13-inch laptop screen. At times I was looking for answers on countless Stack Exchange pages, editing a Jupyter notebook, or making blood flow measurements on a software called Arterys. This was my 2021 Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURF) experience.