Thursday, October 19, 2006

Reflections from the Past

I just remembered that I uploaded my old website I created while living in Norway (a blog before blogs existed) which has a photo gallery of my previous travels to Prague. It may be of some interest to a few. The link can be found here.
A Czech Vampire

This afternoon I was invited to give a short presentation about myself and my internship here in Prague during a recruiting event for the local IAESTE committee. Beforehand, a student found the courage to practice his English and speak with me. As soon as he started speaking, I saw his sharp, vampire-like teeth covered in a dark, gritty film, I recalled the many men in Norway who chewed tobacco which often covered their teeth in a gritty dark film. And so, the student began by telling me a joke about three vampires, and I almost laughed out loud for just noticing his own vampire-like teeth covered in what I thought could be dried blood.
Thinking to myelf that maybe this guy has a fetish for vampires, my mind once again raced back to my days traveling in London with my family and learning about Count Dracula and his kingdom in Eastern Europe. Then I thought, maybe the Czech Republic was where the real Dracula lived. Sadly however, Count Dracular, the fictional character in the Dracula novel, was inspired by one of the best-known figures of the Romanian history, Vlad Dracula, nicknamed Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) , who was a ruler of Wallachia (1456-1462) (See above picture).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

My Internship In Prague

A little bit about my professional life here in Prague. I work for Insititute of Chemical of Tecnhnology Prague which is the biggest educational institution of its kind in Central Europe. It combines progressive fields of study and a good international repute, allowing every student to get in touch with advanced technologies and make use of foreign student exchanges.

I work under the Faculty of Food and Biochemical Technology within the Department of Fermentation Chemistry and Bioengineering in the subprogram of Biotechnology. Biotechnology embraces scientific, research and application processes based on the use of a combined knowledge of biological, engineering and economic disciplines in all areas of science, research and practice, and of technological realization based on specific qualities of plant, animal and microbial cells.

My current project is developing a rapid and inexpensive method to identify and discriminate various bacteria in a water treatment system. Below is one of my first PCR-amplified rDNA fingerprints using Gel Electrophoresis. I am quite excited to learn some various molecular biology laboratory techniques as I may need to use them for my senior design project in a few months.
The Joys of Living in a New Culture...

Well, I have been in Prague for a few weeks now, and it has been such a neat, yet challenging, experience. Each day I learn a new skill at work, a new trick to survive in another culture, and a little more about myself. Looking back the past few days, I realized how my needs and values have changed from just a few years ago. It must be the years I have added to my age that I now want the “comfort and warmth” of life familiar. It is not, at least not yet, a feeling of homesickness, but I do realize the benefits of being able to communicate and express oneself, both verbally and physically.

Not being able to communicate is such a huge obstacle that many do not realize unless in the situation itself. For example, the other day I was in need of pair of shoes, and so I found a nice pair on sale at the local market. After waiting in a lengthy line to pay, I smiled to the middle-aged cashier, who of course did not speak English, and handed her my credit card to pay. Well, when I signed the receipt she become angry and took my credit card and would not give it back. She tried to explain something to me, waving her hands in the air above her neck muscles tense with excitement, but to me she was speaking Greek. So I became nervous, somehow knowing I did something wrong, as all the hurried eyes behind me, still waiting in line, fell upon me in a look of disgust. In my mind, I could hear the people saying patriotically to themselves, “Learn Czech, you’re in the Czech Republic.” After a few drops of sweat and the help of the next cashier, I signed my named again on the receipt just as it is printed on my credit card, “SEE ID.”

I could feel the connection in my brain, when I gained the knowledge to avoid this situation again by changing my name to “SEE ID.” Thus, now all the stores in the Czech Republic know me by “SEE ID,” though I confess, I rather liked my birth name. Well, I also learned another survival trick from this little event that lasted maybe 5 minutes chronologically but 5 hours psychology. This trick is to always pay at a cashier who is under the age of 30 and is more likely to speak English if needed. So, I learned two small, but useful skills to maneuver here in Prague, but at a cost of course. The shoes were on sale, more than 50% off, but they rang up at full price, and the money I lost from not speaking up was well worth the time to leave the scene and hide.