The highlight of my summer (which given all my travel says something) was a month-long excursion away from San Diego into West Germany and Bavarian country.
The original purpose was to attend the First International Spring School on Resilience Research, a five-day workshop hosted by intresa, or the International Resilience Research Alliance, housing twelve universities in Europe. I found out later the workshop was an intresa networking workshop for postdocs and trainees. So how did I found about it? A chance conversation with Raffael Kalisch on ResearchGate after stumbling upon his theory paper in Nature Human Behaviour! LOLS 🙂 What was initially a five-day trip turned into a nearly three-week excursion, with the workshop capped before and after with visits to Dr. Kalisch’s lab.
Whoever says that researchgate.net doesn’t work
OBVIOUSLY didn’t spark an international collaboration
and mentorship in a weekend!! #BOOYAH
It would be the longest time spent away for work – one entire month. I paid the big bucks to snag a premium economy seat and was so worth it: leg room, full meals, unlimited drinks and snacks.
I arrived 9am in Frankfurt greeted by Ayline, the friend of a postdoc colleague I met here in UCSD (thanks Martin and Natalie!). She was so nice, and her son Benedict was adorable! 🙂 She had an entire trip already planned at Heidelberg Castle, one hour south of Frankfurt. It was absolutely surreal, knowing that in the span of three hours I’d gone from sitting in a cramped business compartment to overlooking the German countryside from this vantage point:
Ayline funded a tour of the castle – my first in Europe – and I got my initial taste of old German folklore and history outside of Berlin.
Heidelberg continued to be absolutely beautiful from above…
…so much so that Ayline, Benedict and I strolled down into the city and had lunch out on the square.
I admit, I overdid it: a full schnitzel plate, cappuccino, and a heavy lager mixed with airport food = one TOUGH ride back through Frankfurt rush hour traffic! 😦 😦 I’d originally wanted to stay close to the city for a day excursion. Instead, I spent most of my time in Kelsterbach wandering around the tiny neighborhood looking for an open Apotheke for my stomach-in-duress.
Things I learned that day: Everything in Germany closes early, around 5 or 6pm, and there are not many commercial places to just sit, unless it’s a beer or ice cream with a group of friends who never look at technology.
What I did enjoy in this one night here was a lovely couple traveling through Europe. They’d been on the road for nearly 2 months with their very bright son in tow. We talked a lot about Texas and Avengers: Infinity War before we said goodbye – by this point, I was dead tired.
The next day I took the train into Mainz, where I’d be staying for the next week. The city of Mainz is absolutely GORGEOUS. Also small. I’d gotten lost on the way to my AirBnB and didn’t realize I trekked half the city! The condo was owned by a really nice and quirky (see her décor below) lady named Birgit who stayed in the living room while I took over her bedroom. She also prepared coffee and left it outside my door every morning! 😊
I took the opportunity to waltz around a bit, using the city’s main cathedral as a directional marker. Situated at the heart of the city center, you can see this looming tower from every main road. When I finally saw it in all its glory, it was stunning:
Here, the traditional 16th-17th century roads of Germany still remain somewhat intact, surviving the damage of WWII in a way the streets near the hauptbanhof did not. Wooden beams and bright colors adorned the homes that lined the cobblestone streets. And everywhere were tourists and locals with ice cream in their hands, enjoying the warm weather and each other’s company.
Nowhere did I see a phone or laptop out – public WiFi is a rarity, and overuse looked down upon by its residents. Here, the spirit of Germany remained firmly in its traditional roots. A part of me hated its inefficiency for an plugged-in, American, obsessed scholar like me. However, the work-weary soul in me reveled in the magic of a different world, at least for an evening.
University of Mainz
The second reason for this trip was to visit the research team of Raffael Kalisch at Johannes Gutenberg University Medical Center. It was part of a grant writing risk I took (and ultimately lost ☹) that would’ve given me $3000 in travel funding. For me to be eligible, the grant required me to establish an international mentor and visit their lab for one week, so who better to visit in Germany than the German Resilience Center, the Mecca of all International Resilience Research in all of Europe? 😊
I was quickly blown away by the sophistication of their work, leagues ahead of the current and scattered resilience efforts in the States. The range of their research designs span from a novel theoretical framework, and experimental investigations of mechanisms, to large-scale, observational cohort studies in the community. Their outcome variables are a wide range of fMRI to biomarker data. I also witnessed the defense of an incredibly bright graduate student and celebrated with the rest of the team:
I didn’t know that imposter syndrome could recur so quickly, but oh, it did.
For a little bit we didn’t know what to with me. There was a lot of work I wasn’t familiar with, and after awhile I ended up just speaking with every single member of the research team and listened as they spoke about their own piece of research. One such colleague was named Elena, who despite doing animal/mice research (suuuuuper far from my own area of work), I clicked with pretty well interpersonally, and we spent the rest of my week preparing for the workshop.
1st International Spring School on Resilience Research – Seeon
Kloster Seeon was ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS, and I was deadset on waking up at some point in the morning to snag a sunrise picture. Problem was, sunrise was around 5am, which made it quite challenging 😀 Luckily, Elena was a heavy sleeper and by this point a good friend. I got up early nearly everyday to capture this incredible view:
Each day we sat down for a morning talks with leading researchers in resilience. For the first time I was also introduced to animal model research, which was great exposure for someone in data-world far too long. In the afternoons, we would work with 3-4 other researchers (animal- and human-researchers alike) to come up with a resilience related study that integrated our interests. Poster sessions rounded out further discussion of our work.
One night was a cultural night, where we wore or brought something that represented our culture. Before I left, I bought a contemporary alampay to wear to show off my Filipino heritage:
And naturally, I paired it with an obnoxious cowboy hat to show off my Texan roots:
The rest of the nights were spent walking or biking around Seeon, a homely little town around the lake. Luckily, there were many other German resilience researchers that I could latch onto to help me navigate the restaurants, as we were DEEP in the heart of Bavaria – it was very, very obvious that I was often the only non-white, non-German speaker in the room!
Instead of going straight back to Mainz, I decided to spend the weekend in Munich. I was a little nervous, considering I was on my own again. Unfortunately, my AirBnB host was the inflexible and unforgiving type of Bavarian – I got to his apartment twenty minutes late, and climbed five flights of steep stairs with VERY heavy luggage, just to arrive to a very long scolding about punctuality, courtesy, and disrespect ☹.
I made sure not to talk to him after that.
Besides my AirBnB host, I actually had a fantastic time. I met with up with Sanne and Anna at Hofbrauhaus, the largest brewhouse in all of Germany.
I decided off the cuff to devote an entire dayto Dachau Concentration Camp. I’m really, really glad I did. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable, very local, and very… very… socialist, lol. I had the improbable fortune of meeting another couple from Texas on the tour – they did not like him. Surprising…
It is very surreal to stand in the location of stories you only heard from textbooks and in historical fiction – horrors so distanced from your reality that you realize actually happened — right under your feet. Dachau KZ was the first established concentration camp, and thus the first/central hub of the medical horrors that occurred from the Holocaust.
The remainder of my time I spent walking all around the City Center of Munich, shopping unashamedly for European summer fashion, and also a little bit of old Bavaria as well 😊
I snuck a few pictures of dirndl and a Weste Ricardo vest and other Trachten jackets, though I didn’t have enough courage (or spending money) to grab one of these awesome dresses!
One night I made my way to Englischer Gartens, a beautiful, green retreat that I wish I could’ve spent a leisurely jog through. Instead, I sat with the ducks and watched the sun set:
CRAZY PDA SHOUTOUT: In pure German fashion, there are few commercial places that open on a Sunday, and my only available option was an outdoor McDonald’s a block away. I remember this morning so clearly because, while I sat outside sipping coffee at 8am, the rest of my friends were currently at a raging house party (~11pm) hosted by my friend Alex; many of them incessantly messaged me about the fun times I was missing out on! Thanks Andrew, Tony and Sunny for the intense FOMO!!! 😀
University of Mainz – Part II
Returning to Mainz I had a lot of buzz in my head from the week I spent in resilience world. There was so much I wanted to do, but had to tell myself I needed to get the right foundation before I did.
This time, my AirBnB was a wonderfully spacious (and vacant) one-bedroom apartment on the South side of Mainz. It was farther away from the city, but right at the edge of campus. I enjoyed this setup way more – less cramped and with a GORGEOUS view from its living room window:
I spent the remaining four days catching up with each student about additional work, and also hung out with Elena a few more times. I also took the opportunity to shop, with a lot of fashion-forward clothing that I’m SUPER glad I splurged on!
As much as I enjoyed Mainz, I could feel right around the third- to second-to-last day that I was ready to go home. I’d exhausted most of the resources that were available to share in the lab and I was also running very behind on my work at home. As sad I was to leave the beauty of Germany, I’d also missed the company of friends, particularly those that I would’ve liked to experience Germany with me.
Suffice it to say, I was incredibly happy to see Nathan’s Challenger on the side of the road when I stepped out of DFW airport. I would spend one more weekend with him before I went back to San Diego… already June!