Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Living from one test to another

We learned the equivalent page volume of 7 weeks of anatomy for our 3 week cell bio test, whew, what a brain drain! Thus, we all celebrated with a much deserved sushi buffet- so delicious and just hit the spot for my Asian food craving. We drove out 10 miles just for the occasion which involved running across highways and jogging across parking lots just to reach the destination! As a vegetarian, I was still happy with the selection and of course I was delighted with the red bean and green tea icecream for dessert. We were all in good moods, and not quite ready to start our second cell path segment just yet...
Large group made it out!
Yeah, I was in heaven :).

Our class is really social, so we also visited 3 different election night gatherins, all which were very fun. The excitement that night was contagious!
I wore blue and red for the occasion.
undergrads begin rioting, med students join in!
After a week of Indian summer weather and intense studying indoors (boo), we emerged to enjoy the weekend only to find it had turned.. freezing! Nevertheless we hit up Pittsburgh Neighborhood Narratives, a film of short films of different areas of Pittsburgh (Think "Paris, Je t'aime, and go culture yourself if you haven't seen that). The last screening (we just made it!) was held at a bar called FireHouse in the Strip District (where one of the short films was centered around).
We enjoyed free gourmet popcorn, yum

Many of the short film makers made it there and talked about their work! it was a great show

And into November ...

The thing about med school is that tests often fall on Mondays and you start a new section on Tuesday- so you can always be learning.. and burnt out. This also leads to somewhat lame weekends before exams, but I never let that common perception stop me from doing new, fun things.

So the Friday before our 1st cell and path test was Halloween. Mirat and I played it pretty chill, but our friends got us to go out for a late night bite to eat in Oakland. We arrived, dressed up, and were the only ones who had done so.. and thus were ridiculed. Some great costumes were around that night- several Michael Phelps, Sarah Palins, and Joe the Plumbers :).
Mirat is a cat burgular...hehe
The crew goes to Fuel and Fuddle in Oakland to celebrate Halloween

Pitt Arts is amazing, and I got tix to see the ballet, Great Gatsby for $15, including a gourmet cupcake reception where we got to hear the artistic director of Pitt Ballet talk about the production. It was a really classy night, and the perfect study break. The ballet itself was very different, I wasn't a huge fan of all the 1920s music they used, but it was "interesting" and entertained me.

The performance hallGirls night out to the ballet!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Spooky October

The weekend after our anatomy final we drove off to nearby Philly (5 hours, I forget how long this state is) to the national APAMSA (Asian Medical Students Association) conference. Pitt paid for the whole thing! It was a great weekend of learning how medical issues take into account ethnicity and networking with students from all over the country! I was really pleased to see quite a few recent MIT alums at the conference, it really is a small world! We took the last day off to explore Philly, I love all the historical monuments and houses the city has. We visited Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross' house, and old city. Of course, no Asian medical conference weekend would be complete with out a last meal in Chinatown!

The APAMSA delegation from Pitt with our faculty adviser, Dr. Lee

Girls in front of the Liberty Bell
Cell Bio is our new block and we are now learning a lot of old stuff (cell cycle, growth factors) mixed with new. In particular, we learn pathology, and are able to identify lots of different cell types from slides. It's a lot of brute memorization, which makes it hard to study for long hours, but they do try to put many clinical references and cases in our course work.

The weekend after APAMSA, I had a booked schedule! I participated in my first ever flag football game (I went to 2 practices where I looked like a fool doing drills around the field and trying to catch a football), but when the big day came for us to play against the MS2 girls, I was pumped! Our team did great, we ended up losing (only by a bit), and so much of our class came out to cheer. Despite the rain, it was a great time :D.
Team spirit, like our shirts? (photo by Josh Levenson)

After the game I carved pumpkins with the elderly, to give the geriatrics field a try. It was a fun event, but definitely difficult to see how some elderly no longer could talk to or understand me.
Our beautiful pumpkins!

Still pumped from the APAMSA conference, we held out annual Diwali event for Pitt Med. We had such great MS1 attendance and everyone enjoyed the performances, dancing and food. Natalie and I had helped organize performances for this and it was rewarding to see so many people at the event.
Aren't we a good looking bunch? APAMSA board at Diwali
Diwali- festival of lights!

Continuing on with my booked Satudray- I ran over to the med school dorms to visit my dear friend Amy. She's like a mom to all of us and had a caramel making event. The caramel apples were DELICIOUS, we dunked em in crushed walnuts and M and Ms. Thank you Amy!

I love this New England type stuff!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

No more Anatomy :(

We were given 3 hours for the anatomy final (130 mult choice questions) but I decided I had done my best and turned my test in about an hour early. Having Honors/Pass/Fail is a decent system, since you know that you will be in some great company if you Pass, and Honors (top 25 kids/150 kids in the class) sometimes just isn't worth beating yourself up over. I'll really miss anatomy- my lab group was the best, our teacher was so great and encouraging.

I destressed by working out at the student gym, walked over to the public Carnegie library and read for a bit. Then Amy hosted a wonderful post-test wine and cheese party- it was so nice to see everyone without the stress load we've had for the past few weeks!
Destressing :)

That night we celebrated some long awaited birthdays (everything gets put off til after the big test), everyone was so merry!

Oh yeah.. and continuing on the weird artsy stuff we do here: this weekend we saw an opera about aliens in the middle of a park. It was rock music with psychedelic singing, and at some point we all chanted "tilt the dish" at the sky. It was called SQUONK OPERA ASTRO-RAMA, and if I may so say, that's one of the best names for a performance I've ever heard. It's part of Pittsburgh's Festival of lights and at the end they lit up the Cathedral of Learning (it'll stay lit every night into November with different designs!)
nicely lit cathedral of learning

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gearing up for the Anatomy Final

Let's describe the weekend before our Monday Anatomy Final (cumulative 7 weeks).
We studied like crazy.. and then studied like insane people.. and then studied like we were zombies... it was a bit brutal. Our syllabus was 400 pages long or so, I knew every page (almost like the back of my hand)- and everyone else knew the material just as well too! I guess it's like memorizing Harry Potter #4...but I'd do that for fun anyways, haha.

We carefully planned to review for the final as the big day approached, so my friends and I could still attend some events we've been looking forward to for awhile. Pittsburgh always has a lot of cool artsy performances (at great student prices) and they dont' always fall on convenient days. But hey, we're flexible and the Friday before the written test (we just had our last anatomy practical on legs and arms (quite tough, since they flipped the limbs into confusing orientations)), Mirat and I took a break to watch a really neat ballet.

Here's the premise to the ballet: It's called Radio and Juliet and it's the epic love story done BACKWARDS to the music of RADIOHEAD. I had no idea what to expect but Mirat (who always encourages me to do interesting artsy things) and I bravely ventured downtown (yay, free bus transportation for Pitt students). I was completely enthralled and amazed by the performance which was at times really weird, but so incredibly beautiful nonetheless. It's the best dance performance I've seen in my life and I left it all giddy and happy. And now I'm kinda a radio head fan!
Watch my favorite scene of the ballet HERE.
This part was super cool, too, they all wear surgeon's masks but it's meant to be the Masquerade scene in romeo and juliet- the ending is the best, the guys were such amazing dancers :). WATCH!

Radio and Juliet :)

The next day we camped out at Keva Han and did some intense studying. But just across the street was student night at the local Carnegie Art Museum, so we took a break at 6pm to eat free catered food and enjoyed the art- the exhibition was called "Life on Mars". I didn't really get it... but sometimes art is lost on me...
Carnegie Museum, really pretty place!
Neato exhibit with ribbons that had people's wishes on them. You can take one, tie it aorund your wrist, and when it falls off the wish comes true. You can also leave your wishes and they may make them into ribbons for a later exhibit. I took the wish "Je voudrais retrouver l'amour".

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Happy 250th Bday Pittsburgh!

Weekend of 10/3/2008 and maybe a combination of a few weekends before it... (losing track)

It was a pretty rough week of Anatomy- we've started concentrating on the extremities which have a ridiculous amount of muscles ( you need to know exactly which muscles contribute to what movement, much more complicated than I ever thought) and dissection goes pretty slow since the muscles, nerves, and arteries are a bit more foreign to us and difficult to find.

But we decided to celebrate our hardwork by enjoying a much deserved weekend:
We revived our Harris Grill Happy hour tradition and had our delicious favorite Frozen Cosmos- only $3!

Our favorite hang out place in Shadyside, we love sitting on Harris' patio!
Frozen Cosmo to the left and some classic perogies!

Since it was the first friday of the month we also enjoyed our tour of the local galleries along Ellsworth St., a tradition since we love visiting our friend's boyfriend's gallery where he works and displays his art. These First Fridays are really fun, with people just mingling in galleries and enjoying wine and yummy appetizers. I particularly loved the glass gallery- they had a whole showing of artistic/wild/creative glass teapots. Anything you imagine a teapot could possibly be.. they had it!

We then made our way over to a classmate's apartment for a preparty (best thing about Shadyside is that a lot of medschool students live here!) and then we all went as a big group down to the Southside where we danced the night away at our favorite club...Diesel :). Diesel is really non sketchy and plays great music!

We hunkered down for some studying at a groovy cafe we love on Craig St. It's called Keva Han and we can wittle away 8-12 hours there with hardcore studying!
Keva's that groovy... we're studying muscles

Some time in the midst of studying, we decided to take a study break to the IHOP 10 miles away... (we get odd cravings sometimes due to extreme use of brain power, hehe), and so a group of us drove and I nearly died of happiness eating my blueberry/sweet cream cheese crepe with hash browns and scrambled eggs. I still dream of this sometimes.

We rushed back to Pittsburgh just in time to witness it's 250th Birthday fireworks! Fireworks were launched from 17 locations on Pitt's 3 rivers. They were hard to see since we didnt' stake out a spot on the bridge, but nevertheless the atmosphere was very merry as we sat atop the hill in Schenley park with hundreds of other watchers.

Wished we had this view, but it's spectacular non the less-! WATCH a video HERE

READ about the special event HERE

Who says med students can't have fun? Fun and productive weekend all around!

Friday, September 19, 2008

post test destress...and it starts all over again!

We had our first anatomy test this Monday, which everyone studied feverishly for over the weekend. It's odd that though we only get honors/pass/fail and that our class is not ranked at all, people still really study obsessively. I think I have a pretty high tolerance for pain and studying endurance, but in medical school I think people put out a whole new standard. I have just enough time to review the material on my own, and people are already making study sheets/diagrams etc and sending them out to the whole class! They're really helpful, but it's like " how do you have time to do all of that?!?". Reality check: Jessica is not as uber hardcore as she thought she was.

It's been a year since I've even taken a real test (BE senior year was full of labs/long answer tests) and I think it's been at least a few years since I've taken a scantron! (evil MCAT Summer 2006). I studied by going over our syllabus (over 100 pages of packed material for this exam), going over all the new terms I've learned (probably over 300 new medical/anatomical terms), going into lab twice during the weekend (to look at body structures on all the different bodies), and doing practice problems released by Pitt, UMich, and even taking some practice BRS (Boards) tests. I felt pretty good the night of the test- though Hurricane Ike hit Shadyside and we lost power for an hour (Mirat and I freaked out (along with the rest of our med school neighbors) because we hadn't quite finished up studying, but our medical resident neighbors were awesome and gave us a huge candle). We felt like we were studying back in the colonial times, it was like Little House on the Prairie. Don't make fun of us.

What it really looked like- studying lymphatics by candlelight.
Mirat tudying at the table with my camera's flash on :).

Monday morning half our class took the written test (50 multiple choice questions, 70 minutes) and half our class took the practical (ID'ing tagged and pinned structures in the anatomy lab, 50 stations, 25 rest stations , 75 minutes total- more on this later). Then we switched. Man, the written test was intense, and multiple choice was never my strong suit, I ended up doing not so hot on the written, but not terrible either- the 70 minutes flew by. Then we went into the lab for our practical:

I'm going to detail the anatomy lab practical because I think it's a strange and fun experience, unlike any academic test you will ever take. Can you tell I love rambling? :)
So the Friday before our test, our wonderful anatomy T.A.s set up a mock practical for us- at 7:30pm at night. It was wonderfully spooky and almost ritual as all 150 of us were led into the empty building, and barked orders at in the lecture hall. This is how the test works - There are several stations, 1 person to a station, you get 1 minute to ID everything that is asked at that station, then the bell rings and EVERYONE shifts to the next station- this continues until you hit all the stations. You can not touch the body/organ/structure, you can only look, absolute silence, and you write down your answer on your clipboard and must move promptly from your station to the next when the bell rings. You are responsible for knowing/recognizing every single structure mentioned in the dissection book in our section (about 300 terms), this includes odd bones, fascias, muscles, organs, arteries, veins, nerves. Some structures always appear on the exam some others are totally random. Our class shuffled into the eerie anatomy lab, picked stations to start at and then silence started and nervousness consumed us all... the first few minutes made me really nervous, it's silent, everyone's craning their next to look around the structure, I'd panic like crazy trying to orient myself to where I was looking at in the cadaver and then had to narrow down all the possible things the little red string could possibly be tied to. Most of the time I had a good idea, some of the time I had to guess. Things on some bodies look completely different to things on some other bodies, due to either drying of tissues, biological difference, or gender differences. I thing anatomy lab is a great way to learn the body, so I think I generally do well at this portion of the test- indeed on the actual test this was my strong suit :).

we're not allowed to take pictures in anatomy lab (respect for cadavers) but it's something like this old photograph...btw my anatomy team of 6 is super awesome!

Whew, needless to say we were all ridiculously relieved when we finished the two portions of the test, many of us went out to celebrate that night and everyone was in such a great mood. Unfortunately the next morning we dove straight back into the next section- head and neck-even more complicated with more material than our first section.
Med school has no homework, but it's constant studying, and hard tests - bring back some MIT psets for me and I think I'll be a little more sane...or not...

The weekend looks fun from here- vegan potluck, saturday rooftop party, sunday dinner with my advising group, and studying all in between. I'll update again soon!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

musings of med school

it's 2 weeks in and we just began anatomy and real class.

they said at MIT that education was taking a drink from a fire hose, med school is like taking a drink from a REALLY BIG FIRE HOSE.

we have class at 8am every day, end around 5. since this is the beginning of school, everyone shows up, more or less on time. We had 4 hours of lecture, 4 hours of lab- WHEW, and if you fall asleep for 5 secs (not that I do or anything...) you almost always miss something important. Pitt med does a great job- they have stripped anatomy down the the absolute essentials, but it's still a heck of a lot of material. Today was our first day dissecting our cadaver (we named her Edna), an alien experience at first, 150 students with lots of protective gear and gloves with our cadavers in white body bags on metal bed stands. Our group is lucky because we are under a huge air vent meant to remove the slightly harmful formaldehyde quickly from the room air. The entire room is COLD, like we are in a huge fridge- meant to keep the bodies from decomposing too fast. We first met Edna yesterday- she died at age 83 of heart disease and the preservation process makes her look very different from a live body. She is very pale, stiff to the touch, and her skin (especially on the stomach) is hard, almost looking like a paperbag. Her face is covered for now, something we are all grateful for since we're squeamish as it is. Anatomy... is a discovery process with a little learning sprinkled in. Structure are hard to identify, most of the time is spent cleaning or cutting to get to what we are trying to find. Tiring but my dissection group is a great team :).

I feel now that my profession is truly being a student. To even prepare for class I need to read A LOT of material every night- almost 2 hours of prep just to GO to school in the morning with some clue of what's going on. Review is really necessary (we learn almost 50+ new terms everyday) and fills whatever spare time I have. And I'm not even that anal of a student...yet. There are many kids in my class that buckle down right after our 9 hour day and study in our library for hours. I've never seen so many people so driven to learn, an interesting environment for different personalities.

I'm really happy to be surrounded by people who care about the same things I do. We took personality tests- Myers Briggs- before we came to school. 23% of the class are the same classification as me. 17% of the class is vegetarian or vegan. Everywhere I turn I find people who I can really connect with and who I really admire. Naturally, med school draws a lot of "type A" people- and it's really amusing to me that you can have a dinner party and people arrive EARLY. People help you clean up without you asking and are super considerate and willing to colloborate. Of course, there are exceptions, but I'm confident I've found an environment I'll be happy with for a long while, if not my entire life.

Here's hoping that I feel that way after anatomy test 1...

the beginning of my dream career...

Hi Everyone!
I hope you are all doing well and enjoying the rest of summer or the start of a new academic year! I just wanted to send you a facebook link of my album so far of pictures I've taken at med school- it's not quite as good as a blog but I thought you'd all appreciate seeing my views of Pittsburgh, my new condo, and the new friends I have made here.

We just finished up our first two weeks- first we had a week of orientation (filled with logistics and diversity training during the day, and fun social events at night), and then a week of "Introduction to Being a Physician" a light course where we got to hear panels of physicians talk and learn about a new disease each day and meet patients in our small group sessions to interview them. We got to wear our white coat almost everyday this past week, it was pretty nice to get a taste of what we have to look forward to the next four years.
The most recent highlight was today, when Mirat (my roommate) and I hosted a big dinner party for vegetarians/vegans/and our allies. Our medical school class is actually 17% non meat eating, which is really neat- so about 25 or so of our classmates came and we had a really wonderful potluck. :) Tomorrow our class goes white-water rafting, something I'm really excited about! Monday we dig in and begin anatomy!

I would love to hear about what is going on in your lives, so please keep me updated!

Love, Jessica

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Life in Chelmsford

Some of you have been wondering what I've been up to since arriving back from Ecuador. 7/9.

Well, as is typical JLee, I sleep about 12 hours a day (awesome!) and wake up at noon consistently. I then play around with my laptop (yay HP) for a few hours while also doing chores and errands in my house. Lately that time has been apartment hunting in Pittsburgh, which is strangely both annoying and exciting (i've never really looked for a place on my own before!). I'll be rooming with Mirat Shah another MIT student going to Pitt Med this year. As for the other waitlists, though things had previously looked "optimistic", apparently all waitlists have been "spookily" stable this year and no one has been really taken off. So I'm getting psyched for Pitt and learning a lot more about the school and its programs.

The Pitt FB group has also been inviting to me to all these awesome orientation events including a boat cruise (pitt has 3 rivers), an artsy museum crawl (home of andy warhol), white water rafting!!!, an amusement park visit and more.

In the afternoon I usually read (Pitt sent me the book " complications" by Gawande, a book about imperfect medicine) or bake (I've made banana and zucchini bread, yum). I then take a run around my town in the late afternoon, but generally that is quickly exhausting due to heat.
Then my parents come home and I cook delicious asian food with my mom or go grocery shopping (my family is very food-centered). Evenings wrap up with some online chatting, magazine reading, or PBS watching.

Some days I'll go with my dad to work and spend the day at MIT having lunch with my friends that are still here and then lounging around Baker dorm. It's a pretty relaxing summer.
Today, I brought a big birthday cake to MIT and invited 20 friends to come celebrate with me tonight, it's a good excuse to bring everyone together :D.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ecuadorian Food :) YUM

Of course, trying new food has been a big part of this trip.

Christina and I absolutely love the fresh fruits and vegetables available here. They are so abundant in the summer! They make us pineapple, naranjilla (cross between orange and kiwi), guava, passionfruit, watermelon, tree tomato juices at our hostel and local restaurants. Salads are also very popular here and avocado is used heavily :).

Christina's favorite fruit- narajilla (no english name). Very delicious in juices.

However, local ecuadorians seem to prefer heavier, fried foods- alot of main courses involve rice, beans, heavy meats, french fries, fried plantains etc. It's pretty hearty and definitely fills you up. Thank goodness we hike around enough that I think the calories have not yet accumulated... famous last words.

Ecuadorian things we were told to try include-

Humitas - tamale-like , cornmeal with cheese in the middle Also interesting to note is that soups or sopas are popular and that ecuadoraisn like putting popcorn in their soups ! kinda like oyster crackers...


Today we met up with our third team mate who has been in Ecuador for a bit working on our same project. Her name is Jean and she's a sloanie! We had a super productive day of meeting with the local medical school and working out a scholarship for the indigenous students that may want to study medicine further. Later at night we were able to meet a shaman from the community who is pretty well educated.
We asked him questions for about 2 hours, his views on Western medicine melding with traditional shaman work were something we really wanted to know. He basically has complete faith in his healing capabilities and will only use Western medicine as a supplement to his knowledge. He told us tales of curing cancer, AIDs, and TB with his unique abilities. It is truly something that is almost unbelievable and we had to wonder how much it was luck, faith, or just belief that a sickness was cured. He was very curious about our own backgrounds (our team is all asian!) and how we have delt with melding asian medicinen with american techniques.

We interviewed with the shaman late into the night and caught a quick dinner only to be in the midst of a hugely important soccer game! We watched as Ecuador beat Brazil for the first time in history in the Copa Libertadores. Thousands of people were in the square we were eating in and Ecuadorians were jumping and screaming, singing, chanting during the whole game! I've never seen such excitement over soccer. We happily hung out with the rioters as they drunkenly cheered in the streets. Flags and shirts were waving everywhere, and by the end of the night I knew some chants. The celebrations lasted long into the night. :)

Publish PostThe team!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Guayasamin and Quito Nightscapes

Today Christina and I hiked up big hill (high altitude + out of shapeness = huffing and puffing) to see the two museums dedicated to the art of Ecuadorian, Guayasimin. I found his art very interesting, often grotesque, but all in all the experience was more visually powerful than a lot of American art I've seen.

Guayasamines has a lot of pictures involving his trademark hands.
This museums were very well organized, and I enjoyed my time at both of them.

After visiting the museums, we went to the museum cafe and had our first empanada! Mine was cheese filled and Christina had one with meat. The view every where from Quito is spectacular. I know I keep on saying how beautiful the montain and clouds are...but this is a picture of the view from the museum that was pretty breathtaking.

While eating empanadas we met Frank, a young guy volunteering in Guayiquil. Every traveler we meet here has some interseting life stories. Frank (though he looks hip and very californian frat guy) worked in a seminary for two years, currently volunteers in Ecuador with HIV/AIDs kids and families and wants to work in a faith related occupation for the rest of his life.

Thanks to his excellent recommendation, we had dinner with him at Ecuador's "top of the hub" which was open air. We could see all of "Old Town" sparkling in the valley as well as the lit old town buildings. I tried Ecuadorian specialties- a humita (think tamale filled with cheese), locra de papas (potatoe soup with cheese and avocado), morocho (warm mikly drink with corn and raisins, like rice pudding). It was a wonderful night and we were treated with a live latin band which we stayed to listen to.

Old town during the day- isn't quito gorgeous?
Old town at night, so beautiful. It gets chilly at night here so they turned on these heat lamps that looked dangerous...

Monday, June 30, 2008

Quichua Health Care Project!

btw: for some fun pictures and different perspectives on Ecuador, you all should visit Chrisitna´s blog

So.. though I love telling you all about the details of traveling and sight-seeing, real reason Christina and I are in Quito is because we`re working on an HST (Harvard-MIT) health care project with the Amazonian indigenous people called Quichuas.
The Quichua lack basic health care and suffer greatly from a lack of first-aid knowledge. We worked with a business school student and ER doctor this past semester and through this summer to develop a comprehensive wound kit and telemedicine scheme to aid the Quichua people.

Our project goals changed a bit since the completion of our HST class. We were to bring a portable aid kit for wounds to the Quichua community and teach volunteers about wound care so that they could treat emergency cases in the large and difficult-to-traverse community. We also worked on a partnership with Wound Technology Network who will provide the community free telemedicine consultation- the idea is that a health care volunteer will take pictures of wounds they do not know how to handle, email it to WTN, and then get free physican feedback on how to treat it.

We were able to commute to the community center (40 min motorized canoe ride) every day with the help of our amazing native Quichua guides, Javier and Freddy. They grew up in the Amazon but through their studies learned english very well and have studied at university. They really wanted to give back to their community so they work for Sani Lodge. We were able to give our medical supplies to Blanca, the community health volunteer who really appreciated them. We also got great response for our telemedicine scheme and our native guides really want to make it happen. We spoke to village headmen and community members to learn more about their health care system, deficiencies in health education, and their response to our telemedicine and health education schemes. We collected a lot of data and presented many solutions to their problems.

We are now in Quito and are workign directly with the lodges' administrative offices to get support and funding for our project goals. We were able to give a donated camera to the community and hope to get the telemedicine rolling as internet becomes more available to the community. We're goign to visit a shaman and the Quito Medical school later this week. We hope to get donated medical books and possible scholarships for people in the community to become better trained in health care. So far, it's been a very positive experience- Sani Isla is a really enthusiastic and forward-thinking community that's been backing us the whole way. We hope the positive experinece continues until July 9!

More on the Amazon soon...

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Into the Amazon... at Sani Lodge

So last you heard from us we were debating a trip into the Amazon to carry out our wound care project... the next morning we were on a plane to the amazon region! It was pretty last minute due to lack of response from our sponsoring amazon lodge (Sani Lodge), but it worked out wonderfully.

During the flight (we quickly ascended into clouds due to Quito's high altitude) we were able to view some of the breath-taking mountains of the Andes- huge portions of the mountains were above the clouds! However, when we landed we were in the middle of Coca, a city built with oil money and at a pretty low elevation (it was much more humid and hot than Quito).

It's definitely got the makings of a ramshack rapidly growing town. It's a bit grungy and muddy. We were transported by lodge staff to a motorized river boat and traveled 2.5 hours on the large Napo River. It is rainy season in the Amazon and the river is very full and fast flowing. Half way there we lost a motor on the boat, we hit a floating trunk or something, and though it didn't affect our travels, the lodge staff were very upset over the loss (motors cost several tens of thousands).

We switched boats - to a small dugout canoe and entered a smaller river that weaved throught the jungle and within 25 minutes we were at a peaceful lagoon where our lodge was located. Sani Lodge has a very intersting history. It is a lodge owned entirely by the indigenous Indian (Sani Isla) population after they bartered with an oil company. The oil company wanted to just survey their land for oil and in exchange they had to build the lodge and other amenities for the community. Oil companies are the big bad wolf here as they cause much environmental harm but often many indigneous communities are lured by the money and allow the destruction of their environment. So it's really neat that something eco friendly and sustainable came about the deal, the lodge employs a great amount of the community members and all the profits go back to them.

Sani Lodge, and the pond/lagoon entering it.

To our surprise, we need a canoe to get to our campsite from the main lodge (where rich tourists stay in cabins). Since it's rainy season the dock to the campsite is completely submerged and the canoes have to just line up right with the submerged walkway. Sani Lodge took really good care of us and loaned us heavy duty ponchoes and galoshes, which are definetly in need as we're always sloshing through water, mud, and rain. Our campsite lodgings were really nice, we're in these huge palm covered tents with mini tents and matresses inside. The bathroom however is located about 30 seconds from the campsite and we often got lost going there with our weak flashlight.

The other tourists (there are about 6 of them) are really intersting and from diverse backgrounds. We met californians, canadians, british, and australians. Many were traveling alone and they ranged from mid 20's to a grandma! We talked a lot at every meal (they blow a horn to signal lunch and dinner). The meals at the lodge were fabulous and we were definitely spoiled. We had three courses at each meal and always got fresh juices and veggies. I got to try exotic things like a tomatoe fruit, yucca, and other meat-eaters tested staff-caught piranhas and a local pig-sized rodent, pacca. Meals are in this open air dining room thatched in traditoinal palms and at night we ate by candel light since electricyt is only used when necessary.

The weather was often super rainy, 5-6 downpours a day, but when it was cloudy or sunny we enjoyed the lush green scenery. Birds and wildlife were spotted by our guides at all times of the day and we'd be treated with glimpses of parrots and monkeys through their expert eyes and telescopes. Our first night there we met with the native Quichua guides (who speak great English) and organized our visits with the Sani Quichua community we wanted to work with for our wound care project.

Picture of the jungle.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hola Ecuador!

Arrived in Quito on Friday night via a long series of delays and flights!

Our hostal- Hostal Alcala is this beautiful yellow bed and breakfast in the heart of Quito. We really have enjoyed our stay there thus far. Jose the owner is very nice and puts up with all our questions. We get hot cocoa, tea, and coffee all the time and get served breakfast in the morning.
Breakfast is scrambled eggs, fruit, toast, and this gorgeous papaya juice (we've been too scared to try the juice so far). We get all this for $13 per person a night plus hot water, electricity, a private double with a private bath, and tv and wireless access :).

On Ecuadorian food- its mostly lots of juices, fresh fruits, and vegetables with meat main dishes and rice. Sadly, Christina and I are staying clear of any potential stomach troublers like fresh produce for this week.

Christina and I explored on Saturday 6/21 starting early in the morning. It was the day of the Solstice (longest day of the year!) and there were a few festivals and cultural events happening in Quito. We were directed to the "Mitad Del Mundo" or rather the "Middle of the World". Obviously, Ecuador is at the equator and after about a 1.5 hour tiring bus ride (christina and I had to stand the whole time) we made it to the equator line! It is centered in a park of artisans and restaurants so we spent a good few hours there. It also seems to rain every afternoon in Quito- not always very nice. It's supposedly winter here so water and cold = damp and shivering Jessica.
The scenery around Quito is gorgeous. It is a small/quaint city in the middle of a valley-surrounded by towering peaks and so highly elevated it almost touches the clouds. It really is beautiful as clouds blanket almost any peak in sight. Public transportation is great, we are able to purchase tokens for $0.25 and travel almost anywhere in the city -much more modernized than I expected! Also, we never even needed to exchange currency as they use the US dollar.
Safety has been a concern for us, because we here about a lot of theft and all the locals we meet tell us to guard our valuables, however we met this tall German guy, Nicco, our second night here and befriended him to join us on our adventure to the "Old City" today. This part of the city is very touristy and reminds me of Italy- its filled with many many old churches and museums. It also sits below a hill with a towering Virgin Mary made from stone on it (We took a taxi to the top and climbed the statue a few flights). So the three of us spent about 8 hours exploring that entire area. Each museum's fare is about $1 for students, makign it easy for us to hop from place to place. Streets are cobblestone, lots of squares for people to meander about, and there were some musical festivities while we were there. It is quite steep in some places of the road, so when it started pouring mid afternoon they turned into turbulent rivers (I can only imagine what a "rain" forest is like)! We hopped and jumped across the rushing water to find shelter in churches and museums. It was fun hanging out with Nicco and exploring a new section of the town were we saw many more tourists than our first day.

After the tiring day we returned to the hostel and went to a nearby pizza place :). christina and I spend our evenings safe in the hostel watching T.V. and chilling out. We have yet to have confirmation from the rain forest lodge about our stay there this coming week, so we're a bit on edge but doign our best to get the wound care project off the ground.

My spanish remains very bad, and Christina and Nicco are invaluable in their skills!
For now, buenos noches!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

For my dear premed friends...

With the new round of medical school applications starting I thought I'd share some words of advice to you all! It was a bit of a lonely, confusing process for me (I don't think MITCO's site is really sufficient), so I definitely want to make it a better experience for some of you!
Some people have been asking me what needs to be done when, the basic steps of the application process and I'll address that as well.

What to get done:

By June 1:

Regarding Recommendations:
  • Make sure you have 3 recommendations lined up for you (preferably 2 science profs + 1 other). This takes more time and effort than you think- you need to establish 3 STRONG relationships with professors who are often really busy. Make sure you give them THIS FORM (Recommender Info Sheet and Waiver Form) when you ask them for a recommendation, this waives your right to look at it and details what your recommender needs to do.
  • At the same time you need to get THIS FORM into MITCO (Recommender Designation Form) , this tells them who they should be expecting recommendations from.
  • Also to be submitted to MITCO (Credential Form), this makes sure you have a file in the Careers Office for recommendation letter submission only. You may have already done this when you requested a premed adviser earlier in the year.
AMCAS- Primary Application
  • Start your primary application on AMCAS:
    • Big things: write your personal statement- get it edited by MITCO, your premed adviser, your friends, at least 3-4 people.
    • Also make sure to put effort into writing about your activities, this will really make your commitments come alive on paper.
  • Make sure you have submitted a transcript request form to the Student Financial Services office (11-120). You need to have an official transcript submitted to AMCAS to complete your primary application. Your grades may not be all in, but just tell them to send it once your grades are all in.
  • Choose schools. I'd suggest applying to 18+ since its all a really random process. MITCO has a great "matching" sheet that shows you where people with your GPA and MCAT score got it and I used that as a base for my list (ask for it). I also bought a U.S. News book. I applied to 21 total ranging from UPENN to UMASS.
  • Once you've finished with your primary application submit it! AMCAS will submit it to all the schools you choose (for a hefty fee). Do it earlier rather than later- AMCAS gets really backed up towards late June with all the primaries coming in. So try to submit June 15 or earlier. Call and check that AMCAS has received your official MIT transcript. Check regularly that your application is complete
By July/ Aug 1:

Secondary Applications
  • Your primary application should have been completed by now and you should start receiving invitations to complete secondary applications from all your schools. They send you the emails and they take varying amounts of times to get these invitations to you.
  • Once you get a secondary invitation, look at the secondary! Some schools just ask you to pay more money and that's it! Some schools ask you to write 7 extra essays! So definitely check before assuming anything. Complete and send the secondary ASAP.
    • It gets overwhelming very quickly to have to write 21 essays +. But tackle them, keep yourself on a strict deadline. My biggest regret was not sending my secondaries earlier (Being abroad is hard, having a summer job, the start of school workload..). Try to get them in by September (I send my last one at the beginning of October).
    • Why get secondaries in early? Because schools will not be swamped with a lot of apps yet and will actually get to read yours in a reasonable time frame- thus you get interview invitations earlier, more of them, and you are less stressed. I got turned down by some schools that just seemed overwhelmed with apps and didn't seem to get to read mine (just my opinion). Over 6,000 people apply to medical schools- set yourself apart from the pack and get your secondaries in EARLY!!!
  • Secondaries need your recommendations! Now is the time to check in with each of your recommenders and see that they have submitted your recommendation to MITCO. (you should be regularly checking in with them starting in June).
    • You need to let MITCO know which schools you want to send your recommendations to. Fill out the School Designation Form and give it to MITCO.
    • Make sure you've done everything on this checklist: to make sure you are ready for your recommendations to go out and complete your secondary application.
    • In particular, meet with your premed adviser and physically GIVE them all the stuff mentioned in the checklist. You should have formed a decent relationship with them since they write your summarized letter of recommendation (they read all your other recs and put it together). While your secondary app can be submitted before your recommendations, the schools won't look at it until EVERYTHING is in. Therefore, nag, bother, remind your premed adviser to get their part in by the end of August LATEST. Check that MITCO receives it! You'll get an email confirmation when MITCO sends out all your reccs and to which schools they send it to.
  • Since secondaries are submitted to each school separately (unlike AMCAS nice standard primary app) you need to continuously CHECK with each school on the completeness of your secondary app (have they gotten your recs from MITCO?) and whether your application has been reviewed by the committee. Often the school's secondary application website will have an accurate status of your application, but call if it hasn't changed in awhile.
  • You will most likely be offered an interview through EMAIL, so check often. Interview sooner rather than later, just my personal opinion that earlier interviewees get more attention and that the committee isn't overwhelmed with everything yet.
Interviews October - February
    • Do a mock interview with MITCO before your first real interview. Practice practice practice before it. Read up on sample questions:, I even wrote down answers and memorized them for ones that are tougher. You want your answers to be eloquent and well though out. I did not get one question I didn't practice on already during my interviews.
  • Try to live with student hosts, saves on the hotel bill and you get a unique perspective on the school.
  • Take notes on everything. You'll be happy if you have to make a tough decision between schools and you have these details.
  • Ask the same important questions of each school: How long is the anatomy course, What housing options are there, What kind of mentorship do students get...
  • Write a thank you letter to your host, to the dean of admissions after your interview. Common courtesy
  • Make sure you read interview instructions CAREFULLY. a lot ask for passport photos of you, make sure to get a lot of these done! I'd suggest making them yourself, print the correct size out at a local walgreens- s0 much cheaper than getting them done officially.
  • After your interview, or before it, keep the school UPDATED with your achievements, grades, your continued interested in the school. Make it complete and send it only when you have something major to report. Send both a paper version and an email version to the admissions office. CHECK that they receive it and put it in your file.
  • Once again, keep your med school updated with your activities, achievements.
  • Check in with schools that have not yet offered you an interview.
  • Once you get your first acceptance (YAY!) withdraw from schools that you don't have interest in. Common Courtesy. If you want to hold your place in the class you often send in a check (~$100) to the school around mid May. You can always notify the school if you get off a wait list and decide to switch schools, but you will not get your $100 back.
  • If you're wait listed somewhere (oh the fun!NOT), write them a letter of interest. I included updates in mine and wrote passionately about why I still wanted to attend their school. I sent this at the beginning of May. This way they'll have read it when they start pulling people off the wait list around May 15.
  • Keep your premed adviser, recommenders updated! They care about you, and took the time to write you a recommendation. Keep them in the loop.
OK! That's my spiel. I hope its complete. If you have any questions at all, contact me I'd love to help :). If you want to see my personal statement etc. let me konw as well.

Just FYI- I sent secondaries to 21 schools. Got invited to interview at ~8 schools. Accepted to 2 schools, wait listed at 2 schools currently.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Passion without Words Sushi Roll- Adventures at Yale

Getting to New Haven is moderately easy but very overpriced ($30 on way compared to $15 one way to NYC). However, I arrived safe and sound at New Haven's Union Station. Betsy picked me up on Yale's Daytime "Saferide" and we had a delicious lunch of food truck drunken noodles. We then went to the mall which was an adventure. We're very spoiled in Cambridge to have the Galleria so close- Yale's nearest mall is 40 minutes away by bus! But it was worth it because I discovered the store 'Forever 21', fell in love, and lived stylishly ever after.
Our loot from Forever 21- under $80 for 11 things, including the jackets we're wearing! heheh.

After the mall we went to Yale's Sex Week Lingerie Fashion Show- quite an event! I was pretty amused by everything and also relatively shocked at how many (half-naked) white people there were vs. my comfortable bubble of Asians.
Yale's Sex Week Lingerie Show- risque!

Then we went out the the MOST delicious restaurant ever- Miya's, which specialized in exotic sushi. How exotic might you ask? Well...
top left- curry cauliflower roll, top- "killer squid roll" containing udon noodles, hot peppers, black beans, right- "voompa roll"- contains cream cheese, eggplant, + more, bottom- contains goat cheese, avocado and tempura mushrooms- SO EXOTIC AND DELICIOUS! (and btw, there was a 'passion without words roll' and used to be a 'naughty geisha boy roll' HAHAH)

The night ended with wonderful fried ice cream and bananas and a midnight workout in Berkeley College's gross gym (not many calories were burned by it's the thought that counts!).

Slept in, then went to Betsy's Chinese Dance Troupe's, Phoenix, practice. Met her Asian friends and had brunch in Siliman college, a beautiful, newly renovated college at Yale. The brunch was delicious and among many things I had a chocolate vegan waffle and grapefruits. Betsy was an awesome host and dragged me to get a bit of culture by watching " The Importance of Being Earnest" by Yale Reperatory Theater. The play was surprisingly funny amidst my fits of narcolepsy.
In front of the theater on a bitterly cold day.

Night fall arrived and then we had dinner at 'Hot Tomatoes' and Italian restaurant with Betsy's friends which I liked and all got my approval. :)
I like Betsy's friends :).
We then saw one of Yale's many a capella "jams" by the group "Out of the Blue"- a long but somewhat enjoyable concert. The night ended spectacularly with Rum Raisin ice cream at a local icecream shop "Ashley's". Wasn't motivated enough to work out. Bleh.

Woke up, had delicious dorm brunch, watched my sister dance for 3 hours/ danced a bit with them, studied in their new sweet underground library, had dinner with mom (who drove down to see us) and sis (yummy calzones)-tried to break into a secret society house, etc.

Can you believe we used to be mistaken for twins???

Slept in, went to Betsy's Women's Health class to listen to a midwife talk about midwifery (sounds funny when you say it out loud). Interesting perspectives and noted that people at Yale go nuts taking notes on their laptops. Imagine 30 girls around you ferociously typing everything the teacher is saying. Pouring rain, had lunch at Betsy's dorm's dining hall, drove home with mom :). For now, I'm enjoying Chelmsford and the delightful lack of fat in Chinese home-cooking. Will be back at MIT tomorrow morning.

Am experiencing anxiety about medical school, sigh.