It’s Spring of 2015, and I’m back (again) a little bit older and hopefully a little bit wiser. I was watching an interview recently with a person who said that she keeps journals to always look back at. I’m still undecided about whether I want to keep a physical journal or online blog; physical journals are somewhat cumbersome and easily lost while everything online and social media-related is fickle. For now, I’ll stick to this so that I can insert photos and motivate myself to write without having to physically pick up a pencil (which feels weird in my hand nowadays with all the computer work I do).

Anyway, hello! It’s good to be back. It’s been quite a year, to say the least. It’s hard to describe the magnitude of the highs and lows I’ve been through in 2014 – taking the MCATs, medical school applications, rekindling a relationship, adjusting to a full-time job, moving into NYC, 10 interviews – but I can actually say that I’m glad it’s all over. I’m usually a very optimistic person and I tend to never regret the challenges that occur in my life (after all, we only grow through trials, right?). For once, I acknowledge that last year was very trying and pushed me past limits, albeit all for the better.

I’m about to fly out for my final medical school interview in Palo Alto. This was a completely unexpected invitation that arrived when I was 99.99% sure that all schools were done with their cycle. Apparently due to an IT issue, I never received the initial interview invitation so the email I read opened with “Dear Student, Are you still interested?”

You should have seen my face, as I stood frozen in Williams and Sonoma on 59th street on a snowy cold Friday night. You should have seen me screaming down Utopia Parkway as soon as I got off the Q27 as I ran home to tell my mom. You should have heard me say “I’m going to change the world!!!” as my heart filled with euphoria. I immediately took a spot on the last interview day and enjoyed a delicious dinner with mom.

Funny story. As clearly as I remember that miraculous night, I also remember the summer night i was working on my supplemental application. I was reading about a Stanford professor in academic medicine discussing her journey in the field as a woman. I left the Weill Cornell library really late, as usual that summer, probably around 11 PM or so. I remember being so preoccupied with academic medicine and motherhood, trying to envision how I wanted to shape my career. I got to the M15 bus stop, anxious to get home so I could write some more and sleep a few hours before work. I was waiting for the bus, probably looking so lost and distracted. Somehow, a bus managed to pass me by even as I ran after it. I remember running and feeling so frustrated, small, incompetent. Why was I even bothering to apply? Did I really think I even had a chance? Why would anyone think I can make a difference in this world? I was emotionally beaten down from a long summer of work and essay writing, all compounded by lack of sleep, frequent caffeine crashes, and self-imposed isolation from loved ones. Missing the bus meant waiting another 20 minutes or so for the next since it was so late. In the moment, I lost it. I cried and sobbed, all alone on 72nd and 1st. I had never felt so unworthy in my life.

Sometimes I wonder when I’ll inevitably go through similar nights as a medical student.

I expect nothing to come out of this interview since it’s such an incredibly selective school. I’m honored to have even received an interview! Especially with my UCLA and Emory acceptances, I feel less anxious even though it will be MMI format (note to self: must read and study!). Perhaps it’s because I had already mentally concluded my interview season or maybe it’s the fact that I have two other amazing options, but I find my normally anxious self a little less anxious. This can all change next week when my trip becomes real but for now, I’m hoping to prepare as best as I can and talking to as many people as possible. Godspeed, self!

Some advice I repeat to keep myself grounded:

1. Be genuine

2. Be thoughtful

3. Be open to other perspectives and opinions

4. We are all humans, one and the same


A rainy fall Thursday

In life, we are taught to fear death as a trespasser on our right to survive rather than an experience that is critical to our human expression. Because of this we tend to forget our deep ties with nature and the universe, and the oneness of all life. But we have a responsibility – to be kind and compassionate to every one and every thing, to cherish every moment of our fleeting time on earth and to love without constraint.

It’s important to contemplate the vast mysteries of life. But there is no answer during our time on this planet. Beliefs maybe, answers no. What’s important is that each soul lives to his or her full potential by radiating sunshine wherever and whenever the opportunity exists. And that is always and all ways.

Day 4 in Guanacaste

Today is Day 4 in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The weather is in the perfect 80’s and the sun shines everyday. So far, we managed to catch and analyze 56 convict cichlids here in Lomas de Barbudal Biological Reserve (more than halfway there!). We’ve seen cichlids (too many), iguanas, howler monkeys, white-face capuchins, hummingbirds, lizards, cane toads…there’s a reason why this place is named Costa Rica. Even here in the dry forest region of the country, the biodiversity is enough entertainment for us 4 biologists without Wifi or TV.

Today was our first day off, and it was a much-needed day of relaxation, sun, and no snorkeling! Danny, Matt and I decided to head over to playas del Coco, one of the more well known beaches in this area along with Hermosa. 1 car ride, 2 buses, and 2 hours later, we made it to the beach town and immediately hit the sand. It wasn’t as crowded as we anticipated; it was a Wednesday morning after all. The sand was a bit wet but the water was a perfectly warm temperature.

Coconut and sun: recipe for vacation
Coconut and sun: recipe for vacation

I may have been a tad too excited to get some sun since I didn’t really get to beach this past summer in the monsoon season of SE Asia. Now, I’m here treating my sunburns with aloe and cocoa butter lotion.

The Pacific, in all it's glory and saltiness
The Pacific, in all it’s glory and saltiness

I should really call this post “the night that we were left behind on a road in a Costa Rican reserve.” After a long day on the beach, we hopped off at our stop to no waiting car. About 15 minutes later, we see our park ranger pull up in a four-wheeler. After realizing that he wasn’t kidding about the four-wheeler, the three of us hopped on top of whatever available surface. It was a really pleasant ride, a lot smoother than riding a car! The sky was beautiful and the wind was really helping cool down my sunburns. 15 minutes in, the four-wheeler stalls and stops. The boys help push it down the road but then the ranger just took off with it after a while. Imagine 3 American college students, left behind in a forest with no light but the moonlight. I take out my handy iPhone and use the flash to light the rest of the way home. It was pretty hilarious but I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t a bit scared.

Life of a biologist

Everyday, we are awoken at 5 AM by the grumbling cries of howler monkeys near the guesthouse. They sound pretty terrifying, but they’re just the roosters of CR. The day begins really early here so I don’t mind that nature tells us to get up in the mornings.

Mufasa the aggouti eating scraps
Mufasa the aggouti eating scraps

At 7AM, we all head to the dining area and a typical CR breakfast: eggs, toast, rice with beans from last night, and coffee. The warm coffee isn’t too caffeinated so I just like to hold it with my hands and savor its delicious taste. I usually don’t eat carbs back in the US, but I’ve grown so fond of these overly buttered plain white toast and rice. The beans are a favorite of my too, even though I have it every meal. We usually enjoy the warm air, watching birds, butterflies, and aggoutis.

A typical breakfast: gallo pinto from dinner leftovers, eggs, and coffee
A typical breakfast: gallo pinto from dinner leftovers, eggs, and coffee

At around 8AM, we pack our stuff (two lab equipment bags, snorkeling gear, first aid kit, buckets, water bottles) and head out! It’s usually not too hot yet; a perfect 80’s. I spray myself with sunblock and deet, put on my hiking hat, and put an electrolyte tablet into my Camelbak.

Our best friend in the wild
Our best friend in the wild

We usually head to the river and scope out the area for a good pool. We’re trying to get fish from different places of the river, so we’ve been everywhere from the waterfall at the reserve edge and back. We usually spot some cool animals on the way.

We snorkel for convict cichlids. They’re usually most active in the mornings when they start to feed. The water’s a bit cold for the mornings but I get adjusted pretty quickly. We usually have a sort of assembly line set up – someone at the bucket weighing the fish and taking dorsal photos, the next person taking UV/visible light photos, and Lexi pumping their stomachs. I’ve gotten really good at catching them. I use two main methods: taking two nets and using a scooping motion, or lowering a net from above the fish. They nest and hid in rocky areas so you have to anticipate where they’re going.

At 11:30, we start to pack and head back from our noon lunch. We really can’t be late or Sade reprimands us (jokingly). She’s our jolly babysitting grandmother. Lunch is usually rice, beans, and some sort of meat with some freshly made juice.

Standard rice&beans lunch
Standard rice&beans lunch

At 1:30, we pack up to head out again. We usually go to another spot of the river, and repeat. We’re all glad to get into the water at this point since we’re usually sweating from the walk.

By 6PM, we’re back at the guesthouse getting ready for dinner: rice, beans, and some meat dish. I’m telling you, our meals have been simple, consistent, and lacking in flavor in the best way possible. Our “dessert” is usually munching on the junk food we bought at the grocery store.

A quick, cold shower later, we’re typically lounging about reading, trying to get the Wifi to work, or just chilling. It’s not a long night because we’re all exhausted by 9 and fall asleep soon after.

It’s only a 10 day trip, but this schedule makes it feel like we’ve been here for much longer. I really enjoy the calm and routine; there’s not much else to think about or do. It’s a great pause before the storm, aka final college semester ever.

Entering pura vida

We made it! After a late 6 hour Northampton-Bradley-Atlanta-Libreria journey, we finally landed in sunny, hot Costa Rica. The first person we spotted was Ethan sporting a short haircut and tanned skin. Oh hello there, thesis advisor whom I haven’t seen all semester!

Stuffing our luggage into Ethan’s car

We tied our luggage and labmobile to his tiny car and proceeded to take the bumpiest car ride of my life towards Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve. It was as good thing we stopped for lunch & beer for the car ride. My first Costa Rican meal was simple and delicious (albeit from a grocery store) plate of beets, marinated beef, and of course, rice.

beets, pork, chicken rice
beets, pork, chicken rice

The reserve is extremely isolated; I supposed it is meant to be “protected.” The place we’re staying is the park rangers’ home. There’s a large open area where we eat, a kitchen, two bathrooms, and some rooms. There’s not much, but we’re so close to nature everyday.

Big pond cichlid at Lomas Barbudal
Big pond cichlid at Lomas Barbudal

We’re on the hunt for convict cichlids, and this is definitely the place to be. The river behind our guesthouse (if you can call it that) is teeming with them! Our goal is to capture and analyze (weight, photograph, gut contents) 100 total fish. It’s my first field research experience so it should be interesting. I’m ready with my hot pink flippers, snorkel, and beer!

Our arrival greeting! Pilsen and plantains
Our arrival greeting! Pilsen and plantains

Giving Thanks

I can’t believe my last post was back in June. Somehow, it’s already the end of November and the end of 2012 is slowly coming to a close. Looking back at my previous posts, I can’t believe how different I am as a person today. This summer, this semester, this past week…so much has happened that the overwhelming amount of transformation, emotions, events are too much to recount. It’s a shame that what’s past is gone but now that I’m back home for Thanksgiving, I’ll revive this little blog, starting where I left off!

I think C.S. Lewis put it best when he said, “Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back everything is different?” Somehow, I went from London to Laos to Amherst and I am different today. I guess this is one of the main reasons why I write – to remember, to reflect, to share.

Well, I’m back home and there’s no better place to feel like yourself. Here’s a little snapshot of my ride back to the city. I’m really glad to be back home. You certainly are beautiful, NYC:


Summertime and it’s easygoing

Amherst, how I’d forgotten how beautiful you are. As I emerged from the sweaty gym, the sun radiated off the green lawn and I was magnetically drawn towards Memorial Hill. There’s a reason why summer is my favorite season! The smell of freshly cut grass, the coolness of the shade, the quiet chirps…it makes me want to never leave this place. Alas, senior year quickly approaches.

I’m starting to get settled into Clotfelter’s lab and I’ve been reading up on published papers and previous theses. I’m searching for an intellectual spark to inspire my own project, something to combine my interests in environmental research and health. Clotfelter’s lab has already done work on phytoestrogens and fish systems so it might be more difficult than expected. One of the numerous perks of attending a private liberal arts school: apparently every honors student has a pretty decent price tag that comes along with us to help fund an experiment of our own. My own money to do whatever experiments I want on these little cichlid fish? Yes please! Nerd mode on. I’ll be on the lookout during my trip to Southeast Asia for something to switch on the thesis lightbulb.

Being back at Amherst in the summer is strange – it’s quite empty and work is so much more relaxed. I feel like I can enjoy this campus for once! Seeing all these graduated seniors is a little unnerving though. So many of their lives are up in the air, so much transition. It makes me cherish the little time I have left here before I need to make real decisions. Eek!

Amidst all the future worry, I’m going to lay back and enjoy where I am for now. God has his plans and things will happen in due time. It’s summertime and it’s easygoing.


It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.