[by Jenny Nelson ’09]
What’s the craziest thing that you’ve ever wanted to do during the summer? Me, I wanted to go to Europe. I had never been, and neither had anyone in my family, so when I told my parents that I was heading to Paris for all 3 months of blissful problem set-free vacation I had… they were a bit shocked. You’re going all alone? they asked. Of course not, I responded. You see, there’s this program called MISTI…
As you’ve hopefully read about by now, MIT’s MISTI program sends MIT students all over the world to participate in internships, and they try and make it almost cost-free. After I explained the logistics to my parents, like how MISTI flew me over to Paris, how the research lab I was working for set me up with a beautiful apartment in the Cite Universitaire in Paris’ 14th, and how I even got a small stipend, my parents were just as excited as I was. Ok, maybe not. That would have been pretty hard.
I left for Paris as soon as finals were over, completely unafraid of the fact that I knew no Americans in the city for the first week and a half or so. Or at least I was pretending I was calm, cool and collected, but in reality I was so excited I could barely contain myself. I set myself up in my apartment and introduced myself to people that lived close by. And then the unthinkable happened: my computer broke. I spent a lot of time in French libraries, trying to get used to the French keyboard… it wasn’t easy.
The French keyboard. Notice the a and the q are switched, among other things… it’s just different enough to spice things up.
I finally found a French friend who loaned me his computer – yes, you read that right – until I could get mine fixed. It turned out to be quite a long time before HP-France could repair my computer, and while I had Geoffroy’s computer, we struck up a friendship. He taught me French, I taught him English, and we had a blast hanging out. It was nice to know a true Parisian.
Of course, my trip wasn’t all fun and games and hanging out. The whole reason I was in Paris was to work at Institut Curie, a biomedical research institute with a specialization in cancer. I hadn’t worked much in a lab before, but my lab mates were completely friendly and helpful. We spoke both French and English at work.
Here is my lab building at Institut Curie.
I spent my time at Curie in a few projects. For my main project I used PCR to check various protein levels from tumor samples extracted from young woman patients with breast cancer. I was not at all stressed, because the work was fun and I was learning techniques I had never actually performed before. During my incubation periods and lunchtimes I chatted about various weekend excursions with my lab mates, and got suggestions of restaurants to try and cities to visit. I even went to Batz-sur-Mer, a small town on the western coast of France, near Nantes, with my lab mates on a retreat in June. I never knew that French people liked the YMCA too…
Us doing the YMCA at the Institut Curie UMR218 Batz-sur-Mer retreat.
I did get a lot done at Institut Curie though. Hopefully I’ll even be published for my results. Unfortunately I can’t go into too much detail here.
On the weekends I had a blast experiencing Paris, having friends and family come visit (you’d be surprised how many people will take you up on an offer of a free room in Paris!).
Me on top of the towers of Notre Dame, acting like a gargoyle.
Waltzing on the banks of the Seine during a free ballroom dancing class during Paris Plage (when the banks of the Seine get covered with sand and there are lots of summertime activities all day long).
One of the beautiful statues in the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Gardens) that are free to the public.
The Tour Eiffel on Bastille Day (France’s Independence Day).
I also traveled around to various nearby cities. I ended up visiting Batz-sur-Mer, Versailles, Cannes, Montpellier, Lille, and the Champagne region in France, as well as Bale, Switzerland and Brussels, Belgium.
Driving through the countryside in the Champagne region of France.
Looking out over Montpellier, France.
Looking out over Monaco, France.