It’s Monday, let’s go to the US lab for the first time! This occupied my mind since I woke up at 4 am local time. Well, there were some concerns to: will I find my way to get to the lab meeting on time, will my English be sufficient, will I understand the people here (Who knows what an accent they might have here?) and most importantly, will my supervisor like me or will I be sent back home directly? Luckily, I fell asleep for a couple more hours and when I woke up the second time, the beautiful view from my window made it a very enjoyable morning: huge American squirrels doing their morning exercise, accompanied by bright red birds. So, the task for the upcoming two moths is water-clear now: get pictures of both of them.
Eventually, I was hungry enough to go exploring my breakfast options. I felt too bad to finish the orange juice when there were three more people in the house. And while I was hypnotizing the almost empty bottle in a false hope that it might get refilled this way, S’s Grandmother came and saved my tummy.
“Do you eat rice?”
“Ehm. Yes, I do. But not for breakfast?”
“Then, have the pasta!” (The pasta S cooked the night before when I was sleeping already.)
Thank goodness for the six hours difference. This way, it was not too hard to convince my confused buddy, stomach, it is my supper time. In fact, it was a very nice meal except it was much hotter (chili) than anything I had eaten before. I had a cup of coffee to cool down my burning throat and most importantly, S’s Grandmother was a very nice companion for the morning. Nice and generous – by the time I was leaving the house, I had two apples to take with me.
I was supposed to find my way to Centennial Campus. It turned out to be a rather short walk and I did not even get lost (not knowing it would be the last time today).
For the first time, I encountered US talking traffic light and disappearing sidewalks. I was waiting only for a little while at the conference room when my supervisor, Mrs. C., arrived, too. I knew from the first second that she would be as nice as she was in writing over a few past months. A student of her (J) was the one giving the talk. Apparently, the purpose was to show the progress to someone who is a bigger boss than Mrs. C. The boss of the boss was Mrs. L. from a Virology lab and I was simply impressed. She apparently knows everything and can see inconsistencies in data she probably never saw before. It was hard to follow the bosses’ fast English flow and while my understanding to the project presented was rather limited, the big picture message was absolutely clear. I could witness how true scientific thinking looks like and if I decide to stay in research, achieving such a proficiency might be one of my goals. Trying to do so, should keep me busy for the upcoming 30 years or so. There was one more thing that captured my attention.
American Way of Responding to Data Presented
Whenever the student presenting mentioned something others (well, Mrs. L. primarily) would like to comment on, they did so immediately. What I am used to is the following scenario: presentation first, comments afterwards. While I see benefits of this approach, I probably would fail as a presenter in such an environment – I can see myself leaving the room after the second interruption. In summary, I could literally feel the scientific spirit floating in the room, the cooperation between labs in attempt to help one another finish their experiments faster and with reproducible results, and to share knowledge and experience among people, so the work can be done as effectively as possible.
After the talk, we (Mrs. C., J. and me) took a bus to the North campus where the lab is located. To me, it was an introductory course into US mass transportation spiced with a campus tour generously provided by Mrs. C.
American Buses Have No Regular Schedules
I will never understand that. Because buses go in loops all day long, is it a reason to abolish any regularity that a schedule can guarantee? Not for me but Americans apparently prefer to track their buses online.
American Bus Drivers Are Nice Too
But I learned more than just about the weird tracking system. Buses are air-conditioned. Cool. You need to signal for the bus to stop and for that purpose there funny yellow strings along the bus windows rather than a nice button. This time, however, I did not realize any screen showing the next bus neither was there any recording played. Should we have been tracking the buses even when finally aboard or are Americans born with GPS in their bodies? Anyway, we failed to signal on time. To correct the mistake, it was enough to ask the bus driver if he could stop for us. Sure he could, and he added a Have a nice day wish.
It was little (OK, a lot) overwhelming in the lab – many new names and faces to remember (but I do like to do so), several laboratories and long corridors, dark room with green light and Mrs. C’s enthusiastic yet fast talking. The main task was the paperwork related to my arrival to the USA. Round noon Mrs. C said we would go out for a lunch. It did not happen until 2 pm, so I had enough time to start working on safety tutorials. A lot of them – just the first section was probably more comprehensive than all the safety training I had done in the past. Here, they really want people to know what they work with. We will see if there is anything I have been doing wrong all those years. However, what truly surprised me is that all workers have to wear shoes with covered toes – the exact opposite of what I am used to.
As for the lunch Mitch’s place received the honor of having me eating there. We climbed up the long long staircase, passed the bar with dozens of bottles on display. Or actually used to serve customers? Who knows. I understood the menu only little as there was a whole bunch of words that were new to me. Those I understood, I could hardly imagine on my plate – e.g. green tomatoes. To start on a safe side, I had a Ham and Swiss Sandwich. It was tasty and it was plenty of food. I only need to figure out whether to finish it for supper or lunch tomorrow. And when I want something typical for this area, I already know what to search for: BBQ with vinegary flavor. It may happen but I definitely need to prepare for this one.
As a part of getting settled, I picked up my ID card and also went grocery shopping. At both occasions, the trip was longer than it had to be as I started walking the wrong direction. In the second case it paid off though: I explored the campus a bit more, took a couple of pictures, saw the first skyscraper in NC and finally, found a place where I will go skating as soon as I can.
The shopping was an experience by itself but I will limit myself to two points only. The store was a chilling place. It was huge and it took me forever to find a stupid package of tea. As a result, I returned back home when it was rather dark but fireflies here and there were a nice reward.
For supper, I was joined by S and her Grandparents, and again, it was a very enjoyable company. No less nice was food I was encouraged to try. Crunchy (i.e. fried) pieces of eggplant covered in chickpea batter made it to the top of my all time best meals.
To sum up, there are no doubts this day will become one of those in the Unforgettable category – filled with friendliness, inspiration, scientific enthusiasm and exposure to new cultures – more of Indian than American though.