Ashley's Story

Thank you to the Embassy of Switzerland for the incredible opportunity of a lifetime. During my stay at the University of Fribourg, I worked with Dr. Raphael Berthele collecting data for a project on narrative fiction and language. My research project examined whether reading a story in a second (foreign) language impacts narrative transportation, which is the extent to which an individual feels “transported” into a fictional world. Fribourg was the perfect place to recruit participants because the majority are native French speakers with German, Italian, or English as foreign languages. My host supervisor provided a fresh new perspective on multilingualism research. We had wonderful conversations about Open Science, the dissemination of research to the general public, and the importance of taking into account the linguistic context when conducting research.

The Institute of Multilingualism routinely held talks, workshops, and public lectures that were informative in guiding my research questions and served as networking opportunities. I was able to present my project to the research group during one of the “lunch talks”. I particularly enjoyed connecting with other researchers within the Institute and from abroad. What I found to be fascinating was that even though we were researchers from various parts of the world, the issues, critiques, and challenges we faced when conducting multilingualism research were very similar.

Coming from Toronto, a city that is very fast-paced, it was gratifying to take a step back and enjoy the beautiful landscape that Switzerland has to offer. With such an efficient train system, I was able to travel during the weekends to Montreux, Gruyeres, Lucerne, Interlaken, and Zermatt. I fell in love with the majestic mountains, the cheese (fondue), and of course the chocolate! Although the change in scenery definitely helped with the transition to living abroad for a couple of months, it is the people I met there who made my stay truly unforgettable. I will miss the board game nights, Monday night jam sessions, and hiking adventures. One of my favourite memories was attending a talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the University of Fribourg. It was such an honour to hear her speak about her thoughts on the writing process, graduate school, and social issues.

On a more personal note, I was delighted to be exposed to multiple languages, including French, on a daily basis. In elementary school, I was enrolled in a school where the language of instruction was strictly French. After switching to an Anglophone school, I was no longer as comfortable conversing in French. My stay in Fribourg has motivated me to use French again and I am happy to announce that I will continue to do so when I return to Canada.

As one of my colleagues from York University said, “This exchange experience won’t simply be 3 months in your life, but a life in 3 months!” This statement perfectly encapsulates my journey! I am truly grateful for this unique opportunity that has allowed me to grow both professionally and personally. Without hesitation, I would recommend applying to the ThinkSwiss Research Scholarship.

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Ashley Chung-Fat-Yim
Cognitive Psychology and Psycholinguistic – University of Fribourg ∞ York University

Kathy's Story

This past summer, I was blessed with the opportunity to intern in a nephrology lab at the University of Zürich’s Institute of Physiology.

What immediately struck me was how open and welcoming my lab was. We all gathered to have lunch every day, had frequent brunches, and even did an outing to the Swiss Alps in Interlaken. The conversations I had with my colleagues at the lab also gave me a more global perspective and made me more aware of the importance of having cultural diversity in any setting. While there, I was able to take on a research project alongside other students and faculty from around the world and gained exposure to a plethora of new techniques and technologies. My mentor was supportive and willing to show me the ropes and answer my slew of questions. One of the lab members from our IT group also gave me weekly mini-German lessons, which were quite fun and helped me to integrate into the community.

Overall, everyone’s openness really enhanced the entire research experience, and I feel very appreciative of my lab for allowing me to grow both academically and professionally.

Outside of the lab, I spent my time exploring downtown Zürich, sampling chocolates, and relaxing by the lake during the week. It was great just hopping on a train to Uetliberg and taking in the city views, eating raclette, and chatting with friends by the water after a long day at work.

On the weekends, I bonded with other ThinkSwiss scholars as we travelled around Switzerland and to other European countries. Within the country, we enjoyed hiking around the vineyards of Lausanne, canoeing at Lake Oeschinen, picnicking by the Bachalpsee in Grindelwald, and watching fireworks during Züri Fäscht. Honestly, the whole experience felt surreal; I still miss connecting with all the awardees and cherish the memories we had together.

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Kathy Ding
Nephrology – Institute of Physiology – University of Zürich ∞ University of California, Berkeley

Fatima's Story

I am an undergraduate studying computer science and biology at MIT. This summer ThinkSwiss funded my work, as a part of its summer research program, in the Gräff Lab at EPFL studying neuro-epigenetics. The work was interesting and varied—from computational analyses, to molecular validation techniques, to imaging. I learned a lot; and working on a potential Alzheimer’s treatment was very exciting! Everyone in the lab was welcoming and helpful—I couldn’t have asked for a better work environment. The ThinkSwiss program combined cutting-edge research, Friday afternoon seminars, and social activities. Living together with the rest of the students also fostered long-lasting friendships. From cooking together most evenings, to kayaking on Lake Geneva, to movie nights, to watching fireworks on Swiss National Day, our program really bonded together.

This was my first time in Lausanne, and I enjoyed my eight weeks in the city immensely. It’s small enough that you start to recognize people on the metro who have the same schedule as you, but big enough that there are plenty of fun things to do. I can’t count the number of times I walked by the Flon to see a festival in progress. Lausanne, and EPFL, are both very international so it was easy to feel at home. After all, Switzerland itself is a nation with four languages. Most evenings I would take a long walk through the city and was surprised by how much there was to see. The view of the mountains across Lake Geneva never gets old.

On weekends I usually explored other parts of Switzerland. So far, I have seen Bern, Luzern, Geneva, Lake Brienz, CERN, Lauterbrunnen, the Matterhorn (the mountain featured on Toblerone chocolate), Basel, cheese and chocolate factories and so much more… I’ve eaten lots of high-quality cheese, chocolate, and ice cream, but it’s ok because I also got into hiking since coming here (warning: hiking means something different in Switzerland than America!).

The beauty of the nature here is unparalleled. At first Switzerland did seem expensive, but if you plan ahead (and cook meals at home), it’s definitely manageable. Never in my life have I traveled to a different place every weekend! Thank you ThinkSwiss for the best summer experience!!

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Fatima Gunter
Neuro-Epigenetics – Summer Research Program – EPFL ∞ Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Ananth's Story

The Summer School program at the University of Bern organized by the Oeschger Center for Climate Change Research and the World Trade Institute. Sounds pretty daunting right? I remember being both excited and nervous when I found out that I was one of the 36 participants selected to travel to Bern. Entitled “Confronting Climate Change – from Science to Policy,” the summer school consisted of a series of keynote lectures and workshops on various areas of expertise, culminating in a simulation negotiation. Meeting my fellow participants, who stayed in the same residential building, started off the two weeks on the perfect note. It was incredible to hear from people from countries including Italy, Canada, South Africa, the United States, Germany, and India. I strongly feel I made some friends for life. They made my experience thoroughly enjoyable.

We were split into 9 workshops, with each group assigned to a specific topic according to their area of expertise. Although intense at times, I found myself astonished at how simply the professors explained some complex concepts, some of whom even worked with the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Among the many highlights from the program, the trip to Jungfraujoch was one that will live long in our memories. We were given the chance to visit the research station at an altitude of about 3000 feet, where researchers from around the world conduct experiments and record data. To witness first-hand the impact of climate change on the glaciers there left an impression in our minds that is hard to shake.

The trip up to the glacier was extremely well organized, allowing us to fully take in the magnitude of the glacier itself.

Outside of the lab, I spent my time exploring downtown Zürich, sampling chocolates, and relaxing by the lake during the week. It was great just hopping on a train to Uetliberg and taking in the city views, eating raclette, and chatting with friends by the water after a long day at work.

On the weekends, I bonded with other ThinkSwiss scholars as we travelled around Switzerland and to other European countries. Within the country, we enjoyed hiking around the vineyards of Lausanne, canoeing at Lake Oeschinen, picnicking by the Bachalpsee in Grindelwald, and watching fireworks during Züri Fäscht. Honestly, the whole experience felt surreal; I still miss connecting with all the awardees and cherish the memories we had together.

Outside of the classroom, we were given the freedom to explore the city of Bern and all it has to offer. The river Aare and the immaculate public pools that surround it were one of our favourites. Hours of chatting, sharing stories and swimming in the pools would go by in a flash. I was amazed by how much the city had to offer and made the most of every opportunity. 

The Buskers Music Festival was another highlight. The streets of Bern were filled with people, music, food, and most of all, excitement. We settled on a South African band and danced our hearts out until 12 am. It was a moment every one of us cherished. We even got to take a picture with the band at the end!

All in all, this summer school was unlike any other I’ve experienced previously. It was incredibly well organized, informative, and most of all, enjoyable. There was so much to take away from the lectures and workshops that I can apply to my academic pursuits. These two weeks have impacted my life deeply and I will always be grateful for having been given the opportunity to be a part of this experience.

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Ananth Shankar
Confronting Climate Change – from Science to Policy– University of Bern ∞ University of Massachusetts Amherst

Amanda's Story

This past summer, I had one of the most enriching and memorable experiences living abroad for six weeks in Geneva, Switzerland where I was a guest researcher at the University of Geneva working with the Institute of Environmental Sciences C-CIA lab group. As a visitor to the C-CIA lab group, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Dr. Markus Stoffel, Dr. Juan Ballesteros Canovas, and an amazing team of PhD and Master’s students from all across the world. During my visit, I created a meta-database of European paleoflood case studies, which is a direct extension of my thesis research, “Holocene paleofloods and their relevance to flood mitigation, risk assessment, and policy.” This database will be a valuable resource to European hydrologists, policymakers, statisticians and stakeholders in making decisions about flood risk and mitigation in Europe. This data will also greatly improve and expand the Past Global Changes (PAGES) working group database on floods.

In addition to my work, I had the opportunity to enjoy Switzerland’s beautiful landscape, cuisine, and culture. I’ll never forget indulging in my first pot of hot cheese fondue at the Hotel Edelweiss in Geneva. My dinner was accompanied by live folk music played on the accordion and the alphorn, creating a stunning Swiss ambiance.

Over the Swiss National Day holiday weekend, I traveled to Lauterbrunnen, Stechelberg, and Grindelwald to enjoy the breathtaking beauty and topography of the Swiss Alps. This area of Switzerland was like no other part of the world I have ever seen, and I was captivated by the rugged magnificence of the mountain valley. This is easily the most gorgeous place I have ever traveled to. 

In my opinion, Geneva was a very easy city to live and feel comfortable in. The city is small but cosmopolitan, bustling with diversity and unique things to do like visiting the United Nations building, perusing art and history museums, partaking in weekend festivals, and enjoying plenty of food and drink options. There are a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and events happening almost daily in the summer. Plus, it’s hard to beat the scenery offered by the expansive Lake Geneva. Every night, I walked along the lakeside from the city center to my residence in Perle Du Lac, admiring the stillness of the pristine turquoise water filled with white swans and beautiful sailboats. One of the things I valued the most while living in Geneva was how safe I felt walking around exploring the town. Everyone is cordial, friendly, and exceptionally helpful to everyone, including non-French speakers like myself. The public transportation system is also very efficient, making it easy to get around the city.

Overall, I am incredibly happy and grateful I got the chance to embark on such a fruitful international research visit. I can’t express enough gratitude towards the ThinkSwiss program for supporting me financially, allowing me to have this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I strongly recommend the ThinkSwiss program to anyone looking to expand their own academic interests as well as their personal growth.

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Amanda Hefner
Institute of Environmental Sciences C-CIA Lab - University of Geneva ∞ University of Minnesota

Allison's Story

This summer, I had the opportunity to work at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) for 8 weeks as an undergraduate research intern in a biology lab. I am immensely grateful for funding from the SwissThink organization and from the Columbia University Center for Career Education’s Summer Funding Program.

The 2019 Summer Research Program consisted of fellow students from all over the world, including Turkey, Belgium, Pakistan, China, and Russia. Whether through deep conversation or through travel, every day included some form of cultural immersion. I also gained a huge appreciation for nature and the great outdoors. Some of my best memories included group hikes and water activities.

Over the course of my internship, I worked closely with PhD students, postdoctoral scientists, and faculty members. This close involvement significantly shaped my future career goals in scientific research. My project aimed to address an increasingly relevant question – how are bacteria able to cause disease when they enter a host? Using microscopy and genetic analysis, my lab strives to understand the factors involved in bacterial colonization. 

During this time, I gained a lot of independence as a scientist. Although my advisors gave me general guidance and provided me with background information, I was left with the autonomy to define the goals of my project and design my own experiments. I also presented my results regularly at group meetings. Ultimately, this experience gave me critical thinking skills, communication skills, and a sense of autonomy that I will carry throughout my career in science.

On the second week, our cohort toured Campus Biotech in Geneva. Home of Intel’s Blue Brain Project, their central goal is to create an interface between the human brain and the computer. We were able to try on their virtual reality and brain recording equipment. On our fourth week, my cohort traveled to Geneva and visited CERN, home of the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. We saw the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), and spoke with physicists about their projects, which all aim to uncover the origin of our universe.

During my final week, I presented a poster of my work. I discussed my findings and conclusions with various faculty members and peers. My only disappointment was that the duration of the internship (8 weeks) was too short to complete a full research project. During the symposium, discussion of my work sparked ideas for future experiments that can only be followed up by future students. I am overwhelmed with excitement for future long-term projects that will span years.

My summer doing research in Switzerland has shaped my future career in scientific research tremendously. I learned to work autonomously as a scientist and take ownership of my project. Most importantly, I have made connections to fellow scientists and peers from all over the world whom I look forward to working with in the future.

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Allison Hung
Biochemistry – Summer Research Program – Swiss Federal Institute of Technology EPFL ∞ Columbia University

© ThinkSwiss 2019