“…and people think science students are nerds!”… this is how the our group of students of the Science Faculty was greeted by a local, barely a few hours after landing in the gorgeous Austrian capital, Vienna. I visited Vienna thanks to the initiative of S-Cubed Science Students Society, who meticulously planned the trip Vienna – The City of Dreams.
Vienna is full of life; a busy, lively city in which people from all around the world gather to experience the vibrancy and energy boost that it injects in you. Lying close to the Austrian-Hungarian border, it is the perfect place where one can combine history and politics, arts and science, leisure and shopping . Vienna is the home of the delicious sachertore (an Austrian traditional dessert), the world’s oldest Ferris wheel at Prater Park, the famous psychologist Sigmund Freud and some of the grandest palaces ever built, like Schonbrunn and Hofburg. If having the opportunity to visit Vienna is good enough, doing so with peers just got better! We all had high expectations for the trip, and we were more than satisfied about how this trip eventually turned out to be an experience of a lifetime!
The Ringstrasse is a walking trail at the heart of the city, with top attraction sites. Walking through it is a good introduction for any tourist. One can see the elegant museum quarter, past the majestic Imperial palace Hofburg, and the parliament, built in Greek-style architecture. A significant number of important buildings are built in Classical Greek style, a clear homage towards the nation that brought forward the concept of democracy.
We made our way through the innermost part of the city. While walking through its winding cobblestone paths, we heard how important the city was, and still is today. Vienna has been the home of millions of people for hundreds of years and it was once the capital of the great Austro-Hungarian Empire, founded in 1867 and demolished in 1918. The heart of the city is Stephansplatz, the square in which Vienna’s cathedral, the Stephansdom, lies. Stephansdom is a world cultural heritage site and is built in gothic style with characteristic naves supported by aisles on both sides, stained glass windows, abbeys and buttresses for support. Another important church is Karlsplatz. This church is built in baroque style, with elaborate paintings and sculptures.
Visiting the Schonbrunn Palace and its vast gardens is a must! The maze and labyrinth section within the gardens of the palace provide entertainment to people of all ages. Schonbrunn is probably the biggest highlight of the city, together with the interactive Zoo found nearby; whose highlights are undoubtedly the panda bears and the polar bears.
Another site which is highly popular for leisure, especially for people young in age is the Prater Park. This fun park is the home to the world’s oldest Ferris wheel, apart from other attractions. We also had the opportunity to visit the Vienna woods. Although the hike was very physically demanding, it was more than worth it. We walked up to a place where we had a panoramic view of the city and the River Danube, Europe’s longest river, which passes through Vienna. While walking through the woods, we had the opportunity to observe temperate forest biodiversity; both plants and animals which are not found in the Maltese Islands.
Furthermore, to link the holiday with our studies, a visit to the Life Sciences Institute was organized. In a particular experiment which was performed by the whole group, with the help of young Austrian scientists, each person extracted his own DNA from mouth cells. Above all, the aim of the visit was to learn how to communicate science to the general public. Being aspiring scientists, this aspect of outreach is our duty, to remove multiple misconceptions that people have of science.
Moving on, shopping in Vienna can be quite addictive! The famous Maria Hilfer Strasse is full of shops of all kinds, and the city centre is no less attractive for shopping lovers. A couple of bars and clubs with surrounding background music and billiard tables characterize the Viennese nightlife. The atmosphere is more relaxed than what is experienced in Malta. Transport is also very efficient, the people are extremely helpful and English is widely spoken.
By the end of our 5 day trip, we had made it a point that there is much more to science students than lab coats, and studying! I simply couldn’t be more grateful that I got to experience Vienna with S-Cubed and I thank everyone who contributed into making this trip an unforgettable one!
Jasmine Gatt | 1st Year, BSc. Biology & Chemistry
Bored of the usual routines that had seemingly taken over my life I decided to spice things up by applying for an IAESTE internship for the duration of the summer months. The main idea behind these internships is to provide students with paid technical experience in a foreign country. Once I had the chance to look over the lists of possible countries it didn’t take me long to make my choice; Kenya.
Friends and family tried to talk me out of going due to the ongoing conflicts at the coast close to the Somalian border. However, my hard headedness proved to be fruitful for once. Having never set foot in Africa before, my head was full of unanswered questions. Is it safe? Is their food normal? Will I even have an internet connection when I get there?
Well, after what seemed to be an endless list of flu shots I was ready to set out on my fifteen hour journey to Kenya. I took a two hour flight from Malta to Istanbul, had a six hour stop over and took a seven hour flight to Nairobi. The first thing I did upon landing was search for a wifi signal. To my amusement a password-protected network came up with a somewhat fitting name; Giraffe. On exiting the airport I came across something familiar amidst all the local adverts, my name written on a piece of wrinkled paper. The person holding it was Charles Kagiri, a local IAESTE member responsible for providing me with accommodation and all I needed to make my stay an enjoyable one. After a somewhat formal greeting, we were on our way to a town in central Kenya known as Nyeri were I would be based for the coming nine weeks.
Traffic in Nairobi was crazy. Everyone drove haphazardly, rarely giving indication before changing lane, at least something to remind me of home, I thought. Looking out of the backseat window, I tried to take this entire new environment in. Hundreds of people could be seen walking on the sides of roads carrying a variety of stuff from enormous bags of potatoes to live chickens. A couple of naps later we were in Nyeri and I was shown to my accommodation; a catholic hostel for students enrolled at the neighboring university. Luckily for me the boys’ part of the hostel was full so I got to stay in a room on the girls’ side. The room was pretty much void of anything we would deem necessary back home, such as a mirror, toilet brush and yes. even toilet paper. My first mission was, as you’d imagine, getting myself on a good roll of toilet paper. I headed out of the hostel and walked a few hundred meters until I reached a wooden stall with an old lady selling some bananas. Since she didn’t speak much English, sign language had to come in and following some rather humiliating gestures she pulled out a roll from beneath her stack of bananas.
The next couple of days I tried to get used to the area, but for some reason or other most people would just stare at me as I walked by. “ I Must be having a good hair day”, I’d think to myself. After getting lost a couple of times, I met Charles again and he introduced me to my employer, a certain Mr. Muchiri. Since I am reading for a degree in Chemistry and Biology, my job involved working in the animal reserve at university. Following a few words about myself Mr. Muchiri got right to it and quickly explained his ongoing research and what he expected of me.
In a nutshell, my colleagues and I were to conduct a series of transects and measure the species richness and diversity of land animals, plants and birds both within the reserve and the neighboring coffee farms. In the likely case that species richness and diversity decreased in the coffee farms, the university would have factual evidence to present and as a result each farm would have to include a small area for conservation purposes. Getting an idea of what work I would be doing gave me a sense of purpose for being in Kenya and I started to feel as if I was fitting in. Still, some other obstacles had to be tackled, like for instance the fact that I only had a kettle at my disposable to try my luck at cooking. Eventually I started boiling eggs within the kettle and attempted to make pasta by adding countless kettles of hot water to some pasta in a bowl, and to my surprise it actually worked.
Being of a different complexion, people immediately notice that you are foreign and I can honestly say that Kenyans are some of the nicest people I have ever met. People stop you in the road to speak to you, come sit with you at lunch and even come knocking at your door just to say hi. Sometimes people I had never met were even calling my name in the streets. I have to admit I loved the attention and felt as if I were some kind of pop star. Children in the streets would shout out muzungu while staring at my different complexion and then explode with joy when I offer to shake their hands. If anyone is wondering, muzungu means white guy and it forms part of my very limited Swahili vocabulary.
Getting more accustomed to the people at work, we started meeting out of office hours and organized some crazy stuff together. I’d like to thank Rasheed who worked as a ranger at the reserve and always gave us ideas on what to do on weekends, helped us organize transport and often accompanied us too. We travelled all across Kenya, from National Parks enriched in wild life to breathtaking waterfalls and even areas that brought out our extreme sides. On certain weekends the local IAESTE would also organize some hikes so as to bring together interns from different universities across Kenya. Their hikes were no joke, one of the very first hikes was 49KM, but as the Kenyans say: Kenya is a walking nation.
Time quickly caught up and before I knew it 9 weeks had passed and I was packing my bags to head back home feeling satisfied with what I had seen, learnt and all the people I had crossed paths with.
I would like to use the last paragraph to provide you with some reasons as to why you should make it a must to go on an internship to a foreign country. Let’s start with the obvious; it adds value to your C.V. Future employers will be impressed by the fact that you have had some form of experience in a foreign country. Secondly, the process of living alone teaches you to manage your time better and also the importance of sticking to a budget. You learn to be more independent and responsible. It often also helps people come out of their shell and reach their full potential. Most often such experiences also help you appreciate how well off you are at home with your parents taking care of most of the day to day activities. You will also learn about a new culture, new lives and have a new perspective on life.
Ultimately change is good; we often value our lives by different periods in time, like for instance primary school, secondary school and so on. Ultimately, the more we change the more we live. So go on, apply for that internship and get the ball rolling!
(Mark Trapani is a University student currently in his third year reading for B.Sc. Biology & Chemistry. For more information about IAESTE Malta please visit facebook.com/IAESTE.Malta or contact them on firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Valentina Gauci
50 Maltese students and endless litres of beer…you do the math. Would you expect anything less than catastrophically crazy things to happen? This was a five day trip organised by S-Cubed filled with thrilling experiences from day one, which took place post the hectic Easter family lunches. It began with heartfelt goodbyes but steadily escalated to unexpected and memorable highs.
Intended to be both an educational as well as a recreational trip, it was the perfect in-between balance, allowing students to familiarise themselves with the city as well as its science exhibitions. Nights spent socializing with friends at events such as an ESN party and a beer tour around the city led to the development of promising friendships that are still going strong.
All of our visits were remarkable but the ones that personally stood out for me would definitely include the Deutsches Museum, the Planetarium at Max Planck and Garmisch-Partnach Gorge. Walking around the lake at the Olympia Park was also a delightful experience.
As we stepped out of the elevator at the top floor of the Deutsches Museum, we expected to find another exhibition but were instead taken aback by the city views from above, spanning from St Peter’s Church and the Cathedral of Our Lady, to attractions by the river Isar. As we descended down floor by floor through the museum, we were met with creative displays throughout, ranging from a thrilling walk-in-life-size model of a eukaryotic cell to an astounding yet informative pharmaceutical display.
Driving out of the hectic city centre to the quiet area of Garmisch-Partenkirchen was a well-needed transition; from the busy jam-packed streets to the snowy Austrian and the green Bavarian Alps. After taking a gondola to the top, we began winding our way back down to Partnach gorge. Another astounding experience includes the Planetarium exhibit at Max Planck, where reclining comfortably one may enjoy an awe-inspiring astrophysical simulation that provides an unforgettable journey through the universe.
Hats off to the S-Cubed team for co-ordinating the event and their overall organisational skills. I am eagerly awaiting news of another trip!