Thursday, February 1, 2024

GTL Italy Week 2 and 3

This post is rather late since GTL Italy ended almost a week ago. Anyway, I wanted to write a second blog about GTL Italy because I didn't touch upon some cultural experiences in my first blog. Of course, I will also cover the teaching experience too. 


After the first week, I kind of got used to the process of preparing my lessons and teaching them to students. One good thing was that I ended up recycling a lot of content since I taught eleven different sections, but all of the teachers wanted me to teach biology. As a result, I taught topics like cancer biology and biotechnology many times. The downside was that I had to spend some time reviewing content like genomes and sequencing because I took 7.03 a year ago. I came in hoping that I would get to use the lab, but unfortunately, it was quite limited. As a result, the only lab I did was DNA extraction. 

One frustration I had when teaching was that the level of engagement varied a lot. One class was on the noisier end, but asked lots of questions, which I liked. Some classes were quiet, but a couple asked questions. Others did not ask any questions and some did not take notes at all. To be fair, I used lecture style to teach, which explains why students weren't as interested. I had some games like Kahoot at the end and animations from HHMI, but it wasn't the same thing as doing a live demonstration. 

This sounds stupid, but it wasn't until the third week that I realized that some students weren't engaged not necessarily because they didn't like science, but rather because their English proficiency wasn't advanced enough. I'd imagine that throwing a lot of scientific jargon at them in English made learning more difficult. Despite the language barrier, it was nice to see the students brighten up when they got to do the DNA lab activity or play Kahoot. 

Class 3ALSSA 

Food and Dining 

Growing up in the U.S., I have had exposure to Italian food, but Italian food in the U.S. is probably not the same as Italian food in Italy. Breakfast consisted of yogurt with granola and fruit. My host family liked eating marmalade on toast and dipping biscuits into coffee or tea. Lunch consisted of spaghetti or pasta as the starch, salad with vinegar and olive oil, and meat or seafood. I got to eat a lot of cheese and some local vegetables, like Italian chicory. I also liked the bread rolls. I was surprised to find homegrown kiwis in the mountains of Italy since I assumed all kiwis came from New Zealand. A pleasant surprise. After lunch, I drank a small cup of coffee (think shot glass size) with my host dad.

Dinner was similar to lunch, except for the coffee part. At first, I wondered how did people in Italy not feel hungry before 8 p.m., but somehow my stomach adapted to the situation. I had a few digestifs (drinks after dinner), which were interesting because they tasted unlike anything I had before. Genepy had an interesting herbal taste, Meletti had a strange licorice taste, and vin santo had a low ABV of 16% but was very strong for me.  

One thing I was very excited to try was pizza in Italy, since pizza in the U.S. is so ubiquitous. There were some similarities, but also some differences. For instance, the vegetable pizza had thick slices of zucchini as a topping, which I didn't quite find in the U.S. An interesting pizza I came across was one with French fries on it. I was pleased to not see pizza that looked like Dominoes or Costco, specifically pizza that only had cheese. I liked the pizza crust in Italy a lot because of how thick and warm it was.

An interesting observation is that in the restaurant, each person orders their own pizza. Obviously, pizza is a food eaten by hand, but people also use forks and knives to eat small slices of pizza. I was not used to this concept, as I was under the impression that people would share pizzas already sliced into sixths or eighths. Not surprisingly, eating an entire pizza for myself took a very long time because my stomach's normal limit is say three slices, not six. 

French fry pizza! 

Something I got to try for the first time was eating rabbit meat with polenta in Bergamo. I was very curious about what rabbit meat tasted like, and it turned out to resemble the taste of chicken, except the rabbit meat I had was a bit tougher and leaner. 

Rabbit meat with polenta 


One small regret I have is that I didn't travel that much, partly because I was far from Milan and the local train only came every hour. Originally, I thought of going to Brescia, but that didn't happen. Nevertheless, I got to see some beautiful places. I had a great time exploring the town of Lovere by Lake Iseo with a teacher and enjoyed walking around the whole perimeter of Monte Isola, an island in Lake Iseo. 

Monte Isola around sunset 

Bergamo, a regional city in Lombardy, was an unparalleled experience because I got to see a panoramic view of the city underneath on top of the fortress. It's no surprise that Bergamo was the Italian Capital of Culture in 2023 and a UNESCO heritage site. I was also excited to see where Call Me By Your Name was filmed in Bergamo, though I will need to rewatch the film to connect the dots. 

Plaza in Bergamo 

In my local town of Breno, I got to visit the 11th century castle on the hill, which was very cool because it was empty and quiet. From the castle, I got to see the town. As a runner, I was happy that Breno had a local river with a bike path, allowing me to run in the countryside and farmland. 

Breno Castle 


Although being a foreigner in a small town in Italy felt isolating at times, I will never forget the hospitality and warmth of the teachers and people I met there. If I have another chance to go to Italy, I will be more than happy to see my host family again and explore more places in Lombardy like Lake Como. 

Friday, January 12, 2024

GTL Italy Week 1: First Impressions

My first week of teaching for GTL Italy is over. Two more weeks, and then I will be flying back to MIT. GTL Italy so far has been pretty interesting. Not only have I learned a lot about high school in Italy, but also life in Italy. I still don't know much Italian, but at least now I know some of the basic phrases like buon giorno for good morning and grazie for thank you. 

The first day was very disorienting and stressful, mainly because transportation from the airport to the town wasn't super smooth. For context, I am teaching in Breno, a small town in the mountains of Lombardy, a province in northern Italy. The town is 45 minutes north of Lake Iseo, which is a local tourist attraction. I am 2 hours away from Milan by car. Airport passport control and baggage claim were smooth, but I almost missed my bus and train because I didn't know any Italian. The trip to the town was quite lonely, since I didn't really know my surroundings well. But once I saw my host family at the train station, I felt much better because they were so warm and welcoming. 

This will be a long post, as I have so many thoughts about the various aspects of GTL, from my host family to teaching. 


My GTL Italy assignment was to teach biology and chemistry to students ages 17 to 19 at Liceo Golgi. The school was named after Camillo Golgi, a Nobel laureate who discovered the Golgi apparatus (fun fact for you!). Originally, I was supposed to teach 18 hours this week, but a few teachers didn't need my help, so I ended up only teaching 15 hours this week. 

In total, I taught 10 sections of class, as some classes wanted me to teach 2 hours instead of 1 hour. Each teacher requested me to teach different topics, but there was a lot of overlap. This week, I taught cancer, DNA, stem cells, and CRISPR cas9. I would say that lesson planning wasn't as bad, since I used material from other classes. Also, I spent 15 minutes of class introducing myself and talking about MIT. 

First day was a bit of a disaster because I ran out of content to teach for one of my classes, so I ended up teaching what I knew about CRISPR on the spot for the rest of the class. From that experience, I learned to prepare more ahead of time like making Kahoot and using HHMI Biointeractive for lesson planning. On a side note, HHMI is an amazing website. It gives me hope that people will stick to the life sciences. Anyways, going back to GTL Italy. 

I wish I didn't have this thought, but sometimes I wondered what was the point of me doing GTL Italy when some of the students didn't really understand me and the teacher had to translate what I said into Italian. I guess having me teach provides a different perspective and lets them meet a college student in the U.S., which isn't an interaction they get that often. I think incorporating more simulations and lab-based experiences will quiet those negative thoughts. The teachers' excitement and enthusiasm for me to come warms my heart. Sometimes, I wonder how much the students benefit from me, but all I can do is try my best to show my passion for the subject. 

High School

Students here go to school from 8 AM to 2 PM. There is no lunch break, so students eat lunch afterward. Before coming here, I wondered how on Earth was I going to survive because I couldn't stand being hangry. Somehow, my body adjusted better than I thought. Another interesting thing is that students stay in the same classroom, with teachers rotating classrooms. This aspect is what schools in other countries also have, such as China. 

It took me a while to understand what the class codes meant, but the first letter is the year. High school is 5 years, so the 5th year is ages 18-19. The letters in the class code mean the following: linguistics, classics, science, applied science, arts, etc. Students here choose a track for high school, so to some extent, it is a bit pre-professional. By doing so, students can have an education that's more technical or arts-focused. I can see the logic behind this, though I wonder if this may further reinforce a fixed mindset in students that students in the humanities track aren't good at STEM. Personally, I think it is better that in the U.S. students regardless of what they are interested in choose their classes. 

Like lots of countries, college results are primarily determined by examination results in the last year. As a result, there isn't really a concept of extracurricular activities because they aren't part of the college admissions process. Based on their responses, it seems like there isn't a lot of participation in music, sports, etc. Maybe it is just me, but I was sad to see only a few of them raised their hand when I asked if any of them liked a) running b) listening to classical music c) writing. Unfortunate. I am sure they have hobbies, just ones that are different from mine. 

I don't know if this is just my school, but I wondered why the classrooms had no posters or student's work. I think that's one feedback I would give to the school, just cause I personally liked it when my high school teachers had inspirational posters, even though some of the quotes were a little cheesy. 

Something that makes me envy the school a bit is how their vending machine has chocolate like Kinder at a reasonable price of 1,00 €. I am sure that the vending machines at MIT have chocolate, but none of them seem too appetizing to me, and even if they do, they are probably slightly more expensive than here. One cool thing is that the school has coffee vending machines where students pay 0,50 € for like 100 mL of coffee. 

It was funny to ask their thoughts on what they think of high schools in the U.S., as a few of them said that they think American high school students have an easier life because their impressions are that they don't have to study that much compared to them. I think this preconception comes from the fact that movies and TV shows portray high school life in the U.S. to be relaxed, which isn't necessarily the case. And while we do participate more in activities, it isn't because we have more free time, but rather well-roundedness is emphasized more in the American curriculum. 

On a more random note, the students here have a better sense of fashion compared to my high school and MIT, honestly. I wouldn't say their fashion sense comes from wearing clothes that are on the more smart casual end of the spectrum. For instance, no one here really wears sweatpants or running shoes. The winter wear is sweaters and jeans, not so much long sleeves. Somehow, rectangular glasses with more fashionable frames are more popular here. On the other hand, I would say I dress pretty casually, like wearing free shirts and running pants. Also, I noticed that the brand Eastpak dominates the high school backpacks and pencil cases here. Kind of like Jansport in the U.S., I suppose. 


One challenge of GTL Italy was not knowing Italian. I am glad that I know a bit of Spanish of French, as some words in Italian sound like words in Spanish and French. Still, comprehension is an issue. While I can pick up some words here and there, they never come together as a sentence in my head. As a result, I am a lot more quiet and observant here, but I don't find it to be that much of an issue. 

I had a few mind-blowing moments from picking up Italian, which have to do with the fact that the American pronunciation of certain words is different from how Italians pronounce them. For instance, it's pistachio in English, but pistacchio in Italian. We say ch, but in italian it is a k sound (I don't know IPA, this isn't a professional way to explain). Another example is the name Lucia. In U.S., lu-see-a is acceptable, but in Italy it is lu-chee-a. 

Google Translate is now my best friend. It's a blessing that such an app exists. While Google Translate isn't perfect, at least it can translate the main ideas and I can get what the other person wants to say.  Using Google Translate with my host family's daughter is pretty interesting. It's not convenient, but it's one way to have a conversation. 

Host Family 

My host family is wonderful. They are friendly and helpful. This helped me adjust to life here relatively quickly. Living in the apartment is similar to my living situation in the U.S., with a few differences like round outlets that I still find odd (Italy uses type C) and a friendly pet dog. The only issue I would say is that I can somehow hear the people above me, but it's not disruptive, just the phone ringing or people talking. 


I have written way more than I expected for the first week of GTL. I will have another blog with more updates on how teaching goes. Hopefully, it will be better than the first week. I want my students to become more interested in the life sciences and understand that what they are learning isn't just in the textbook -- there are real-life applications and what they study matters. 

Winter Break in London and Cambridge

I am currently in Italy for GTL, but I was in the UK with family for vacation before coming to Italy. I am aware that the original purpose of the LMF blog was for residents to post about their summer trips like MISTI, but I don't think it's an issue for the LMF blog to include IAP trips (GTL, classes abroad, etc.). I could write this on my blogger website, but no one reads that, so I decided to share my thoughts here on the LMF blog. 

My vacation in London was a week long from 12/27 to 1/4, followed by Cambridge from 1/4 to 1/7. On 1/3, I did an Oxford day trip to visit a family friend studying at Oxford, which was fun. 

From my trip, I realized that there are way too many things to see in London and a week is not enough. For instance, my family decided to spend a second day at the British Museum because the museum is so large with nearly 100 galleries, each gallery containing many objects. Likewise, we ended up spending the whole day at the Victoria & Albert Museum. As a result, we did not go to some places on our itinerary such as Tate Modern, Kensington Place, Design Museum, etc. I would like to go back to London sometime in the future and visit those museums. 

The British Museum

Overall, I had positive impressions of London. People joke that British food only consists of pubs and taverns, but there are a lot of ethnic food options such as Indian food, Chinese food, etc. Since my family is Chinese, we ended up going to different restaurants in Chinatown. My favorites were Rasa Sayang, a Malaysian restaurant, and Four Seasons, a Cantonese restaurant known for its roasted duck. We had to wait a while in line, but it was worth the wait because it was an indication that the restaurant had good food. I also liked riding the tube because they came every 3-5 minutes, the stations were clean, and they had lots of transfer options. I wonder when the T will become the tube. Probably not. 

 nasi lemak at Rasa Sayang

London is an international city and I didn't experience much culture shock except for hearing British accents and seeing black taxis on the streets. The double-decker buses are very cool, and I feel like some cities would benefit a lot from a double-decker bus. I am still not used to the fact that the driver's seat is on the right side instead of the left side. The modern parts of London like Canary Wharf (financial district) felt like the U.S., really, with minor modifications like British spelling and British equivalents of American shops. For instance, Tesco is a popular convenience store, whereas Waitrose is a grocery chain. 

What makes London unlike American cities is that it is a much older city with more history. Seeing the 1000-year-old Tower of London in real life was very impressive. So were the Tower Bridge and the House of Parliament. The old storefronts and the quiet streets are nice to walk around. 

The Tower of London  

Not only that, but also I feel like people in London dress a bit more formally compared to us Americans. This is just my impression, not a general statement. For instance, it took me a few days to realize that I was one of the few people who wore running pants not for exercise. This made me feel a bit self-conscious because I felt like what I was wearing was too casual. While I do have jeans, I just like how joggers aren't as tight. Anyhow, I am digressing from the main point of the blog, which is about my travels in London. 

Taking the train from London to Oxford provided a nice change of scenery because Oxford is rich in history. While the U.S. has impressive college campuses, I have to say no college town in the U.S. is the equivalent of Oxford or Cambridge. The highlight of Oxford was visiting Christ Church College because some scenes in Harry Potter were filmed there. Unfortunately, we got there when it already became dark at 4 p.m. (sunset early in the UK), but it was still an informative and interesting tour. 

Dining hall in Christ Church College  

As for Cambridge, I plan to write an article for my column on The Tech about being in the other Cambridge just because it is amusing to compare Cambridge, MA with Cambridge, UK. I loved my three days in Cambridge because of how peaceful and picturesque life was there, though to be fair I was there during winter break, so it is probably not an accurate representation of Cambridge. Nevertheless, I loved how many bookstores and shops there were as well as the River Cam. 

The iconic Bridge of Sighs in St. John's College  

Overall, I enjoyed my time in the UK and would be happy to visit again. Traveling was pretty smooth since the UK speaks English and most things were like the U.S., so I didn't feel lost or confused compared to what's happening in Italy (that will be a blog for later). 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

MIT LMF Fall 2023 Report


Hello, this is Vivian, the LMF historian again on the LMF blog! Unfortunately, this fall semester was busy, so I didn't do much as a historian. Now that the semester is over, however, I have more time and hope to do more things as historian for the 2024 spring semester. Overall, this semester was great and many events happened in four months. 

New GRAs

We started the 2023-2024 academic year with two new GRAs, Miguel and Irene. Miguel is currently a physics PhD student, while Irene is a research technician at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. They are great GRAs, as they have hosted cheese and fruit study breaks and other fun events. 


The most popular phrases people in LMF say include skill issue, cook, giving, etc. Alfonso '24 came up with the pun "skrill issue" and made an illustration that is now a custom Slack reaction sticker on our Slack channel. We also had the beloved "I want to krill myshelf" whale illustration on the board in the quiet lounge that sadly got erased. 

:skrill-issue: Slack custom sticker design, courtesy of Alfonso 
The beloved whale illustration  

LMF Slack Culture 

Going back to the custom "skrill issue" sticker, we also now have more custom LMF stickers that include the following people: 

Dien '24 for :drippy_dien: 


Alfonso '24 for :drip: 

Kimi '24 for :kimi_moment: 

Lila '25 for :gottablast: 

 LMF IM Soccer Team 

We gathered a dozen of LMF residents to form an intramural soccer team this fall! The last time we participated in IM was before COVID (League and badminton), so it is nice we are reviving the old LMF tradition of playing intramural sports. Melissa '24 helped form the team and coached residents on soccer. Overall, we had a great season with some wins!  


In October, we purchased a pole and installed it near the menu pantry shelf in the kitchen. The pole isn't used all the time, but a couple of residents enjoy spinning on it and learning some tricks on the pole, which makes it a good way to relieve stress. 

Teo '26 and the rest of LMF installing the pole 

New Quiet Lounge 

Acquiring the new pole in the LMF kitchen meant moving one of the tables in the kitchen somewhere else, so we decided to place the table in the elevator lounge near the stairway exit. It's a great workspace and now the formerly empty board is filled with lively illustrations, words, equations, etc. 

Dien '24 diligently studying 
Mystery chart on the elevator lounge whiteboard 

Pumpkin Social 

The LMF social chairs hosted a pumpkin social in mid. October! Besides pumpkin carving, people made the following pumpkin recipes: 

  • Creamy roasted pumpkin soup
  • Pumpkin gochujang pasta
  • Afghan pumpkin with yogurt and tomato sauce
  • Pumpkin pie ice cream 
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds 

Carved pumpkins 

Pumpkin pie 

Anson's Chart

Anson '26 started weekly charts on his whiteboard asking residents to put pins on the MIT campus map as a response to the question. Here are some of these charts: 

In November and December, the whiteboard now has Cartesian coordinates to plot ourselves. Some of  these charts can be found down below: 

LMF Wedding 
Jesse '18 and David '20 got married at the Museum of Science in late October! The wedding guests included recent LMF alums from the Class of 2018 to 2023. Keeping up with the LMF alum tradition, they sent us a postcard from their honeymoon in the South Padre Islands. We can't wait to hear other LMF weddings in the future :) 
Jesse and David married on 10/27/23 

A group of 15 LMF people went to Alton Bay, NH during the Veteran's Day long weekend! There were a total of three cars, each having their own itineraries. Some hiked at Mount Major while others went to Salem. The night at the cabin consisted of various activities, including playing games like Cards Against Humanity and roasting marshmallows at the fire pit. It is definitely an experience that won't be forgotten.

 LMF retreat dinner in the cabin 

LMF residents at the campfire roasting marshmallows 

LMF retreat 2023 group picture. Top row (left to right): Lowell '26, Alfonso '24, Kimi '24, Dien '24, Clara '24, Ivy '24, Nicole '24, Locke '27, Kailyn '26, Tobi '26. Bottom row (left to right): Bayo '24, Fiona '24, Greta '27, Vivian '25 

Iconic Menus 
Some menus that stood out this semester was Dien's pho menu and Kimi's dim sum menu. Dien's pho menu required preparation 24 hours in advance, as the pho broth needed to be on the stove for a long time. While we don't record attendance, Dien's menu was probably the highest attendance (30 or more people). Logistically, it was kind of challenging because it required a lot of bowls instead of plates, but it was still an excellent meal. 

Kimi's menu had the most dishes, as it was Kimi's senior menu. The menu had the following dishes: 
  • Egg tart
  • Sticky rice 
  • Spare ribs
  • Chicken feet 
  • Tripe
  • Tofu
  • Chive pockets
  • Siu mai
  • Dumplings
  • Smashed cucumbers
  • Turnip cake
To prepare all these dishes, preparation started as early as 2 to 3 days before cook team on Monday. Not only that, but also a lot of people outside of cook team helped out with early preparation. Everyone enjoyed the diverse offerings as well as the food's delicious taste. 

Dîner de Nöel 
This year's Dîner was a success! We had lots of yummy dishes, such as the Buche de Noel and matcha cakes. One unforgettable part of Dîner was when Anson '26 revealed his gift for Eileen '26, the current LMF food steward. Anson first exited the Macgregor dining room, then ran back with a large poster of "Kim Ay Leen" (parody of Kim Jong Un) with a word bubble that said "Submit! Your! Menu!" The whole scene caused everyone to burst out laughing. 
The iconic poster now sits outside our quiet lounge 

I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Thank you LMF residents for taking pictures, especially Anson!  While the role of the LMF historian is relatively new, I think it is a great idea moving forward that future historians write a summary of each semester to document some memorable events that happened in LMF. I know that I can't capture every single moment in a single blog, but I hope I was able to highlight some important events here.