lab! she said smiling. "No wonder your grades are so awesome!"
Ann said hardly a word to me all year. Although she was in at least two of my classes each semester since I started at UTSA, I think that maybe Ann felt a little intimidated by me. Ann is an all-American college student, a woman from a small town Kentucky who had never left the greater forty-eight. The farthest place she had been to away from her home town was Los Angeles. On the other hand, I hailed from far-off Japan, a country she had probably only read about and seen pictures of on television or books. Because Ann was a science student and not a geography buff, I wondered in fact if she even knew where my home country was on a world map.
A love to research!" I told her enthusiastically, conscious that I wanted to make friends with one of my only female classmates. "I think it can be so much fun!"
She looked at me bug-eyed but continued to smile. "Yes I guess we all must like our lab research somewhat or else we wouldn't be here, right? Hey where are you eating lunch today?"
Ann and I made instant friends over our lunchtime discussions that day. She turned out to be an ideal classmate, one who not only supported my academic needs and interests and who was an excellent study partner, but also someone who could teach me more about American values, culture, and beliefs. One of the main reasons I chose to go to college in the United States was precisely for these kinds of social experiences: for lunches with my classmates and discussions about things other than my chosen major. However, I'll be the first to admit that I most preferred to include immunology in any conversation. That's why I learned so much from Ann.
Our conversations were always rich and multifaceted. She would ask me a few questions about my family, my career goals, or my extracurricular interests. Then I would ask her the same. Over the course of the semester we became close friends who would do more than just study together, although studying for our classes was an integral part of the time we spent together.
However, like many of my classmates at UTSA, Ann also spent hours playing video games or watching television, activities which I honestly have little interest in. I would sometimes sit in while she and her roommate and friends played games but in general I would prefer to watch the activities of microorganisms in their petri dishes than of reality-television stars. It's not that I am anti-social; quite the contrary, I relish the times that I spend talking with classmates over lunch or dinner and look forward to discussing things other than just science. For example, I like learning about the different views of Americans regarding politics or religion or philosophy. With the elections coming up, politics and President Bush have been tops on the list of conversation topics out of the classroom.
A potential classmate that would most suit my needs as a foreign student hoping to delve into a career as a research immunologist would be someone like Ann, who values lab work and who is dedicated to the field, but also one who shares my voracious appetite for extended hours in the lab, for keeping abreast of the latest scientific advancements, and who feels that first-hand laboratory experience is actually more entertaining than pressing buttons on a joystick. It's not that I'm against mindless entertainment; we all need a break from highly stimulating intellectual activities and the rigors of academic. Rather, I feel that leisure time can be better spent than sitting in front of the screen. I don't feel I am obsessed, just passionate. Moreover, I don't feel that the best way for me to learn about American culture and experience is through watching television, even though this seems to be a favorite American pastime.
An ideal classmate and friend would be someone who, like Ann, is forthright and willing to discuss all facets of American culture. I enjoy honesty and don't mind entertaining topics that are taboo or uncomfortable to discuss. I don't mind fielding questions about my native nation of Japan or about my family life or experiences. I believe that addressing difficult topics is the only way to form true friendships, anyway. I don't think that what is portrayed on television as "reality" is truly real. In Japan we have many television shows that are meant to be funny, not real, and I think it is sad that so many American people mistake what they watch on television for the real world.
An ideal classmate who can assist my future growth and development is one who can leave me with lasting impressions of this country so that when I return to Japan I will have a thorough understanding of the American worldview. Just from being here a short while I can tell that the outlook and value system of Americans is totally different from that in Japan. I would like to articulate these differences better, and a classmate similar to Ann can help me to do so by offering insider information.
Because English is not my first language, an ideal classmate will also help me increase my street vocabulary and knowledge of terms used in the popular culture as well as in formal settings. I believe I have a decent grasp of the language as it is used formally and in school settings but sometimes I might miss jokes or idioms because of my somewhat limited understanding. Therefore, a perfect classmate would introduce me to terms I do not yet understand and eliminate my ignorance of certain matters related to popular culture. This, I feel, is an essential part of my education here in America.
Because I hope to be a successful research immunologist, the ideal classmate will also be interested in a similar field of study. He or she will not necessarily be interested in exactly the same field. In fact, I would prefer to bounce ideas off of someone who is passionate about another area of research science. I know that I will continue to study the relationship between pathogens and human beings; I don't need to share this knowledge with a classmate necessarily. I will glean all that I can about my specific field on interest through class lectures, books, and journal articles. However, I would love to learn more about other dimensions of science from a classmate who is equally as passionate as I am about his or her chosen field. For instance, someone who is interested in something like stem cell research could inform and educate me on theories and processes that I might have never otherwise encountered as I pursue my specialty.
An ideal classmate shares my fondness for the laboratory and doesn't think of lab work as work. He or she, like me, sees research as being almost recreational in that it fulfills that joyous, childlike wonder of the world. He or she, like me, dislikes losing precious time by playing video games, not because we feel they are unhealthy or bad but because we would simply prefer to "play" in the lab. We share moments of epiphany and frustration alike when we work together, and when we are not in the laboratory or classroom, we discuss our dreams and desires for potential discoveries or advancements. We laud or respective heroes and learn who has inspired us. We interact with each other about our potential academic research projects. We speculate about which professors we would like to work with more, about which graduate schools we hope to attend, and what exactly we would like to do with our…