A dash of multiculturalism

Last Friday was Chinese New Year, and for the next two weeks, there are various public events in Paris to celebrate. The parade near the City Hall the past Sunday was truly a spectacle. At 2:30 p.m., the crowd gathered in front of l’Hotel de Ville surged as the parade moved through rue du Temple.

l'Hotel de Ville

The crowds at l’Hotel de Ville (City Hall)

Parade

Chinese New Year Parade at rue Beaubourg, near Pompidou

Thousands of people turned up on the cool Sunday afternoon, many of them youths and children, but also a surprising number of adults who went alone for a chance to see something they do not see often. The parade was composed of some 20 contingents of performers dressed in festive or iconic clothing, shouting Bonne Année. It was loud, it was busy, and it was a great deal of fun.

I found it interesting that the roads on which the parade passed were not closed off. While I waited at a street corner with my friends and countless others, we saw cars driving through the crowds at glacial speed 30 minutes before the parade was scheduled to pass.

Going to the Chinese New Year parade reminded me of a topic that I feel might be important to briefly address. Coming from one of the most multicultural and accepting cities, Europe may seem a bit homogeneous and unwelcoming. Eurocentrism and orientalism are just some of the terms that come to mind. The reality, of course, is quite complex, and I can only speak from my personal experience. In terms of population, Paris is a very diverse city, and with it comes some degree of cultural desensitization. It is also a large and busy city. People have treated me the same way as they would anyone else, often because they do not have the time to act any differently.

But there have been occasions where people came up to me on the street, speaking the few Chinese or Japanese words they know. And there have been occasions where people invoked negative racial stereotypes in throwaway comments. These occasions are far from the norm and do not occur often, but it has happened enough times to me and to my friends to warrant this discussion. If you are an exchange student who is also a visible minority, you may very well encounter similar situations.

It is up to the individual to decide if these actions are condescending or an awkward attempt to be welcoming. In many cases, I have been told that these people are simply curious. Their clumsy and culturally insensitive approaches can be attributed to the fact that they do not often interact with culturally different people. It may well be that a good way to deal with these situations is to believe in their lack of sinister undertones. Ultimately, these situations affect individuals differently and it would be absurd to tell everyone to just ignore and brush aside racially and culturally offensive behaviour. The individual exchange student will have to make his or her decision on possible exchange programs with this in mind.

Passing the Hump & Phenotypic Plasticity

Hej hej!

Hard to believe, but with the passing of January I’m now more than half way through my academic year abroad. Absolute craziness if you ask me. I’ve begun making a list of places I want to see and things I want to do within the next four months. Visiting my old stomping grounds in London, checking out the Berlin wall, and sightseeing in Dublin are currently residing at the top of said list, but I suppose only time will tell what I manage to fit in. And of course, wherever I manage to go I will clearly be reporting it back to y’all.

As for the realm of academia, I am currently in my third week of Aquatic Ecology. At the moment, I am working in a group with three others on a poster presentation regarding the topic of phenotypic plasticity.

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Gonyostomum semen

More specifically, we are analyzing the results from a light intensity experiment using the nuisance algae Gonyostomum semen. Why nuisance you might ask, well that would be because of its ability to form large blooms in humic lakes, combined with the fact that it secretes itch-inducing mucus strands. Nice, right? Our experiment was fairly simple. Six samples of G. semen were grown under high light conditions (white light), while six others were grown under low light conditions (red light). Half way through the culturing time, three samples from each light treatment were swapped. The samples were all left to grow for an additional week before we were ready to put them under the microscope, and what a microscope it was! We had predicted to see a change in G. semen cell size as a direct result of the light treatment it was exposed to. So, for this, we needed to look at cell surface area. The microscope we were given access to had a camera attached, and it was directly linked to a computer that allowed us to take photos of individual cells from each of the 12 samples. C-O-O-L! Since we were working with live samples, a few of these little guys made us work for their photo, but by the end of the day we had managed to get photos of approximately 25 cells from each sample…which is a total of 300 individual cells!

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Measuring lengths and widths of G. semen.

Once the photos were all captured, we then used the same computer software to measure the length and width of each cell. These measurements were later used to calculate area, which was the variable we wanted to run our analysis on. When all was said and done, we saw a significant difference between the light treatments, illustrating that G. semen are phenotypically plastic organisms. All that remains is for us to edit and format our poster, which will be presented on Wednesday.

Sorry to nerd out on everyone once again. But, if I remember correctly, the deadline to apply for exchange studies though the CIE is on the approach. Therefore, I wanted to give a good example of the type of project that can be completed, during your bachelor studies, here at Lund University. I highly recommend this school to anyone looking to get some early research experience. Seriously, I have been able to super beef up my CV thanks to all the field and lab work I’ve been completing since arriving here.

Until next time!

Abby