Back to SummaryJennifer Lee - Student Advisor Profile
INTERNSHIP: Pharmacology at Kyoto University
Even though it could only happen in the spring quarter of my senior year, I was determined to study abroad in Japan. Sure, I would miss senior formal and graduation, but I thought to myself: while those events might not necessarily change my life, going to Japan would. My judgment could not have been more accurate. From climbing Mount Fuji to spending a few nights in a swanky manga cafe, my experiences in Japan were nothing short of spectacular. Not once have I looked back and regretted my decision.
With the guidance and leverage of Stanford’s experienced staff, I embarked on an unforgettable journey through Kyoto, one of Japan’s most culturally significant cities. Within a week of our arrival, the staff organized a group trip to Arashiyama, a quaint region in western Kyoto that became my favorite place in Japan. Arashiyama’s gorgeous mountains, bamboo forests, and cherry blossoms lured a group of us back on our own a week later, when we had a riverboating experience that became a hilarious legend.
Wanting to soak in the idyllic scenery from a boat, we rented one and attempted to row it along the peaceful river that runs through Arashiyama. For the longest time, though, no matter how hard we rowed, we couldn’t get the boat to budge. A bunch of people kept yelling, “Hantai! Hantai!” (“hantai” means “opposite” in Japanese), and after about half an hour of circling in place, we realized that we had been trying to row the boat backwards, with the pointed end behind us and the flat end in front of us. We laughed at ourselves - a boatful of engineers that couldn’t even figure out which direction to row - and enjoyed the rest of our boat ride. There is nothing quite like floating through Arashiyama’s lush landscape on a sunny day, and I visited Arashiyama several more times throughout my six month-long stay in Kyoto.
One of the most meaningful experiences of my time abroad was getting to know my host mother. Despite the enormous cultural and linguistic barriers that stood between us, she still came across to me as one of the kindest, spunkiest women I’ve ever met. Her husband lived two hours away for work and came home only once every two weeks, but she never showed even the slightest hint of resentment, and they cultivated a loving relationship. I especially admired her positive attitude because in Japan, women typically depend on their husbands for money and companionship. Defying this tendency, my host mother had a job of her own, actively befriended people in her neighborhood and hobby clubs, and relished taking care of her daughters, her dog, and me.
In her spare time, she loved watching American movies, and while I was there, she always made a point of watching them with English audio and Japanese subtitles. This way, we could watch the movies together and understand what was happening. Because I am very close to my mother at home in the United States, having a host mother with whom I could connect made me feel comfortable in a country that was completely new to me. My host mother was a living testament to the fact that courage and compassion need no translation.
When the quarter ended, I moved out of my homestay and began my summer internship in pharmacology at Kyoto University. The internship provided me with thorough exposure to practical lab techniques and a cultural academic experience. The lab’s principal investigator and I discussed scientific topics that are relevant to my professional goals in biotechnology. In my attempt to identify a particular target protein for the G protein Rho, I practiced lab techniques that i had learned about only in theory in my previous coursework. It was refreshing to finally conduct live experiments with these techniques. Additionally, the internship introduced me to the dynamic culture of Japanese academia. My labmates spoke very little English, but they were still able to explain very complicated scientific concepts using drawings and gestures. Their ability to balance their intense work ethic with their social lives impressed me; from what I understand, this level of intensity both during and after work is characteristic of Japanese work culture in general. My internship experience was very practical and authentic.
Japan was endlessly memorable - I explored local cultures almost every weekend, gained overseas work experience, and best of all, built lasting friendships with people from both Stanford and Japan. I would not have given up my overseas experience for anything.