Wednesday, June 4, 2014

First days in Leuven: apartments, shopping, transportation and labs

The 2014 Summer at IMEC group is already hard at work and we have our first blog post from Polly Ma from the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Read on.
My apartment in Leuven.

"It's been a week since I've arrived at Leuven, and I've finally started to learn the ins and outs of the town. For one, all shops and stores close extremely early and aren't open on Sundays either. There's no such thing here as a 2 a.m. stop at Subway to satisfy those late night cravings. Leuven is also the epitome of a college town, and the people here are generally on the younger side and very friendly. There hasn't been much of a language barrier at all, since most people in this city can speak English and are willing to pause and help the struggling lost American in the middle of the street. Also, in general, people in Leuven bike to get everywhere. The bus is also quite convenient, but at 2 euros a ride, it can get expensive. For people who do drive, all of their cars are much smaller than those in America. Speaking of smaller, portion sizes are also much smaller in Europe in general. The "regular" or medium size here is what we call a "small" in America, and the "large" size in America generally is never served in Europe. From what I've noticed, people here in Leuven at least, are fitter and dress better too.

Adjusting to life here hasn't been too difficult after renting my own bike to get around. In my first week here, I spent the first three days running around, getting registered at the appropriate locations, paying all my deposits, and looking for wifi in random locations (we couldn't get internet access in our rooms until we registered, which didn't happen until the third day.) The building we're staying at is called Wisteria at De Waag, and everyone is in a fully furnished studio. I got lucky, and my room came with a toaster, coffee maker, iron, hot water boiler, and a bunch of other goodies, like a double sized bed! The only downside to the room is that there is no wireless internet, but a few students bought routers and made their own. On the second day, we had orientation day at IMEC to meet our supervisors, take a safety tour, and get our badges. The IMEC campus is beautiful and quite large. It's almost a 7-10 minute walk from the labs to my desk office. Many parts of the buildings remind me of the office buildings in the Silicon Valley; they are big windows, very white walls, shiny surfaces, and lots of light. IMEC also has amazing equipment and facilities, most of which puts the stuff we have at Hopkins to shame.

Modern IMEC lab.
After finally getting oriented, Thursday turned out to be a holiday in Belgium, so we didn't have to go to work. Friday at IMEC was also a day off, so in my first week here, I already had a long weekend! To make the most of it, the four of us from Hopkins, as well as a few other friends we met, decided to make a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam (which I'll talk about in my next blog post!) However, I haven't had a chance to really explore and sightsee in Leuven or other parts of Belgium. Hopefully that will change soon!


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