Dec 1, 2016

The founding principle of all the activities of Zdenek and Michaela Bakala is, truly, the courage, which must, according to their belief, always go hand in hand with responsibility.
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Nicolas Gaeng - report

TIME PERIOD OF YOUR STAY

August 19th 2013 – March 29th 2014

UNIVERSITY ATTENDED

Stanford University

FACULTY

Chemistry

GENERAL IMPRESSIONS

This opportunity of studying in one of the best university in the world was unbelievable. I was able to work with some highly talented and friendly co-workers which was enriching not only for my work, but also for discovering a new culture. I can only recommend it to anyone willing to give the best of himself and who like to explore. Stanford University is in the Silicon Valley, part of California which is highly visited for its beauty and also its innovative spirit. The weather is amazing, you can find every type of food and you always discover new places to visit or see. This university is very close to San Francisco which is one of the most culturally rich cities I have ever visited and a little bit further is Los Angeles. 

PREPARATION OF THE STAY

In order to plan as much paperwork as possible before going to the USA, it requires some time and patience. First of all, I needed to be accepted by the research group that I wanted to join. Then some information about myself was required by the secretary in order to ask for the DS-2019. This form is obligatory in order to apply for a VISA. In my case, was able to study in the USA with a J-1 VISA without the 2 years rule, because my work was not more than six months. To finally have the VISA in my passport, I had to fill lots of forms online, pay some fees and have an appointment to the embassy of the USA in Berne.

Stanford also asked me to reach some requirements about the health insurance that satisfy the same norms as the health insurance of the university. Luckily, my health insurance was enough and I did not have to take theirs, which is really expensive.

In order to be familiar with my future surrounding, I asked a friend who was in Stanford the year before me about some practical questions such as the housing, the commuting, the life, the studies, basically everything that I was thinking about. I think this is one of the easiest ways to prepare yourself to a new environment. 

ARRIVAL

When my program started, the university was organizing several welcoming events on campus because it was the beginning of a new year for the undergrads. Therefore, I attended an information class which told about the right we have, what we can do, mostly the administrative side. Then, all the student associations were presenting themselves with a stand all over the campus. From the sport club to the religion association and going through the LGBT community, you could find everything you needed. The university pays a lot of attention for their students, everything is done so that the students can do anything they want and feel safe about it. This is a good feeling when you are part of it.

ACCOMODATION SEARCH

This was the tricky part. Because I was not staying for more than one year in Stanford, I could not be part of the dorms for undergrads not grad students. Therefore, I had to find something outside the campus. I had been told that it is easy to find something once you are on site because the landlords or the manager of the place want to see us in person that is why I did not apply to some accommodation before arriving. However, one week before leaving Switzerland, I sent several email to some places that I have found on some websites in order to schedule some appointments.

I started to visit some private studio and shared flat in the neighborhood of the campus, as close as possible, but I did not have any bike back then and in the USA, distances are not at all similar to Switzerland. I had to walk a lot and it took me a while to reach each place. After four days, I still did not have any housing.

I went to the university where I met my lab mates and one was very helpful and made me discover a website that I was not aware of. I contacted several landlords, visited two places and accepted one. I was relieved.

The house is owned by a couple and there are two rooms and one bathroom that they are renting for any Stanford student. I could use the entire house as I wanted; the living room, the kitchen, the garden. The house is located at 7.5km from the university, which makes a 23 minutes one-way ride. That was the only inconvenience of living there. 

UNIVERSITY LIFE

My experience in this university was not about following some courses. I did my Master Project which consists of a six months research project in a synthetic lab. Although the equipment and tools were really old and not 100% effective, the conditions to do the research were incredible. The good atmosphere in the group was really amazing and was important for the whole stay. I met some very interesting and extremely clever people who were working with me. This was not easy at the beginning as I realized how great everyone was, but it was a constant motivation to always push myself further. That is how I worked six day a week with an average of fourteen hours a day. I also could attend several conferences and a symposium in organic chemistry with some well-known professor from the USA. Sharing the knowledge is one of the most important things we can do. This is something that Stanford understands well and put all its resources to improve it as a daily basis.

You could find a lot of different coffee places, restaurants, sandwiches places and cafeterias on campus really close to the working place. This was very convenient but the choices were not very divers. Burritos, Asiatic food, pizza, burger, sandwich and pasta were the usual offers. 

FREE TIME AND SOCIAL LIFE

The area of the campus is 33km2, which is big enough to have plenty of activities on site. As already mentioned above, Stanford University is doing everything for their students. You can be part of any kind of team sport, individual sport or association. The beauty of the campus is stunning and the architecture of the buildings is something unique. There are numerous parks and even a lake (which was dried on purpose). The Stanford campus is made so that you can find and do everything one needs to do. Supermarket, shopping center, car rental and much more are present on site.

Not so far, especially for the Americans, from Stanford is San Francisco. Only one hour of train and you can reach this amazing and mythic city. Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Cable Cars, China Town, Mission, Fisherman’s Wharf, Coit Tower, Alcatraz, the City Hall, the Pier 39, Union Square, museums and many more neighborhood and places to see.

If you want to drive through a wonderful road and enjoy the stunning view of the coast, go down the 1 (highway), all the way to Los Angeles. This other well-known city is the center of many businesses. We can reach Venice Beach, see the sign “Hollywood” or walk on the Walk of Fame.

At the end of my stay, I did a road trip in order to see as many things as possible in California, Nevada, Arizona State and Utah. I was able to see some national parks, the Death Valley, Las Vegas, Antelope Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Salt Lake City, Sacramento and Carson City, Napa Valley and a few other viewpoints. The most impressive thing is how wide their landscapes are. While driving on the road (because they don’t have many roads), go can see fields or deserts until the horizon, it is really unbelievable how much space they have.

MISCELLANEOUS

Once again, I would like to thank Fondation Zdenek et Michaela Bakala for giving me this great opportunity of studying at Stanford University.

Nicolas Gaeng - photos

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2013-10-08 18
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© Fondation Zdenek et Michaela Bakala