It was mid April, 2018, when I was having dinner with my college senior and he tells me quietly, “I got the Khorana Scholarship and will be there in the US for the summer!” It was then when it started and exactly 8 months later I call that very senior saying, “I have got a mail saying that you have been provisionally selected for Khorana Scholarship 2019. What does that mean ?”. He replied “Congratulations, Summer in US! You are a Khorana Scholar now. ” Who says dreams don’t come true? It’s just that you need to paint your dreams yourself!
10th January 2019, 7:30 PM Taiwan Time. This is when I opened that flabbergasting email and since then the journey has been a roller coaster ride yet a phenomenal one! It started with emailing professors in the States with whom I wished to work. I used be up at 3 am almost everyday checking my inbox for any positive replies. Days, weeks and months passed. I had sent preferences for almost 30 professors till then but to no success. Those days were full of disappointment and distress with fellow scholars getting acceptances from MIT, Stanford etc and me still in the big pool of hope looking for my destination. But you never know that something big was waiting for you? 7th March 2019, 4:30 am IST.It was my birthday and I was travelling back home from my college. I got two acceptances, one from YALE and other from STANFORD! The day couldn’t have been better. It’s rightly said, “The best things in life are worth waiting for, fighting for, believing in, and just never letting them go off.” I chose to join Yale University as I was more inclined to the work I was offered there. So, I was finally done with university selection and it was time for me to give a shot at the so-called toughest step to get to the States, getting a United States Visa. From filling a hundred forms, waiting for documents to arrive from the US, getting rejection news from couple of fellow scholars, filing emergency visa requests to finally my interview day. It was exactly a week before I had my semester finals. More than preparing for my exams I had been preparing for the interview. I remember standing in the queue for my interview at the US Embassy, Delhi and making a list of all the officers who were rejecting a lot of applications. The only thing I did at that time was praying not to get any of those officers only to end up with the one who topped my list. He made me wait for 20 minutes full of mystery and bafflement, took my documents, left the kiosk until he finally said “Congratulations, your visa has been approved. You will get it in 3-4 days.” So there I was, going to the United States of America and with this began the preparations and the phase of excitement and joy.
16th May 2019, 10:00 am. Last day at home before I left for 11 weeks. The best part of the day was giving my first cheque to my parents, who made it all possible. I had never seen them more proud and trust me, “The most beautiful thing in the world is seeing your parents smiling and knowing that you are the reason behind that smile.” As the day of my flight approached, I started to get anxious and nervous on the thought of staying away from home for two and a half months. I wished I could just stay back and all the excitement had vanished for a moment. With mixed feelings and a somewhat dull goodbye to my family I was there at the IGI Airport, New Delhi. So, my journey from Delhi began with making new friends, missing a connection at Frankfurt to being welcomed by the city of Chicago with a sky of mackerel clouds, crimson and amber-tinted and thin curtain of rain beat down straight from heaven.
Beginning your internship with a weekend at the windy city- Chicago was like a fabulous head-start to the upcoming adventure. I attended the Khorana and Bose Orientation at the University of Chicago. Indeed that was one of the most motivating parts of the day, where I got the opportunity to meet influential people from different strata, entrepreneurs to scientists to fellow scholars and t’was so inspiring to hear about their lives. The day ended with a drive across Chicago’s lively immigrant neighbourhood, walk by the Millennium Park, staring at the funny reflections under the Chicago bean and of course the not to miss Chicago’s special deep dish pizza. It was like a trip around the world; cultures of virtually every country could be found in food stores, restaurants, clothing shops, music and video dealers, places of worship, and street-corner conversations. Amidst the hubbub of the busy metropolitan downtown, a magnificent view from the SkyDeck was worth trudging through the city in the rain and thunder.
Chicago had been good and it was finally time to head to my destination, Yale University. Next morning, I had a pleasant flight to New York, from where I headed to New Haven, Connecticut the university town.New Haven is a small city in Southern Connecticut founded in 1638 at the mouth of the Quinnipiac River by English Puritans. It’s the intellectually-pulsing and urbane home to Yale University. So, as I drove through the streets of New Haven while heading towards my home for the rest of my stay, I was completely awestruck by the old, antique yet so pronounced architecture of the university. The campus was so iconic, filled with so much history and inspiration that one had to get their head up. Art allows us to take journeys to new ways of thinking, experiencing the world, to see deeper and live richer through imagination and connection. Perhaps, that’s why New Haven will always have my heart! From the beautiful Yale Art Gallery to the literature events to the inspiring museums, the city had it all.
20th May 2019, 9:00 am. For, hopping about four different time zones I was now attacked by a killer insomnia! But sometimes, you have no option to break. I had to report to my lab and get things started. Walking to my lab in an altogether new and unfamiliar place, I used to feel quite edgy even during the day. But ultimately got used to it. I was given a big desk, in a big super tech lab. Name it, and that lab had it. So, with this began my internship, the purpose I was here for. I worked on processing whole slide tumor images and used a deep learning technique called transfer learning to classify the samples into hypoxic and non-hypoxic tumors. Sounds pretty complex right? Trust me, so it was. For me, my lab was pretty hectic. I had to there from 9 am to 5 pm every day except weekends but there was always work for the weekends. There were days I had to work all night back home. This was given I had no more than 5 hours of lectures per day back in college. So I wasn’t habitual to sitting at one place and just keep working. But life does begin at the end of your comfort zone. My stay at the lab was full of adventures, high and low moments. Despite the difficulties there will be memories which will linger on forever. The best one being the blunder I made thrice. So, for three consecutive times I exceeded the lab’s cluster file limit of 100 million files until the entire lab bombarded on me and crashed me on my linkedIn profile! I still remember that day was no less than a nightmare and everyone in the lab asking “Who is this Akshina Jindal”? But I ended up with a crazy memory to laugh upon the very thought of it. There were also times when I called my mom and said “I want to quit and come back home. Can’t I make an excuse?”. Sometimes, I used to be so tired by the very thought that I need to cook food myself, complete the lab work and also clean the house. From being the most pampered kid in the family to managing life at a different country was definitely like being pulled out of my cosy bed of roses. While writing my experience today at the last day of my internship, I just feel that one should keep trying and have faith in oneself; every phase of life is very beautiful and worth experiencing. The biggest advantage of taking the untaken road is the learning and experience it gives in return. Now, coming to the good things, I had plenty of time to learn new skills, implement them on my project and I had the flexibility to move forward with my project at my own pace. The best part was that I was given access to all the Yale resources and it was super fun to learn about super computing and actually using it all throughout my internship. In a nutshell, it was a great opportunity and learning experience which helped me explore my true potential.
Well!! I didn’t just work there, after all. No trip abroad is complete without long drives, food, sneak outs, travelling with friends and my all time favourite shopping! Inspite, of all the work and busy schedule I managed to go around the East Coast. To start with I first visited the Light House Park Point, Connecticut. This beautiful slice of America has made its home on the New England coast. There was something about that light house right at the shore. The park was full of activities from carousels, picnic spots, beach walks and more, it was worth a stop even if one isn’t into lighthouses. Sitting on the rocks watching the ocean lapping the sea and just trying to see as far as you can was so relaxing and calming. Upcoming weekends I made trips to New York, Boston, Niagara Falls and New Port, Rhode Island. Coming to New York, “the city that never sleeps”. It was a city of dichotomies, exhausting and exhilarating, humbling and inspiring. The moment I stepped at the world famous Grand Central Station, the non-stop chaos and crowd just sparked me up. It was magnetic or addictive I’ll say. The high rise buildings, the Times Square, the bill-boards, the Brooklyn bridge, the Empire State Building and the list continues. This city had an inherent energy dwelled into it. This city will always be on my bucket list no matter how many times I visit it. Next, was my tour to Niagara Falls with touchdown at Boston. I never got time to explore Boston, but the few hours of my stay at Boston gave me that Massachusetts feel, one of the wealthiest American cities. The city had an elite aura to itself. I with a bunch of friends headed to Niagara Falls, Buffalo which was a 7 hour drive from Boston. I have been glued to my chair for a little too long, scavenging for words to majestically describe the most gorgeous sight of them all – the Niagara Falls. That is truly what a beauty it remains. It would rather be too obvious to muse about the charging thrill racing through my veins before going to the Niagara. Instead, I’ll jump to the part where I took a boat with about two hundred others with blue raincoats, to sail on the Niagara, as if the view from the top wasn’t enough ( it wasn’t) – the Maid of the mist. As captivating the name of the boat ride sounds to the ears, it only keeps getting better with every wave the boat clashes, to get us closer to the gigantic Niagara, while the falls showered on us with its mist carried by the strong winds. The Maid of the Mist is toured by both the USA and Canada that are uniquely uncoupled by the overflowing lake of Erie, after dropping down in her majestic vogue from both the countries. I was aware that the boat would ride us close enough to get stunning pictures, but was clueless that it would take us so close, that it’s cold, rejuvenating tiny drops of mist would cloudburst on us, waking us from a magical dream that we were all credulously ambushed into. It was that time when I was nearest to the falls and to solitude as well. The world seemed nothing but still and my soul felt as light as a feather simultaneously. This is what the feeling which is termed as the “one of the best feelings ever”. It was at that spur of time when I had appreciated this world more than ever. A lot more than I thought it could be. And this wasn’t enough, imagine standing right below the American falls and getting soaked from head to toe. This was the hurricane point at the Cave of the Winds, which was a walkway to feel the rush of the wind and the falls. The aura of the falls was so inspiring and surreal!
Travel opens your heart, broadens your mind and fills your life with stories to tell. There I have another story about Newport, Rhode Island, I had friends from Atlanta visiting New Haven and since one of them knew how to drive, we decided to hire a zip car and drive to New Port. Bollywood music on and driving by the Atlantic, it couldn’t have been better. We spent part of the day at Narragansett Beach. It was a calm beach and perfect place for a sun bath this summer. We had a great time talking to each other about life and experiences. Rest of the day, we roamed around the Island of Newport. Soaked in miles of spectacular coastal scenery this city had authentic Colonial and Gilded Age architecture, sauntering along the wharves of the bustling waterfront. Had a good portion of Indian dinner after long and finally a sound full sleep.
4th July 2019. The America Day,to be precise Independence Day for America. The entire country gets so excited for this day, it felt like the festival of Diwali in India. All the people dressed in red, whites and blues gather in parks and relentlessly wait for the fireworks. Though I wasn’t fascinated by the fireworks much but the huge discounts and sales did attract me a lot. My 4th of July went shopping, shopping and shopping. Me and my friends made trips to the premium outlets and shopping malls and blew away our stipends. We spent the weekend together, cooking, playing games and sharing our stories. Fast forward to 10th July 2019. This was when I was left with last three weeks at the States. And here I was to my last trip- Orlando, Florida. This town had another side to it.Orlando had like 1000 amusement parks!! Its mesmeric and infectious, I felt like going everywhere but I had to restrict myself to the Universal Studios. I will call it the magical town. I visited Universal Studios, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Adventure Island and the Volcano Bay. The Hogwarts express and Hagrid’s adventure were my all time favourite. It felt like I was reliving my childhood. Riding on the carousel, playing around in the Popeye world to casting spells with Harry Potter’s wand, it was so much fun. We literally had to wait for 2-3 hours to get a ride, but each one was worth the wait. And after the four day break as I headed back to the university it was time to bid farewell to friends who left for India. I made a couple of friends here and without them this journey would have been incomplete. We had sleepovers, cooked food, planned trips and were always up for each other. Before I forget to mention, the food I survived on was Mexican food and pizzas! Full of cheese and hot sauce, quesadillas will definitely be missed.
So, this was my experience for summer 2019. As I leave today with a bag full of memories, I thank god and feel blessed to have had access to such an opportunity. I feel proud to have fulfilled my Ivy League dream and exploring around America all by myself. I would just say “Believe in yourself and never stop dreaming. Life is like a puzzle, choose your pieces and join them together. And you’ll be done”