An Irreplaceable Niche

Rajiv Varandani’s health research in Singapore helped him discover cultural differences and his interests in endocrinology and nutrition. Rajiv is a senior, majoring in cognitive science and science in human culture.

Last August,Rajiv7 I got onto the longest plane flight of my life. I was leaving Singapore after 9 weeks of beautiful experience. As I relaxed into the airplane seat, a steady stream of memories came to me as I recalled my life-altering summer.

I mused upon the daytrip I took to Chinatown and Little India, seeing the most salient cultures of the country. I walked to one of Southeast Asia’s largest Hindu temples and one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the world. I spent one of the best weekends I had travelling through all of Singapore to see the culture. A few weekends later, I went to the Singapore Independence Day parade and fireworks. This was an awe-inspiring performance. It was remarkable how much time I had to reflect and think upon what I had seen – I fell in love with the people and the culture.

Even though I was able to find my niche culturally by exploring the country and meeting new people, I ran into many challenges at the workplace. The Singaporean work environment was extremely different compared to what I expected. I was not used to the research workplace expecting close to 10 hour days. This was a vastly different change from what I was used to – four hour classes – to working full day. However, this was not what challenged me. The main challenge came from working out of a major government research organization (similar to the NIH) and with the university hospital. There was a major culture difference. I spent two entire weeks figuring out how to work with healthcare professionals in this country. It is nothing like the U.S. The feel is different, the approach to medicine and research is different, and most importantly, their approach to you is different. I still am a little confused about it…but I made do. I found some great mentors and leaned on them to learn how things worked.

Overall, the research was amazing! I learned SO much about how obesity, diabetes and nutritional intake impact the human body. I discovered my interests in engaging in endocrinology and dietary intake because the overlap is HUGE. In the coming months, I look forward to working with the lab to help publish a paper on the project.

Overall, my experience in Singapore was irreplaceable. From food to friends to work, I learned so much and grew even more. I hope that one day I can go back to see the country that helped change me.


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