After such success at combining Notre Dame’s medical ethics conference with a little adventuring of Rome, I decided to use the same logic when booking my flight to Madrid for the Bare Life & Moral Life Symposium hosted by Saint Louis University, University of Notre Dame, and Trinity University.


Since I’ve been splitting time between my dissertation and medical school applications in recent weeks, my trip to Spain was admittedly less planned than it was for Italy.  Based on my very quick intro to these cities, I have to say my favor lies with Rome. Perhaps that just means I need to make return visits to collect more data though. 😉

The symposium in Madrid was different from the rest that I’ve been to because it was heavy on (theoretical) philosophy and lighter on bioethical cases. For all of my non-philosopher readers out there, the title comes from Italian philosopher Agamben and his work Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life.  From the Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Agamben develops [“bare life”] from the Ancient Greek distinction between natural life—zoe—and a particular form of life—bios…Neither bios nor zoe, bare life… can be defined as “life exposed to death”…. (For more, see:

To say I was out of my league is to put it kindly. There were scholars of all types: not just proper philosophers, but also physicians, ethicists, and theologians with specialties in Judaism, Catholicism, and multiple Christian denominations. As such, I spent most of my time silently soaking in the presentation and Q&A session and saving my comments for the more informal but still very robust conversations (mostly related to care at the end of life) over coffee, lunch, and tapas.

Perhaps my background in engineering has made me very comfortable working in teams, but in comparison, the life of the academic can seem quite… lonely.   To my refreshing surprise, however, the symposium attendees in Madrid were about the most charitable, most welcoming academics I have ever met.  They were not only eager to explain some philosophical building blocks to which I hadn’t previously been exposed, but they were also interested in learning about my perspectives as a biomedical engineer / bioethicist / medical school applicant.

On the subject of Spain-adventuring, I must say that my short day trip to Toledo stole the show. Though this may surprise some of my readers, I must admit that I am not too fond of touring churches. I quite enjoy encountering different houses of worship, using them for what they were intended and not really just treating them as a tourist spectacle equivalent to the London Eye or Big Ben.  Nevertheless, since I was only in Toledo for a few hours and it didn’t coincide with the mass schedule, I paid my admission fee and accepted the audio guide that was included with the ticket. In short: SO worth it.

A segment of the ceiling
A segment of the ceiling

Beyond the cathedral, Toledo was just a beautiful city to wander—what you’d imagine if you thought of an old Spanish city: dusty cobbled stone paths, a fortress on the river, and intense summer heat. Here are a few pictures that might convey this better than words.




Featured Image: taken within the Toledo Cathedral

Irish Solstices

It seems crazy to think that it has been more than 6 months since I was last in Ireland. Since I never actually got my December post up, I figured this was a good opportunity to add some bits from those 5 days in Dublin with the fantastic hostess, Katie!

Strong first impressions remain:

  • Ireland in December is cold. Really cold. Although Dublin and London are fairly close, Dublin is MUCH more damp. Add a bit of winter wind and wowza. Come June, the frigid air was gone, but I was quite comfortable in jeans and a fleece. I survived December with a fleece and my dress jacket (which was more than enough in London), but I could have benefited from a wool sweater or two. The tool of survival: hot water bottles. (As they say in Ireland, ‘Tanks a million,’ Katie!!)

Freezing on the pier at Dun Laoghaire
Freezing on the pier at Dun Laoghaire

  • Since Ireland uses the euro, I thought things would be a smidge less expensive than London. When it comes to food, this is certainly NOT the case.  I don’t profess to have a great understanding of economics, but presumably this is because of importing costs. Porridge was a staple for breakfast (and lunch a few times, too) which made it possible to indulge in a full Irish breakfast.

  • Confession: I remember when I first moved here I kept getting geographically related politics (ie: Great Britain, United Kingdom, England, Ireland / Northern Ireland, Scottish Independence) very mixed up. Traveling and speaking with locals definitely provides new perspective. If you ever have a chance to travel to Dublin, I highly recommend making the Kilmainham Gaol one of your first stops in the city.

  • Biking (or “cycling” as they say) is very common in Dublin. The CocaCola Dublinbikes rental share works quite nice—5 euro for 3 days. The complication in the story, however, comes when you remember Irish Winter Solstice sunlight hours: fluorescent safety gear is near mandatory if you care to ride for more than your lunch hours. During rush hour, this form of transit is elevated to the “extreme” level during rush hour when you start weaving between moving vehicles. (Deep breaths, everyone, deep breaths!) When the traffic is slower, however, it makes for quick transit and a great way to see the lil city.

  • The coast is where it’s at. In December, this meant taking a short train from Dublin to Dun Laoghaire, and in June we visited the west coast. (Keep reading!)

  • Dublin is home to both Jameson & Guinness which seems fitting considering the active pub culture in Ireland. Having toured both the distillery (December) and the brewery factory (June), I can recommend both. Flying Ryanair limits one’s ability of bringing many souvenirs back, but my brother Franz received a teeny bottle of Writer’s Tears, an Irish Whiskey that I first spotted on Katie’s shelf.

For the June visit, I was joined by my friend Zoe, and together we stretched our wings a bit further. We took pit stops in Enis & Gallway…

…But the highlight of our three day jaunt across the island was our coastal walk from the Cliffs of Moher up to Doolin.

From what we could tell, most tourists just make it to the visitor’s center, marvel at the cliffs, and call it a day. On an overcast day, as are a number of days in Ireland, I can understand the desire to make this a short visit. We, however, scored a gloriously clear day and feasted our eyes not only on the “main attraction” (the Cliffs) but also the Aran Islands which are just off the coast. As I expressed previously and will continue to re-state, there is something very awe-inspiring about experiencing natural wonders.

Here’s to a summer of making even more of these memories!


Featured Image: 4pm December sunset at Dun Laoghaire

Hogsmeade (Cambridge) in the Rain

The International Student House (ISH) organizes a number of events designed to help international students get acquainted to life overseas.  This includes a “travel club” with weekend outings– sometimes just a quick ride to a nearby city and other times to a different country in Europe.  I’m a bit skeptical of most tours, but ISH manages to put some pretty neat outings together that cost less if you just sign up and show up than if you were to do the work in organizing your own trip.  The “Candy & Cambridge” trip caught my eye, and I decided that the £25 investment was about as risk-free as I could get for a pre-planned Saturday getaway.

Our group of 14 students from various London universities met at 7:30am which required a 6:30am sunrise walk for me.* We took a large van, which felt quite odd since it had been nearly a month since I had been in a “proper vehicle”.  I’ve summarized the day through pictures below. Be sure to open the pictures to view the captions!

Part 1: Strolling the park

We arrived a bit before our punting trip was scheduled, which gave us time to stroll in the nearby park.

Part 2: Punting!

I originally thought this punting business was reserved for gullible tourists, but it turns out that it’s a rather common past time for students, too.  In fact, most of the colleges that have river frontage own their own rafts for the students to take out by themselves.

Note: I say college because Cambridge is made up of many different colleges which are similar to a fraternity / sorority house… or, let’s be real, one of the 4 houses at Hogwarts.

Part 3: Foot tour of the city

The rain began just in time for our tour.  I was very happy to have my umbrella with me, but my feet (in Birkenstocks) were about numb after a few hours.  Nevertheless, walking around the city was time well spent!

Awesome Prank: Car on the Senate House

The engineer in me was thrilled to see the Cambridge kids know how to put those physics lessons to good use. Read this article to learn more about how 13 students managed to get a vehicle on top of the Senate House (probably most comparable to UM’s Michigan Union)… in 1958.

Most adequate engineering principles at use. (Courtesy of Daily Mail)

Part 4: Honeydukes

The last part of this tour was spent making fudge at a local fudge shop.

The trip home passed rather quickly– as does most any activity when you attempt to participate whilst in a sugar coma.   Twas a wonderful (but quite wet) day, and I definitely hope to return to Cambridge again!

*Tangent Re: Transportation

Though public transportation runs reliably and frequently, in general, I walk unless my commute is going to be more than an hour.  Even though the tube ride would have only been a few minutes, by the time you:

  • walk to the tube station (4 minutes– I’m lucky enough to live next to Waterloo Station which is a pretty big hub, with connections for ),
  • walk through the station to the correct platform (6 minutes),
  • wait for a tube (2 minutes… up to 10 minutes if it is on the weekend when the routes run less frequently OR during a peak time when the tube is more packed than a Bursley Bates during lunch hour requiring you to wait for a few to pass before there is enough room for you to squeeze aboard),
  • ride the tube (7 minutes),
  • walk through the station until you are above ground (6 minutes), and finally
  • walk to your intended destination (5 minutes),

the ~45 minute walk looks quite pleasant.


Notable exceptions:

1. Don’t attempt to walk if you wish to look presentable and it is currently or will soon be raining. For all you London weather savvy people, you’ll realize that this instruction is a bit silly– how should this principle guide your life if:

  • a. the sky looks to be threatening rain ~90% of the time
  • b. the weather report is about as reliable as looking at the clouds
  • c. the rain swiftly changes from drizzle to very windy downpour and then back again.  This was the demise of my umbrella:

Feeling quite like a wet cat...

2. Don’t attempt to take the tube when there is a strike.  The next one has been announced for next week (Oct 14-16); read more about it in this article which states the reason for the strike as Tube ticket office closures.

“The axing of ticket offices and station staffing grades would render the Tube a no-go zone for many people with disabilities and for women travelling alone. The cuts ignore the realities of life that we saw when services broke down last week and the recent surveys which point to an increase in violence and sexual assaults.”

– James Rush, The Independent

Hmmm… any Tube traveler can tell you that some stations are quite unfriendly for people with disabilities regardless of whether or not there is someone in the ticket office.  (Recall my move-in adventure with 2 bags and multiple flights of stairs without an escalator or lift.)  Compare this apparent apathy with the care that the museum directors take to make culture accessible to people of all different backgrounds and abilities. I’ve been pondering this rather stark contrast over the last few weeks and will update you if I distill further thoughts…

London at first glance

When I initially booked by flight to London, I’ll admit that I hadn’t given much thought to rush hour traffic in Chicago.  Consequently, my blood pressure was probably running a bit higher than normal when I realized the security lines at O’Hare were some of the longest I had ever seen.  With quick Berkemeier-length* strides, I made it to my gate with 3 pre-boarding minutes to call and remind my bank that I’d be leaving for London… today.  Nothing like that last minute for getting things done!

(*I have long jean genes.  At 5’10”, I’m in the shorter half of my family.)

This was my first time on board with Virgin Atlantic, so the flight attendant’s British accents and red suits (complete with red heels & lipstick) were quite novel for me. The safety video especially put a smile on my face. 😉

Inline image 1We arrived at Heathrow early, which gave me a beautiful introduction into British queuing. (After just 3 days here, I’m convinced this is an innately cherished pastime for the Brits.)  I was ushered to a “special” queue for international students, which I later found out was security’s way of concentrating the more time-consuming cases so the general “non EU passport” queue didn’t get out of control.  Other than the difficulty of remaining awake during EDT (Michigan) wee hours of the morning, no trouble was had.

Before long I was gathering my luggage, meeting representatives from King’s College London (KCL), and learning how to navigate the Tube, London’s underground rail system.  Friends, this is no AATA route map. While I’m not a complete novice with public trans, I was glad I had warmed up in Chicago.

The Tube system

The ride was pretty straight forward from Heathrow– a little better than an hour and only one transfer at Piccadilly Circus.  (<— Just got to love the British language haha.)  It was at said transfer that I became acutely aware of just how much luggage I had packed, and consequently, was very thankful that I restricted my luggage to one large & one small suitcase.  My trapezius– after sleeping on a plane and then incorporating a shoulder shrug on the last flight of stairs to compensate for tired arms– did not demonstrate quite as much gratitude.

My apartment was just a few minute walk from the Waterloo stop– the best possible location I could have imagined.  In true London style, it is about half the size of the double I shared during my freshman year in MoJo, complete with the roof-line-slanted-wall that you get from acquiring a room on the top floor.  I must admit, I think my view of The Shard trumps Observatory Lodge with its eyes closed. (I’m hoping to score a good window picture for a later post.)

My neighborhood (with my apartment circled). Noteworthy neighbors: London Eye, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, London Bridge, The Shard, King’s College London (yes! for being able to walk to class!), and many others.

I’ve spent a great deal of time pinching myself as I walk with wonder. THIS IS REAL LIFE.

I’ll be taking classes on KCL’s Strand Campus which is a 12 minute walk from my apartment, just across Thames via the Waterloo Bridge.  Classes don’t begin until the week of September 22, but you can expect a few words between then and now pertaining more toward my courses and field of study.

I am incredibly humbled to represent University of Michigan and am ready to seize the opportunities as a resident of London, student at KCL, and RMJ fellow.

Until next time, Cheers!