Siblings New Year Road Trip

It’s been quite some time since my last post, but so much have happened since. And I have to say, I am so thankful how God has been guiding me up to this point and how He will continuous guide me through the rest of my life.

I graduated from UCLA past June with a B.S. in Physiological Science, and I started my post-grad life as a medical scribe back in my hometown Pacific Grove, CA. It has been such a blessing to be back at home spending more time with family, especially with my brother also being back from serving in the military in South Korea. It is truly amazing how our timing matched perfectly to bring both of us together after living apart from each other for 7 years. God works on the details.

To celebrate the end of another incredible year (debatable I know, but always good to acknowledge the good things that happened!), my brother and I decided to take a road trip together for the first time on our own. With mom and dad back in Korea for the holiday season, we had a chance to spend more time together and get to know each other on a more deeper level. We had a total of 3 weeks of living together including this trip, and I can say that those weeks were filled with moments I will cherish for the rest of my life. Love you, oppa!

Taking my brother’s advice, I decided to take more videos during the trip so that we can look back and relive the moments we shared together. Retrospectively, I am so glad that I did because the videos tell so much more about how we were feeling about the experiences we had than the photos. I hope that one day we can watch these videos together with our kids and share our memories with them 🙂

So here are some videos that capture the highlights of our trip!

Disclaimer: This was my first time making videos like these, so cut me some slack! >.<

Day 1: Monterey, CA –> Las Vegas, NV

 

Day 2: Las Vegas, NV –> Tonopah, NV

 

Day 2-3: Tonopah, NV –> Reno, NV

 

Day 3: Reno, NV –> Monterey, CA

 

Advertisements

My Journey with Weight Stigma

As I was flipping through some old pictures in my mom’s phone, I was inclined to write a blog post about my journey through the last three years. One of the things most girls fear when going to college is the weight gain. With unlimited access to food through the all-you-can-eat buffet and late night snacks, it is not surprising that a majority of college freshmen gain weight during their first year. It’s almost considered a natural phenomenon. Well, for me, it was the opposite. I guess when that anxiety goes overboard the scale can shift the opposite direction. When I first left home for my first year in college, I was determined to live the way I have always wanted to live. I confined myself to a very strict schedule of exercising every morning, never eating until I was full, and, of course, never eating after 7pm. I wanted to be thin. Whenever there was food involved, I often made an excuse that I had a stomach ache. I was constantly worried about my appearance; whether I’ve gained a pound, whether certain clothes made me look fat, how people see me. It is completely normal to feel self-conscious when moving to a new environment, trying to make a good impression and finding your place in the new world. But once you get so tied down by it, it can consume your life and keep you from seeing what lies beyond just the physical.

Things started going as I had planned, as people complimented on my “disciplined way of living,” asking me for health advice. For once in my life, I felt confident about my appearance. I felt accepted and so I was able to accept myself. As I started shedding pounds, compliments continued, and so did my lifestyle. I noticed that I had less energy than before, but that was okay with me. Anything was better than going back to my old self. I was terrified of gaining back the weight.

Down it went. One
two
five
ten
fifteen. It was never enough. I was never done – never satisfied. But I started seeing changes in my body. Most significantly, I stopped having menstruation. That should have taught me a lesson that what I was doing wasn’t healthy – that my body couldn’t handle it anymore. But I denied that my weight had anything to do with it. Upon my mom’s urge, I went to see a gynecologist, who advised me to cut down on exercising, eat healthy, and relax a little. I thought that was ridiculous, and it to me sounded basically like she was telling me to get lazy and fat. The doctor herself was a tall, skinny lady, and coming from her, it all sounded too hypocritical. It was unfair. I tried to convince her that I have a hormonal imbalance, and I convinced her to prescribe me Premarin, which contains conjugated estrogens. I was certain that I knew my body best than anyone else and I didn’t want anyone to tell me how to take care of it. I was just starting to feel comfortable with my body and in control over my weight, and I wasn’t ready to give that up. Not now.

A year went by. The problem remained. My anxiety aggravated and it soon consumed my thoughts. I started researching about different diseases that can lead to amenorrhea. Can it be cancer? Premature menopause? Will I ever be able to have a child? What’s wrong with me?

Is it really because of my weight? Why? There are so many other people who are much thinner than I am and they are doing fine. Why me? I am trying so hard here, but why can’t I be like them?

My fear of never getting my menstruation back eventually prevailed, and I finally gave into my parents nag about looking like a twig, “like a malnourished kid from Africa.” While I spent the summer at home, I gained back some of the weight, which was terrifying and stressful for me. But I accepted the fact that the sudden weight loss may have contributed to my condition.

This is me before and after my first year.

269585_2239216183096_3508068_n IMG_1005    1291654_10202075139303204_1545592301_n    IMG_1201

And this is me a few weeks ago.

11880324_10207692760780230_7750116419022547948_n

Two years have gone by and I am almost back to my normal weight. But the problem still remains. Looking through my mom’s phone, I thought, why was this so important to me anyway? What triggered this? Why did I let it paralyze me and kill me inside?

There are hundreds of thousands of blog posts out there about people who struggle with their weight, and they have a common factor. They commonly share an experience being teased or judged by their weight during their childhood/teenage years. And I don’t think that is a coincidence. Words can cut like knifes and looks can pierce like spears. Another factor is the effect of social media. One can’t deny the growing influence social media has had on body image and self-confidence. It is sad to say that for too many people, both men and women, the quality of life is affected by how others view their outer appearance.

Deep inside, we are all insecure, sensitive beings who long for love and acceptance. No matter how much we try to deny it, we are deeply affected by the society and our peers, especially during early years when our self-identity has not year solidified.

Every year, thousands of teenage girls are sent to the emergency room due to an eating disorder, and millions of people end up with health conditions that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Where is our society leading us? What can we do to stop this from happening?

In the recent years, growing number of campaigns, such as Love Your Body by National Organization for Women and Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, have advocated for positive body image all over the world, and many individuals, like Jae West and Erin Treloar, have stepped up to share their painful experiences and to encourage others to live healthy. Before this movement, eating disorders were to be ashamed of and something to be hidden; hidden away from family and friends; hidden underneath smiling faces; hidden behind closed doors. I think it is crucial that this topic be brought to surface – for those who have and are suffering from it and to empower individuals to live their lives with confidence and self-esteem.

Off to Europe :: Graz, Austria

After three fleeting days in Trier, Germany, we took a 12-hour train ride to Graz, Austria. I had always dreamed of embarking on a rail ride in Europe, and it was finally happening! We had some pleasant encounters and conversations throughout our ride.

We talked to a woman in her mid-thirties and learned about the current relationship between the government and the church in Germany. It was heartbreaking to hear that much of the religious vigor has been lost through the involvement of the government in religion. Many of the Catholic cathedrals are funded by the registered, tax-paying members, and growing number of people criticize the church for its extravagance and superficiality. The woman told me that she has hope for the younger generation since some independent churches free of government affiliation have started to form.

11928759_10207692724259317_1589962976841012560_o

Another family we met was a mother with two of the most adorable kids I had ever seen. All through the ride, they were laughing, hugging, and kissing each other. Such precious kids ❀Train

On our guided tour of Graz, we got to learn about the history and visit several notable locations within the city. Graz, the second largest city in Austria after Vienna, was once a town surrounding a hilltop castle called Schlossberg. In fact, the name “Graz” literally means small castle. Although the walls have been dismantled and the entire city has been transformed, Schlossberg in the heart of the town still remains well-preserved and it is beloved by the residents and tourists as a romantic park.

11891091_10207692706898883_5663239750082109096_n

Beautiful view overlooking the city from Schlossberg.11934505_10207692707818906_7892289340281578146_o11903951_10207692707618901_7685995622869242352_n

With luring bakeries tempting us on every corner, we simply couldn’t resist.

11863314_10207692726859382_689741377446073772_n

The best part for me was just strolling around the city’s main square (Heutplatz), wandering through the boutiques, drinking coffee, and listening to street musicians.
11880649_10207692702458772_8601163153271596290_n11933443_10207692702618776_3679468092533685835_n

11951805_10207692771300493_4224308554146560347_n

About 15 minutes outside of the main square was a beautiful palace called Eggenberg Schloss. Within the short 50-minute guided tour, we got to see all of the 24 staterooms and saw over 500 wall/ceiling paintings, precious sculptures, and antique furniture. The art gallery on the first floor exhibited paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages to the Baroque period.

SchlossEggenbergEnfilade SchlossEggenbergR1 5089629_webSeven Baroque-styled gardens surrounding the palace is now home to the wild peacocks.
11887831_10207692711418996_6756310842368519275_n

One of the attractions in Graz is the Landeszeughaus museum that has the world’s largest armory collection. That was pretty cool.

11953141_10207692770500473_794501883435497768_n11866254_10207692769380445_3598004742757121184_n

Thanks to my dad, we got to have dinner with the conference attendants (CEO’s of leading transportation corporations and professors & researchers from world-renowned universities), and these dinners were held at the most historical and interesting places in town – the dining room of the town’s very first school, the underground wine cellar, and the restaurant at the top of the city in Schlossberg. Like Germany, Austria’s cuisine mainly consisted of meat, potatoes, bread, and lots of wine and beer. The highlight from the night at the Schlossberg restaurant for moi:

Official IAVSD-2015 Banquet at the Schlossberg Graz, 20.8.2015 - The 24th International Symposium on Dynamics of Vehicles on Roads and Tracks from August 17-21, 2015 in Graz / Austria (IAVSD) is the leading international conference bringing together scientists and engineers from academia and industry in the field of ground vehicle dynamics to present and exchange their latest ideas and breakthroughs. The biennial IAVSD symposia have been held in internationally renowned locations and this year‘s event for the first time takes place in Graz, Austria. IAVSD 2015 is organised by VIRTUAL VEHICLE Research Center in cooperation with Graz University of Technology, Vienna University of Technology and the industrial partners AVL, MAGNA STEYR and SIEMENS. More information: www.IAVSD2015.org

The seven precious days I spent in Austria were incomparable to anything I had experienced. I am very thankful to have gotten a chance to visit Europe for the first time this summer, and it definitely will not be the last time.

Off to Europe :: Trier, Germany

Few days ago, I came back from a 10-day trip to Germany and Austria. Thanks to my dad, who was willing to take my mom and I with him to his biannual conference. Having never been to Europe, my mom and I were just fascinated by everything and anything we saw that had any speck of “European-ness,” taking pictures everywhere we went. It was such an amazing experience to finally visit Europe, and I am writing this post as I am sorting through my pictures from the trip to highlight the moments that I want to cherish forever.

Aug. 13, 2015 – We were finally in Europe! Frankfurt, Germany. It was nearly 9 pm when we got to our hotel in Trier, but we had no time to waste. After putting our suitcases in the room, we came straight back out to find a castle right outside our hotel. This is Europe. Trier 1.5 Trier 1

About an hour drive from our hotel was another castle owned by the Eltz family now exhibited to the public. We took a tour through the castle and saw lavish furniture, armory, and historical paintings. Pictures were not allowed in the castle 😩

Eltz Castle

We had beer and sausage, too!

Eltz Castle 2

Bernskastel is a small town that has all “German” characteristics that most tourist expect: white buildings with brown wooden stripes, lots of sausage/beer shops, vineyards along the river, Catholic cathedrals, and of course beautiful weather. Bernskastel 2Bernskastel 1

Bernskastel 3

Our hotel was in Trier, the oldest city in Germany, located on the Moselle river. With over 2000 years of history, it holds many historical treasures all throughout the city. The Porta Nigra right in front of our hotel is the only city gate still standing out of four gates that had once given the city protection. We also revisited the Catholic Cathedral, named the Church of Our Lady.Trier. Trier 4 Trier 3Trier 9

A few minutes from the church was the Palace with beautiful gardens surrounding it.

Trier 8

Trier 6

Trier 7

Trier 2

The three-day tour of Germany was short but I cherish every moment of it. What I saw and experienced is probably a very small fraction of what Germany is really like, but I was thoroughly impressed and I hope I can go back there again.

How MCAT strengthened my faith

I had spent the last three months preparing for the MCAT and took the actual exam a few weeks ago. What a journey! Throughout the preparation, I experienced things I had never expected to experience through the MCAT, both good and not so good. But looking back at it now, I am thankful for every part of it, because it helped me to see that not all things in life are under my control, and it helped me to depend on God much more than ever before.

These last few months were perhaps the most difficult and frustrating time of my life yet, and, in turn, it greatly humbled me. By no means did I think that I would conquer the MCAT. But perhaps I did underestimate the level of persistence and patience it would take to consistently study for three months. Towards the end of this process, I did encounter a number of burnouts, during which I was overwhelmed with self-doubt and deprived of self-confidence. I fought daily to keep my focus. I saw my scores dropping. I woke up dreading the thought of going back to the library again. I lost the motivation to go on, and hope was nowhere to be found. That’s when I reached for help.

I got back home one day, feeling defeated. I went into my room, closed the door behind me, and tears just came running down my face. Why can’t I be smarter? Why can’t I just suck it up and push through? Why am I so weak? Is medical school even a possibility for me? Oh, I’m not smart enough. I’m not strong enough. I can’t do it. I’m hopeless.

Then, a thought came into my mind saying, ‘God does not give you more than you can handle.’

At first, I thought, “He must think I am strong. His expectations are way too high. I can’t do this.”
But as I cried in my room in silence, I saw a glimpse of hope. Maybe I do have the potential to do this. Not by my own strength, but by His. Maybe this is what He wanted me to see all along. He wanted me to see that I have to depend on Him to do things that I cannot do alone. Although I cannot do this on my own, in His name, I can do all things.

My scores did not just shoot back up the next day. I had to work harder than ever to keep fighting. But by praying before starting my day, by seeking His help throughout the day, and by giving thanks to Him before going to bed, I found hope and the will to go on. When I was doing practice tests, I prayed that God will provide the strength to give it my all into each section. I prayed that God would be right by my side throughout the test.

He was truly my only hope, and I could not have gone on if He hadn’t given me the strength. When I couldn’t believe in myself, God showed His faith in me. I cannot imagine how I would have survived through the three months if He hadn’t pulled me out of the darkness. He assured me that He would be right there with me, and that gave me solace.

He was with me on test day. I did my best to prepare for the past three months, and I knew that it was all in God’s hands now. He was in control. His will be done. I arrived at the testing site an hour and a half before, prayed that no matter what I see on the test, I would keep calm and use the accumulated knowledge to find the solutions. He consoled me and reassured me that I was not alone and that I had nothing to be afraid of.

I asked for His guidance before starting each section. And after each section, I did not think about how well or badly the last section went, and I only focused on the next section. I kept my mind off of how much time and effort I had invested in preparing for this very moment. Rationally speaking, those thoughts would only distract me from focusing on the test.

Before I knew it, four hours had passed, and it was over.

The moment the window popped up saying time was up, I saw flashbacks of the days and nights I had spent studying, times I have cried in my bed, times I was on the verge of giving up, and times I had so desperately sought for God’s help. I did have doubts. I did have some regrets. Did I really put in my all? Was this really my best effort? Could I have done something differently to make my studying more efficient?

At the moment, these thoughts were frightening and discouraging. But I eventually realized that what is passed is passed, and there is nothing I can do about it. And I remembered that before I took this exam, I promised God that I would trust in Him and His will.

I am still waiting to receive my score, and discouraging and doubtful thoughts still come every once in a while. But every time those thoughts come, I pray to God. I know that I am in good hands, and I know that I did all I could. The result is now in God’s hands.

Even if I don’t get the score I am hoping for, I already gained something much more significant: my renewed relationship with God and my ever-growing faith.

Thank you, Lord.

Survival Kit for Premeds: Preparing for the MCAT

After spending three long months of prepping for the MCAT, I wanted to summarize a few tips for prospective MCAT takers.

First of all, the format that you guys will probably take is different from the one that I just took. As you already know, AAMC is changing the format of the MCAT in 2015 that will incorporate a few more subjects and lengthen the exam by a couple of hours. The following tips regarding test prep will apply to MCAT regardless of the format.

Let’s jump right in:

1. To take a course, or not to take a course. That is the question.

Many people wonder whether prep courses are worth the bucks. Personally, I did take an online Kaplan course, partly because I was able to get a discount through a UCLA premed organization. If you could afford it, or get a discount off of it like I did, I would suggest that you take an online on-demand course, so that you could get access to their study materials but you are not bound by it. For Kaplan, there is a course called Kaplan Advantage-Anywhere, which allows you to go online to listen in on lectures at designated times. Given that they are live lectures, you could easily interact with the tutor. Or, you could also go online at any time and just watch the pre-recorded on-demand lectures. I personally just watched the on-demand lectures when I had time and emailed my tutor to ask about anything that was unclear. The best part of the course for me was the practice tests. Their PS and BS section tests were challenging, which expanded my knowledge and increased my speed. I really appreciated that they gave all of the AAMC practice tests, which I recommend that you finish by at least a week prior to your test.
If you do decide to take a course, be careful not to monopolize your study material on just one prep company. Aside from Kaplan material, I personally had workbook pdf for Berkeley review, Princeton review, and Examkrackers to refer to. Of course I did not read through all of them, but I did refer to them when I was struggling with certain concepts. Also, the lecture tests at the end of sections exposed me to a variety of questions and helped me to tackle topics from different angles.

2. Before you start anything, make a schedule.

Whether you take a course or not, you do need to make a schedule that will give you a general idea of how to spend the next three to four months. The sample schedule posted on SDN (Student Doctor Network) helped me, and I hope they make one for the new version of the MCAT. The schedule helped me to keep me on track, and it gave me an assurance that I was following through with my plans. With that said, I did not strictly stick with my schedule. I did change it up a little throughout the preparation to accommodate for my weaknesses.
Three months, or longer for some people, is a long time, and you definitely want to keep track of your work to make sure you will be ready by the test day.

3. Don’t underestimate the “MCAT burnouts.”

When I heard about the burnouts, I thought to myself that those are for weak bums, and I completely disregarded the thought of experiencing one of my own: arrogance.
Three months is short in the sense that you don’t have time to review EVERYTHING, but it definitely feels like forever when you are waking up in the morning, sitting in the same spot, reading and solving problems for hours on end until you find yourself reading the same line over and over again with nothing being processed in your brain. Challenging yourself is good. Having ambition helps. But that doesn’t make you a superhuman who can handle spending 10 hours a day for three months.
So make it as enjoyable and as sustainable as possible. Change it up a little. Get out of the house. Visit different libraries and cafĂ©s. Take short breaks in between studying. Definitely take a break during lunch and dinner to be recharged. Some people recommend taking a whole day off per week. I personally couldn’t do that, because taking long breaks made me more anxious than relaxed. But do whatever works for you. Be careful not to be too harsh or over-ambitious. Be realistic. Listen to your body.

Best of luck to you, premeds.

Survival Kit for Premeds: Organic Chemistry Lab

While organic chemistry class itself is daunting on its own, the lab portion is flat-out terrifying. It requires knowledge from organic chemistry as well as general chemistry, which most people in the class took at least a year ago. I heard how difficult the class is and I kind of tried to prepare for it by reviewing some old chemistry material, but I felt overwhelmed with the amount of information and didn’t really know what to focus on. So this is my attempt to give you guys an advice on how to endure through one of the toughest lower-division science courses here at UCLA. I specifically took the CHEM 30BL course last quarter, and I will be basing my advice on that class.

1. Reviewing general chemistry concepts

The class requires you to know some key concepts from general chemistry that is readily used in the laboratory. By knowing some general concepts, you can better understand what is going on and learn how to make adjustments to reactions when things don’t turn out as expected. Some of the key concepts you should know are solubility (what determines whether compounds are soluble in water or organic solvent?), polarity (what makes a compound polar?), acid-base chemistry (Arrhenius and Bronsted-Lowery; what does it mean for a molecule to be acidic/basic?), and equilibrium constant (calculations involving molarities of products and reactants; pKa values/meaning). Polarity seems to be the hardest for people to really understand, and it was definitely the hardest for me on the final. Knowing these concepts inside-and-out will greatly benefit you throughout the quarter.

2. Organic chemistry knowledge

While the lab obviously does not cover all reactions learned in organic chemistry classes, it does cover some of the most simple reactions. The reactions themselves are not what makes the class so challenging. So do not stress over having to know all of the mechanisms for the reactions. But the reactions that my class covered were acid-catalyzed dehydration, phase transfer catalysis, various oxidation reactions, Diels-Alder, Grignards, and Fischer esterification. What is most important while doing the experiments is that you understand the reasoning and logic behind each step of the experiment. Why are you using that particular solvent? What will the sodium carbohydrate do to the crude product mixture? Which layer is the organic layer? Why do we reflux the mixture? What does this color change indicate?

For data analysis, you will need to know how to interpret basic IR, H-NMR, C-NMR, UV-Vis Spec, and polarimetry. Also, make sure to review and understand how TLC (thin-layer chromatography) works. Understand what determines the Rf value (retardation factor). This will be covered in lab as well as in the final.

3. Prepping for final

The score breakdown for my particular class (CHEM 30BL) consisted of weekly online quizzes, in-lab quizzes, pre/post lab reports, in-lab assignments (not every week), lab notebook, and a final. So there is no midterm and the only test you get is the final. Start studying for the final EARLY and you’ll be glad you did by the time finals week rolls around. I recommend getting started in week 5 or 6, so that you’ll have time to go through the practice tests as each test takes a pretty long time to go through. For 30BL, you are provided with a booklet of past finals. Use it! Know it inside-and-out. If you don’t understand something, visit his office hours! The instructor is very generous about giving up his time and has office hours everyday. Go in there and befriend him. He’ll help you out.
As for what to study for the final, I would focus mainly on the reader and the practice tests. Make sure you know all of the experiments that were done in the lab (including the questions listed in the back of each experiment!), and go through all of the practice tests and try to understand the reasoning and general concepts. The final consists of a experiment/mechanism section, TLC section, polarity section, lab technique section, IR spectra, and structure identification (given: molecular formula, IR, H-NMR, C-NMR/dept).

Overall, just stay on top of the material. Read over the experiment thoroughly before attending lab, visit office hours often, and study hard throughout the quarter. It may be intimidating at first to visit his office hours, but I swear he’s a nice guy! He makes an effort to learn the names of people who show up during office hours, and he calls you by your name by like the third time you come in!

It is definitely a challenging course, but hopefully you will come out of the class saturated with applicable chemistry knowledge.

Good luck! And contact me if you have any questions.