2011 Spring Australia Erin Shetron External Programs

First Chemistry Lab & St. Patty’s Day

As I was trying to fall asleep last night, I pulled at my cuticles and wondered, “Will I find a lab partner for my chemistry lab? What if he thinks I’m stupid? What if he’s stupid? Will the lab instructors help me? Will I breathe in small amounts of poisonous gas that will later give me cancer? Remember to wear closed-toe shoes. Remember your lab coat. Remember your goggles. Remember your lab manual. Remember your safety quiz certificate. Remember, remember…”

And when I woke up without hearing my alarm sound and with the sun shining in my face, my stomach did somersaults. I knew it: I had overslept.

Thankfully, it was only 6 am. I still had another hour and a half for my sickly, snotty self to rest. I fell back asleep, but when I got up later and made my way to the lab, things got off to a rough start. When I arrived, the lab door was closed and there were some students sitting in the hallway, so I joined them. A few minutes later, a couple of them got up and headed for a door I couldn’t see from my spot against the wall, and I followed hesitantly. A man in a white coat and glasses with fuzzy gray hair was holding the door open, and as I passed through he said to me and to those still sitting in the hall, “If you don’t get in here right now, I’m closing this door and locking it. We are on a timetable, here.” It wasn’t even 9 yet. After that, I felt lucky for even making it into the lab.

But when I was in, there was another problem. Apparently “closed-toe shoes” doesn’t mean my cute black flats, it means an actual shoe- a sneaker. I was stopped immediately by a woman staring me down only a few inches from my face. “I’m sorry, but those aren’t the right shoes. I hope you have another pair with you.” Oh god. I was going to get kicked out. “Uh, no. I thought the rule just meant no thongs-” “That’s right. No thongs. And no flats. Do you see how much of your foot is exposed?” She pointed at my feet. This lady meant business. But, after hearing my American accent and my best attempt at playing dumb, she gave in. “I’ll let you off the hook this time, but only this time.”

Then we were split into two groups and told to find lab partners. I looked around in panic as everyone paired off. A boy approached me and asked if I had a partner. When I said no, he just nodded and walked over to a lab table, put his things down, and motioned for me to do the same. I had a partner. After struggling with introductions, I finally wrote my name down to show him how it was spelled. He opened his lab manual and wrote my name carefully on the first page, “E R I N.” I couldn’t have been more endeared. I had him write his name in mine, and when he was finished he insisted I call him “Nao, as in, just now.” I found out soon after this exchange that Nao is from Japan, studying Forensic Science, and even though his family is safe from the earthquake and tsunami, he is deeply devastated by it.
From there, things went smoothly. Nao and I made a good team, cheering each other on each time we tried to fill our beakers to exactly the right mass. When he poured just one more tiny drop into his beaker and his scale hit 100.00 grams, he stepped back and pumped his fists into the air, smiling and quietly saying, “Yes, yes!” 3 and 1/2 hours later, we each received signatures and a “5/5” in our lab manuals. Success.

Finally, it was time to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. I ate lunch and headed straight to the Uni Pub, where I knew I’d find a group of kids from my dorm. Sure enough, I did. I bought one shot of whiskey and one mixed drink of whiskey and coke. Everyone else drank pitchers of green beer. Some people even had green mouths by the time I arrived. After my drink was gone and I had played a game of pool, I headed back to the dorm. Now it is 3:30 pm and it’s time to get back to work. Happy St. Patty’s Day, everyone!

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