School of Science and Technology, Singapore

Sean Michael Koh

2 Aug - Travelling to Haneda Airport, Tokyo, Japan

Today was the first step to our journey in Japan. Honestly, it was quite a new experience, travelling without any supervising adult. However, I feel that the three of us(Vanshiqa, Ravern and me) got through it quite well. The start of the trip was rather smooth, with our transition from Changi Airport onto the plane SQ632. 
Upon getting on the plane though, we were immediately thrown off guard when we found out that the plane had no USB or AC ports. Worse of, the GPS tracker was difficult to use and Vanshiqa had to go all the way to the back of the plane to use it. Luckily, the air crew were more than happy assist us and we were able to make it through the flight safely. Our next challenge however, was not very long away. When buying our SIM card, we found out that not only could we only get it late at night(right about as I am typing) but that we needed an adult over 20 to help sign for it. Once again, we were fortunate enough to have kind escorts from the ISS Summer Camp to help us with the registration. 

From there, we settled into our cozy hostel rooms and had a sumptuous japanese dinner with the other ISS Summer Camp students. Through the awkward silences, we were able to make new friends really quickly and it was really smooth sailing from there. Personally, I have really enjoyed the experience with making new friends and I do wish for my friendships with these international students to prosper. 

3 Aug - Day 2

From early wake up alarm at 6.30am(5.30am in Singapore), the experience just kept getting better. We started our morning off at the cafe restaurant where we were treated to the sweet Japanese omelette and toasted butter bread. 

Afterwards, we proceeded to class for the first time, all of rather excited to see what amazing programme ISS was going to treat us to first. 

Predictably, we began with icebreakers by Ms Charlotte Evans. Even though we were very introverted at the very beginning, her exotic mix of games ranging from “splat bang” to “zip zap boing” to “lost!” got us on our feet and laughing together. I really enjoyed that part, more than I had really expected. The activities really got me to open up and become comfortable with most of the students, so I would really recommend her ice breaker course, for it was effective and extremely fun. Afterwards, we had lunch at the same restaurant, being served a delectable mix of Japanese rice with scrambled eggs, a pink Japanese yoghurt and some miso soup. From there, we took our first lecture by Dr Akihiko Yamagishi on the origin of life.

From the very start of his course, it was obvious that he wasn’t very fluent in English. However, everyone in the room could see just how much effort he put into developing the lecture in English that he commanded our respect right away. Teaching us about the Life Sciences, primarily how to detect life, how did life start on earth(hypothetically) and how our genetics worked. We learnt about RNA and DNA, prokaryotes, chemosynthetic bacteria and the very limits of what life on Earth has been shown to be able to handle. From there, he guided us to apply what we learnt to figure out whether life could be sustained on Mars. I was blown away by how much we were able to accomplish in just 3 hours.

 As the first day was entering it’s last part, we travelled all the way to a beach nearby to have a barbecue.

There, we played more icebreakers and ate lots of fantastic barbecued delights.

 There, we could play people bingo and guessing interesting facts about one another. To close off the day, we had fun with fireworks and a very coincidental red moon. Today was excellent in my opinion and I do hope to continue being able to spend more time learning and enjoying my time here at ISS Summer Camp.

4 Aug - Day 3

As the day began, I could feel the difference. I was beginning to get into a rhythm. No longer was the world around me a novelty, nope. Now, it was a comfortable environment that I had adjusted to and do enjoy. Beginning the day, we went to the same cafe restaurant where we had a delectable selection of salmon and rice. I had thoroughly savoured my first taste of Japanese fish and Miso soup. The sticky rice that I had also grown fond to was an amazing combination with them.

 Next, we took a lecture by Ms Charlotte Evans on Science Ethics. This lesson was definitely rather different from our usual type of lessons. Ms Evans asked us many "big questions”(As they like to call it in ISS), making us think deeper and more critically than we had before. 

  After a lovely lunch of pork katsu and rice, we entered our next lecture. The biography of the universe by Dr Pavel Hejcik. He was able to get our attention from the very beginning and was able to bring astronomy to life. Although there was a lot of information being crammed in one presentation and so much to try comprehend, Dr Pavel was able to guide us along that journey and I can definitely say that I have learnt plenty from him.

  Following that, we had Japanese fried chicken and rice for dinner. Finally, we began our first night session class with Ms Evans once again on presentation skills. She taught us poise, body language, projecting of voices and some literary devices. We closed out the session with an entire hour of precious group discussion where my group was able to come up with ideas and develop a work plan. With the time turning late and all of us rather sleepy, we decided to turn in for the night. With that, that ended the day 3.

5 Aug - Day 4

The day started with a bang. We made our own breakfast of ham and cheese sandwiches which all of us enjoyed eating just as much as making. Following that, we had a class by Dr Qi Zhang on human development as well as the human brain. She clearly guided through the development of a human embryo from it’s zygote stage to birth. She also gave us a brief explanation of the inner workings of our brains, giving us insight as to the inner workings of our minds. 

  Next, we enjoyed a lunch of omelette rice and miso soup. It was so good that Ravern went to get another serving. Now that’s good food. Afterwards, we had a lecture by Dr Satoru Iwataa on the physics of light and engineering. We learned a lot about light, how we see colours and how we can apply it to the world around us. It was very overwhelming learning about all that information so fast(I got a bit lost when he started on ATP and ADPH) but I am very thankful for the opportunity to experience education at such a high level.

  Finally, after a lovely dinner of fried fish and rice, we had a sharing session by Japanese nano-technologist, Gaku Nagashima. He shared with us the various struggles he had in his life, from trying to get into Harvard and failing, as well as taking a year off his studies, right before he could get his PhD. Personally, he inspired me to pursue what I really wanted to do instead of going with the flow that others may want me to. I am really motivated now to study as much as I can and go do what I really want to do in the world(research). On another note, he shared with us his current projects which I quite enjoyed learning. Even though we overshot by about 35mins, everyone could agree that it was a wonderful and very meaningful experience to all of us. This was followed by a short hour session of group discussion(for the final presentation) and with that, we called it a day.

6 Aug - Day 5

 Today started off really nicely(as always) with miso soup and rice. I noticed that I’ve been getting really attached to this sort of meals! Anyway, the first class today was on Nuclear Power by (INSERT NAME). To be honest, I’ve been really interested in nuclear power ever since last year. I did my ISS project on the topic last year, specifically how far alpha radiation can travel in the Singaporean climate. His class was extremely interesting for me and was a roller coaster from start to finish. I loved the parts when we could learn about the different parts of a nuclear reactor and how they worked. I was fascinated by the various safety measures put it as well to ensure that the nuclear plant would almost never have a fault. This is very understandable, given how dangerous it would be. The really outstanding thing about this class though, was how it changed my mindset towards nuclear power.

  Our next lecture was about genetics. The lesson was really thorough and the lecturer took the time to give very detailed explanations on genetics and DNA. This was really important because I felt that even though DNA and RNA are a really complex topic, especially when trying to go in depth, his explanations allowed for me to understand the concept(to an extent, DNA is really difficult). He also brought us through the different approaches to DNA sequencing as well as it’s importance. I can confidently say that I have really seen the importance of such sequencing. 

  Finally, we had a lesson on how to make a good PowerPoint presentation. Even though she made it very specific to PowerPoint, there were several important skills that are applicable to all presentations and any form of mass communication really. We had fun making presentations for the “CEO of Doraemon Tools” and were able to apply whatever what he had learnt. With that, we ended today with more much needed group time and await for the next exciting day ahead.

7 Aug - Day 6

  Today went excellently with a great serving of pancakes for breakfast even though it was a bit cold. Afterwards, we had a lesson on Rheology. At first, I was rather confused really. Rheology seemed pretty simple at face value but once I took a greater in depth look at it, I could really see the deep complexity of the subject. The flow of substances was actually really interesting and it only got more so when we started on the activities.

We had a lot of fun trying to make a metal ball sink in a cup of ketchup, though we did sort of make a mess of it. Afterwards, we learned about the different uses and applications of Rheology, primarily in biomedical engineering. After lunch, we started on Psychology in the animal kingdom. I must say that I am terribly surprised by the many different animals that were so incredibly intelligent. The one that really surprised me was rodents. I never thought of rodents as particularly smart animals. Apes, yes. Birds, perhaps. But rodents never came up as smart animals before this. On another note, we learned about the different qualities that make a human "special" psychology when compared to animals. Such qualities include Metacognition, Empathy and Social/Cultural Collaboration. I am definitely going to use this list as reference when doing social projects in the future. 
Finally, we had our final lesson Diversity. This topic, like Rheology, seems insignificant or rather simple at face value. However, upon further examination, it's shown to be very important. We got to highlight the similarities and differences between us as well as how these differences make us better people. I overall feel that the course was of extreme importance and should be implemented in our school too. With that, and a growing fear of the camp coming to it's end, we concluded today.

8 Aug - Day 7

With the final presentation being so close, all of us had a ton of pressure. It was a sort of pressurised environment with everyone trying so hard to complete all their presentations before class. However, this tension was broken immediately as Mr Gary Vierheller and Mrs Saiyo Viechrheller entered the room. 

  At first, we suspected that they would be teaching us a professional method to present science. However, with Mr Vierheller's loud introduction that sent me into cardiac arrest, it was clear that this class would be way more than that. We learnt many different styles of presentation, primarily a very casual and energetic style with singing and large wide movements. Although I felt that that presentation style would not be very applicable tomorrow, he was undoubtedly able to break everyone's shell. By the end of the lesson, everyone had adrenaline rushing through their veins and were amazingly dynamic with their presentations. I really agree that it was a great experience for me and it has changed something deep inside of me.
  Our next class was on the future of the universe. While some of my classmates felt that this was already taught, I would prefer to disagree. There were some clear differences but allow me to say that my mind was blown so many times throughout the lesson. He brought across difficult topics in ways to allows to understand it and allowed us to somewhat comprehend the vastness of the topic of space. He shared so many great theories with us and made the subject seem easy(though he did reassure us that it was a lot of complex than that). I appreciate his zesty style of presentation and I very thoroughly enjoyed it.

  Today night, we did not have any night lesson but instead time to prepare for our presentation. This gave us much needed time to prepare and I felt that working so late into the night with my group was a great experience for me. With that, I conclude my day.

9 Aug - Day 8

The final day was here. I think I speak for everyone that it was a day full of mixed feelings. We were very much excited for the final presentation and the hype was crazy. Yet at the same time, there was this sense of sorrow, a small one at the back of all our heads. We worked all morning to get our presentations ready and prepared very rigorously to make our presentations the best. When it came to the presentations, we were all so proud of our teams and each other with how well it all went. Each group did spectacularly, in my opinion, and we all had fun doing so. During my own, I was terribly nervous, but I looked onto my teammates, Erika and Yrma, for support.

  Then came Mr Nomura's speech. He asked us to close our eyes while he talked, letting images of the future ahead fill our thoughts and when we opened them, on the projector screen was the picture of all the ISS Students and it was really a magical moment for us. We all felt so touched and so absolutely inspired by Mr Nomura. I can say for sure that that was the most memorable moment for me and I will not be forgetting it anytime soon. Finally, it came time for the final dinner but everyone was so busy taking pictures with each other and making promises not to forget one another. After a lot of coaxing by the teachers, we finally made our way to the cafe where a table was filled with pizza, snacks and all sorts of food for us to eat.

  We all played a game of "Murderer" together, the largest we have done since the start of the camp and had a lot of fun. When the first few of us had to part, it was a really sad goodbye. Until 9pm at night, it was full of goodbyes and I couldn't help but feel a bit of me lost as I said goodbye to all my friends. It was only a week, but we had grown to be amazing friends. With the camp finally at it's end, the three of us(Ravern, Vanshiqa and I) got together and looked through our photos and videos. We were missing all our friends and classes already.

  From there, I can say that this camp has really changed the way I think, the way I go about my life and made me friends that I will never forget. I am really thankful to have been able to experience this opportunity, not just for the science I studied , but for the skills I learnt, the friends I made(not just the students, but the teachers too like Keith and Mr Nomura) and for all the brilliant moments in this camp. With that, I conclude my experience at ISS.

10 Aug - Travelling back to Singapore

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