Monthly Archives: June 2010

The First Few Days at the Inselspital

HI Everyone,

I just finished up my second day as a research fellow at the Inselspital in Bern, Switzerland. Things have gone well and I have been able to meet a lot of the staff and get a feel for how the hospital is organized.

I arrived in Zurich around 8:00am on Sunday morning after taking the overnight flight from the United States. I was able to take the train from Zurich to Bern where I met Dr. Ziebarth and his daughter Greta for a delicious lunch at an authentic Italian pizzaria. Dr. Ziebarth is a really great guy and I am looking forward to working with him.

After lunch we toured my room in the Personalhaus 3, which is an appartment complex for students and staff at the hospital. The entire complex is beautiful- there are several Personalhaus which are connected by a walking path surrounded by lawns, patios, and trees. Very green and quiet. My room is on the 5th floor, which is the highest, and is connected to a hallway which ends in a balcony overlooking the complex grounds.

That afternoon I walked downtown to watch the Germany-England game with some real German fans. I ended up at the “Bern City Beach” which is an outdoor bar with sand, TVs, boardwalks, and tiki huts all over the place! There were lots of people around to watch the game, which was really exciting because Germany won 4-1. The German announcer was just as entertaining as the English announcers back home as he used his command of American classic rock to brilliant effect. One of the best lines was when he saw Mick Jagger in the English section of the stands and announced to the world that Mick Jagger “can’t get no satisfaktion,” and that it probably wouldn’t be the last time it happens if England plays the mighty Germans again! Then he went on to declare that “the Lion sleeps tonight” in South Africa. It was absolutely hilarious when I suddenly heard these comments sandwiched between two strings of unintelligible German!

On the walk back all the German fans were tearing through the streets in their BMWs and VWs honking their horns and blowing vuvuzelas out the windows. It felt like I was right back in Troy with my brother! I wore my German soccer t-shirt to the game so I got a couple of honks and thumbs-up on the walk home. Now everyone at the hospital is talking about the Germany-Argintina game next Saturday.

The running here is even better than in Ann Arbor. My best run so far was through the Swiss countryside up these huge hills covered with golden wheat fields and grazing cows. All of a sudden the country road dissapeared and turned into a two-track fire road that wound down through the hillside pine forests and back toward the city. I saw all sorts of other trails that I cannot wait to explore.

Monday morning I started work bright and early with Dr. Ziebarth. We attended the pediatric morning conference and he introduced me to everyone in the department. I am looking forward to getting to know everyone better. Then I got a tour of some of the hospital floors while we ordered my badge and keys to the office. In the afternoon I observed a knee arthroscopy procedure and discussed some of the research projects that I will be working on.

Today I attended the morning orthopedic conference with Dr. Ziebarth and met the orthopedics staff. At the Inselspital there is no designated pediatric orthopedics department so Dr. Ziebarth has to constantly go from one clinic to the other. He says in two years there will be a merger and he will be the chief of the first pediatric orthopedic unit within the hospital. We went from the meeting straight to the OR for an operation to correct a really bad wrist fracture. This took the entire morning and then I spent the afternoon looking up patients on the computer to create a list for one of our projects.

Thanks for reading, and I hope everything is going well back home!



Thank You!

HI Everyone,

Well, the plane trip went smoothly, I was able to catch a train from the airport, and here I am in Bern, Switzerland! I think I am really going to like it here.

Before I start with the actual blogging I would like to thank the people and organizations who have made this trip possible for me. First, thank you to Penny and E. Roe Stamps and the UM School of Kinesiology for their help in funding the internship. There is no way I would have been able to come here without their generous financial support. I would also like to thank Michael Orendurff for his help in setting up the internship and Dr. Kai Ziebarth for his willingness to have me as his research fellow. Finally, I would like to thank my family for their support and encouragement that has enabled me to pursue this opportunity.

And, last but not least, thank you to everyone who reads this blog! I hope I will be able to share some cool stories with you over the next two months!

Beijing – Day 2

Friday, June 28, marked our first full day in Beijing, and we surely made the most of it! Our day began before dawn with getting into vans for our drive to the Great Wall of China. Our trip took two and a half hours to get to Simatai, a village with one of the best preserved sections of the wall. At 8am we began our trek through a light drizzle. As we climbed higher on the mountain into the low clouds the weather turned and we were hit by much more rain. One of the scariest yet most amazing memories is of us standing inside a tower to avoid the rain when thunder roared all around us for over 20 seconds! In the end, our group climbed all the way to the twelfth tower, the last one accessible on this section of the wall, and sang out The Victors from what seemed like the top of the world! Here are some of the great views from atop Chángchéng, or the Great Wall.

From the top of another hill on the wall.

Even though we were exhausted and amazed at how awesome it was to conquer the Great Wall, it was only lunchtime when we headed back to Beijing. After taking in the scenery some of the parks near the Forbidden City, we decided to cover both ends of the spectrum of Chinese history in one day by seeing the site of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. The entire central plaza is still intact and open to visitors, so we were able to experience some of the magic. From the opening ceremonies at the Bird’s Nest to Michael Phelps’ records at the Water Cube, we had the chance to experience the sights that we had only watched on NBC. The whole are is larger than life, with a gigantic tower topped with the rings watching over the grounds. The first buildings we saw were the National Indoor Stadium and Water Cube, followed by the Bird’s Nest just across a large square. Unfortunately, we did not arrive in time to tour the inside of these stadiums. However, we made the most of our time by playing frisbee, dancing, and forming a human pyramid. It was a great way to end such an outstanding day in Beijing.

The tower marking the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics

Water Cube - stadium in which Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals!

Some of our group making a pyramid in front of the Bird's Nest.

The view from Sweden; True Love 2010

Not a lot of content here, but I thought I’d post a few pictures of Helsingborg, Sweden. The first is Karnan, the remnant of a medieval castle which used to stand in the city center. The second shot is taken from atop this tower, and shows the city center, the Sound, and Denmark beyond. Helsingborg is the closest point in Sweden to Denmark.

In other news, the whole nation is geared up for a big royal wedding tomorrow, between Crown Princess Victora, the King’s eldest daughter who will someday be Queen, and Daniel Westling, a commoner who met Victoria when he worked as her personal trainer. Though the Swedish royals have less of a role than even those in Britain, and though most people under fifty seem to think they should be abolished, the Swedish media has flooded the population with hype about the big wedding. You can’t go into a store without seeing Princess Victoria and Daniel candy, magazines, commemorative coins, and everything else you can imagine. “True Love 2010” is the name of the whole campaign.

First Weeks with WeFarm America

Hello all! My name is Alex Kucher and my summer internship is with WeFarm America. “WeFarm”, as it is affectionately called, specializes in organic garden installations and consultations. Although its services have at times spread outside of Chicago, WeFarm’s overarching goal is to show individuals, families and communities in Chicago (especially those unable to pay for expensive organic vegetables) the ease and value of growing your own food. These past four or five weeks of working with WeFarm has shown me that the value of a garden is not simply economic, but mostly lies in its ability to bring people together and provide them with delicious, nutritious, unadulterated  vegetables. (At a low cost too!)

Although my specialty is not gardening, I am able to work in WeFarm’s business and operations “departments”. The reason that I have departments in quotations is because the size, age and culture of WeFarm does not accommodate for a strict break-up of responsibilities that is commonly seen in larger companies. Although I am their business intern, you can still find me working in the garden day in and day out alongside agricultural specialists.

Fellow WeFarmers installing Backyard Garden:

Not specializing in one task or field may appear unproductive, but it could not be farther from the truth. All of us working at WeFarm are expected to work on our gardens, reach out to the community and brainstorm on how to bring gardens to people. In the process, we have experienced just how enjoyable and fulfilling gardening is! As busy as these past few weeks have been, and as wild as the adjustment to WeFarm’s work culture was (my interview was a conversation with WeFarm’s Co-Founder Seneca Kern on Chicago’s “L” train line and all of our meetings are potlucks), I feel that these past few weeks have been life-changing, in terms of my learning more about urban living, gardening and the type of career I want to pursue. (Not mentioning the great friends I’ve found.)

Now, off of what WeFarm is and onto what I have been doing! As WeFarm’s business intern, my responsibility is to assist with financial planning and accounting. Besides bookkeeping, my goal is to offer suggestions of how to increase our clientele, which in turn would increase revenue. Not only am I supposed to increase revenue, but I am also responsible for finding ways to cut costs. In the first few days on the job, my boss Seneca Kern told me that one way that we can cut costs is by avoiding buying mulch. Especially with our larger gardens and community gardens, we use tens of cubic yards of mulch around the garden beds for aesthetic and agricultural purposes (mulch slowly decomposes and introduces vital nutrients to the ground). Luckily, we have found that tree cutting companies need to pay recycling centers to drop off the wood that they cut. Luckily, after the wood cutters cut the tree, they shred the trees to small pieces that are just like mulch. These “wood cuttings” are free of chemicals that are used on regular mulch (which is in line with our belief in the importance of building organic gardens) and are free of cost! As a result, these past few weeks have been a lot of calling companies, asking for “wood cuttings” and building a network for the future.

After some more time of working with WeFarm, I expect myself to find ways to further cut costs. These next few weeks, as they are the last few weeks of the “prime planting season” are going to be focused on reaching out to people and telling them more about gardening and more about the services WeFarm provides. More on that next week!

Beijing – Day 1

Our train left at 9:40 Wednesday night to arrive in Beijing at 8 in the morning. Even though every other car we passed had beds for the passengers, ours managed to be one of two with standard seats on the whole train. Nevertheless, we had a comfortable ride, played euchre, slept, and arrived at the station before we knew it.

After dropping of our luggage at the hotel, we headed straight for Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Approaching the gates is an odd experience. Nearly everyone that goes to Beijing has a picture in front of the gigantic portrait of Chairman Mao, but you still somehow stand in awe of the figure and plain red wall on which it is mounted. From here we entered the Forbidden City. Walking from one end to the other, you enter courtyard after courtyard with large temples and other buildings forming the perimeter.

The famous portrait of Chairman Mao as you enter the Forbidden City.

A Fu Lion guards a hall in the Forbidden City.

The most interesting part to me has to be the architecture. The buildings are built using a dougong technique in which repeating brackets are placed on top of each other. This allows for the outward-protruding profile and roof that characterize many traditional Chinese temples. In addition, each building has a rank in terms of importance in the imperial system. Though most of the buildings appear relatively the same, they each have a rank as indicated by the number of animal figures on their roof. The most powerful building in ancient China is the Hall of Supreme Harmony near the center of the Forbidden City – it has twelve animals adorning its roof.

The 5 animals on this building's roof make it a moderately important structure.


Our group’s unofficial mantra has become “well you’re only in China once”. Regardless of whether this is actually true, nineteen of us decided to act accordingly and go for a weekend trip to Beijing. Our main goals for the trip were to see the Forbidden City and Great Wall- the normal tourist stops. What we ended up experiencing was far beyond whatever any of us had guessed. In just four days, we toured nearly all of the major sites, climbed the Great Wall, and enjoyed the nights in a way only possible in Beijing. The city is a beautiful mixture of ancient palaces and modern world capital. In the end, all of us had unforgettable memories of the best old and new Beijing has to offer.