Week 1 – Back in the Motherland

Right from the moment I landed in the Philippines, I knew something was different this time around. Although I usually come to the Philippines every year with my family, this was the first time I was here by myself. You could say that I was feeling all sorts of emotions when I got off the plane.

Not even ten hours after I had arrived at my house on the first day, I got up early because I had plans with friends. Back in the College of William and Mary, I am part of the Filipino American Student Association (FASA). Some of my friends from FASA were actually in the Philippines so we all made a huge effort to meet up with each other. My friends and I traveled to Bonifacio Global City (BGC) together, where we walked around, shopped, got some delicious Filipino vegan food, and got bubble tea! I remember feeling that this entire experience was so surreal because I was actually able to spend time with friends in a different country and make new memories!

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The day after I landed to the Philippines, I got to work. My internship is located in the University of the Philippines Diliman, the alma mater of most of my family in the Philippines. Even my mom and dad! As soon as I set foot on the campus, it felt like I was living in the footsteps of my family who had gone to college here. I made my way to Miranda Hall where the research lab was located, with a nervous excitement brewing in my stomach. Although I can understand Filipino – the national language of the Philippines – fluently, I can barely speak the language. I felt like this was my first day of highschool again, just a shy and nervous kid trying to find his way through school. However, my worries were all brushed away as soon as I entered the lab. All the kuyas and ates-these are respectful terms you use to refer to older men and older women respectively-were so welcoming and so excited that I would be interning here.

My duties in my internship are split by each week. The lab has different projects that different people are working on. This week was kind of like an orientation to the lab, teaching me certain techniques that are unique to the Pathogen-Host-Environment Interactions Research Laboratory (PHEIRL). Ultimately, the goal of my internship is to assist the lab to trying to develop certain techniques that make it easier to detect pathogens and viruses that are present within pertinent diseases in the Philippines, like salmonella and trichomoniasis.

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During the first week, I worked on blastocystis with Kuya Edric. Blastocystis is a common microscopic organism that inhabits the intestine and can cause complications in that region of the body. I learned how to create a culture media which is used to support the growth of microorganisms that study in the lab. I also learned performed a DNA extraction on one of the blastocysts and ran a PCR reaction to amplify the specific base pair on the blastocystis DNA that is important in analysis. The base pair that we studied was the 600th base pair.

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Another interesting project that I helped work on this week was selecting an aptamer against trichomonas vaginalis with Ate Tin J. The Philippines is currently undergoing an HIV/AIDS epidemic and the prevalence of trichomonas vaginalis is increasing. Trichomonas vaginalis is a microaerophilic protozoon that is the etiologic agent of trichomoniasis, the most prevalent non-viral, curable STI. This disease is very prominent within sex workers in the Philippines, especially since the government tends to turn a blind eye to these workers. Actually, the government actually offers free health care initiatives for sex workers so the lab partners with hospitals and tests vaginal swabs of sex workers in Angeles City, Pampanga. Trichomonas vaginalis is associated with a higher risk of acquisition of HIV due to the observed risky sexual behavior in the Philippines: low condom use, increase rates of casual sex, and misinformation.  The lab I am interning for has been utilizing POC (point-of-care) tests which are extremely beneficial for the public health in the Philippines as POC tests can be exploited in immediate health care decisions and diagnostic assays. PHEIRL uses aptamers to create more affordable and sustainable POC assays to more readily detect trichomonas vaginalis.

During breaks in the lab, the kuyas and ates have taken me around the University of the Philippines Diliman and showed me all the academic buildings and places to eat. UP even has its very own Sunken Gardens! The campus is so so beautiful and I am proud to call it my home for the duration I am here.

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During the weekend, I spent some time exploring Quezon City. I traveled with my cousin to the newly opened National Museum of Natural History where we saw a myriad of indigenous animals of the Philippines, like the Philippine Monkey Eating eagle. I also got to watch a concert from one of my favorite OPM (Original Pinoy Music) bands, Silent Sanctuary! The band really has a way of relating to the audience through their songs, especially those who have gone through numerous romantic hardships. Sobrang sakit ng aking puso when I watched them! (My heart hurt when I watched them!)

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It’s only the first week, but I’ve already learned so much from the internship! I can’t wait to see what next week has in store.

Maraming salamat sa pagbabasa ng aking blog! (Thank you so much for reading my blog!)

Luigi Almirante

  • Word of the Week: dal dal → talkative
  • Food of the Week: Kare kare