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International Student/Scholar of the Month for February 2014, Tamara Bidone

Each month, the Office of International Students and Scholars introduces one international student/scholar by presenting their cultural background, personal experience in both home country and U.S. It is our hope that this mini introduction will help Lehigh community to have a better understanding of the international students and scholars on campus. We encourage every student to participate in this activity. If you would like to be featured, send your message to intnl@lehigh.edu.

This month, OISS Graduate Assistant, Amanda Shao, interviewed Tamara Bidone, a postdoc research associate from Italy. The following is the interview and pictures that Tamara shared with us.


Q: Hi Tamara, so tell me a little bit about yourself. Where are you from? What are you researching here at Lehigh? When will you be done with your post-doctorate research?

A: I am Tamara and I am from Italy. My home town is Alessandria, a 100000 inhabited small town in the North West of the country, between Torino, Milano and Genova. It is at the bottom of the Alps, in the part that shares the border with France. Due to the closeness of my hometown with France, many words of the local dialect are pronounced with a French accent. I am currently at Lehigh University as a post doctoral fellow in the department of Physics, where I am involved in studies of biophysics. I develop theoretical models for simulating the rearrangements of internal proteins of living cells, mimicking those assemblies found in the cytoskeleton. I’ll be here till the end of 2014.

Q: What and where did you study previously? What drove your passion in your current post-doctorate research?

A: Previously, I was a PhD student in Biomedical Engineering in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering of the Polytechnic University of Torino, Italy. Basically, I was using software for simulating single molecules and characterizing their mechanical behavior, with emphasis on their stiffness at bending and stretching. During my PhD, I had a chance to spend several months at MIT, where I started using numerical models to simulate assemblies of many molecules, forming an interconnected network that mimics the cytoskeletal organization in cells and its dynamic rearrangements during cellular activities, such as spreading and migration. My strong passion for my current post-doctoral research mainly comes from the experience at MIT and from the several meetings and discussion that I had with scientific leaders in the field, including those that I had last summer during an intense course at the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and during the annual meetings with the American Societies of Cell Biology and Biophysics.

Q: So far, what do you think about Lehigh? Do you like the campus? The faculty? The people? Your housing?

A: I like Lehigh University and the campus a lot. It is a small and welcoming place. With respect to Boston, where I was before, it is somehow a less distracting environment for me and I can focus very well on my science. All the faculty members that I have met so far have been extremely nice and helpful with me, probably also because being a small community of people allows them to be familiar with each other and with the new members of Lehigh University that arrive every year. I live very close to campus and I am basically able to commute to work also in the snow, which is not always something good, but still it’s very convenient. I live in a big house with other four people. They are all from the northern part of the US and I get along with them very well, except for the fact that they monopolize the common TV in the living room for watching football several times a week.

Q: What is your daily life like at Lehigh?

A: Well, I actually come to the office every day and work from morning to evening. Two evenings per week I join the jazz classes in the Taylor gym and sometimes I go swimming. During the weekend, I travel quite often either to New York, Boston or San Francisco. When I am in Bethlehem for the weekend, I usually go grocery shopping with someone that has a car, since I still have to buy one and most of the supermarkets are not within walking distance. At night, I usually join both American and/or international friends for dinner, movies and/or board games.

Q: So in this short new journey of discovering America in terms of the culture, language, ideals, and traditions, what have you discovered or learned about the American culture?

A: First, I have learned that American people are usually on time, both in work and life. I noticed that they care a lot about money, or at least a lot more than what Italians do. For some people, money is almost a value and something they fell free to judge others for. At the same time, they have a very strong sense of family, thing that I actually did not really appreciate in my home country, regardless it is a catholic and conservative state, where families surely play a great role in the decisions of people in general. But the feeling of being part of the same family and the fact of sharing together something representative of this feeling is something that I see so much here in the USA. For example, when all members of the same family dress up in the same way for certain family occasions, they seem to proudly show to others that they belong to a specific group of people. There is no way to convince an Italian family to do anything like that, maybe the young kinds would love to do such things, but not the adults for sure.

Another very big difference between USA and Italy is surely in the management of hospitals. I was very surprised by the way the sanitary system works in the USA, which is totally different from what I was used to in Italy. The fact of having to pay a service from the hospital either by yourself or through your insurance is something that I do not completely understand yet. On the other hand, I noticed that those services from the hospital are very fast and accurate, so probably privatization of sanitary system might have been used by the nation as a way to provide people with services of good quality. However, this all thing still needs to be digested somehow by myself. The reason is that it makes me wonder whether someone working in health centers could give priority to his/her own profit rather than your health.

Here in the University, I noticed that basically there is an office for every single need you might have: computer services, international office, payroll office, internal bank and many others. You can always find the place that is specialized in what you need and people that are there to solve your problems and answer your questions. Where I was studying in Italy, sometimes I had the feeling that I had to be both a student and a student secretary, having to deal with helping myself in keeping the status of a student. For example, here, having this payroll office connected to the internal bank of Lehigh University prevents now me from arranging myself the transit of my salary form the Physics department to the bank and it’s so much more convenient.

Q: What is the most obvious difference between American culture and the culture in your home country?

A: I think that the most obvious difference is the people. Americans are realistic and pragmatic, stand for themselves in every situation, even if there is no real need, and are generally very open to know about new cultures, probably because of the intrinsic diversity in which they already live. Italians are generally idealistic and pretty open to other countries, but very proud of being Italians and a little bit careful in dealing with people from some other countries. Italians look humble, but regardless the appearances, they can be very stubborn in their personal attitudes at the same time. In Italy, I never saw everyone standing for him/her self in the way Americans do. I know that there are some TV shows here in the USA that describe Italian immigrants in some ridiculous ways. Of course, this is not what you find in Italy. I am not sure if these stereotypes are so much popular here in the USA either, because when I was in Boston I had tons of Italians friends and none of them was like that, but for sure the TV show should have taken origin from real examples and I am just not familiar with those. By the way, the Italians that I know do not laugh loudly and are very insightful and calm. I think that they are not pragmatic at all and before taking any decision or expressing any opinion they take some time, maybe a little bit too much sometimes. They surely have a fine taste for the clothes that they dress and enjoy to always wear banded clothes of high quality textures. This however does not mean that they show a 2-meters brand name on their t-shirts.

Unfortunately, in these last few years (let’s say, since 2008) Italy is in deep economic crisis and people cannot afford anymore fancy clothes as they used to before. I also feel that people in Italy lately are even more humble than previously: lots of them have lost optimism and a good attitude towards future in general. For example, many young adults of my same age are very depressed and are daily struggling to arrive to the end of each month. They live miserable lives sometimes cause they cannot find jobs and become independent from their families of origin, regardless they are highly educated (at least with Master degrees, but some also with a PhD in scientific fields) and are surely very motivated to work.

We have a strange political system in Italy for sure, and the majority of the political representatives of the nation do not represent a very significant part of the population. Many Italians are disappointed with who is in power there, and they can justify it only assuming that elections are corrupted by mafia.

Well, and of course the landscape between Italy and most of the USA is very different, mostly for the quantity of ancient buildings, such as castles, that we have in Italy. I attach here a picture that I took during a trip to Tuscany with my family, just to give you an idea. You can see a mediaeval castle on the top of a hill.

(Sarteano, Siena, Italy)

Q: What is the most obvious difference between Lehigh University and your home universities?

A: I think that the most obvious difference between Lehigh University and my home universities is in the frequency of people recycling/carrier advances. In my home universities, sometimes there are the same people in the same department for tens of years, holding the same carrier level. Here in Lehigh University there is always someone going, someone arriving and someone advancing in his/her carrier level.

Q: Describe what daily life is like for you in your home country.

A: In my home country, I live with my parents, so I don’t have to cook or do laundry, but at the same time I always have to tell someone where I am going and at what time I come back. My three little nephews are often at my place and there is a lot of movement and daily news from them regarding their school and/or activities. I attach here a picture of myself with the three nephews, Lorenzo, Paolo and Alessandro, in the order from the older to the younger.

(Tamara and her three nephews: Paolo, Alessandro and Lorenzo)

In Italy, I used to work every day in the University, pretty much as I do here in Bethlehem, and during the weekends I was usually hanging out with friends and/or driving to visit some towns nearby my hometown. I attach here a picture of myself with one of my best friend, Valentina, while we were in our hotel room during a fun weekend at the sea last year in August.

(Tamara and Valentina)

Q: What are your hobbies? Interests?

A: Apart from science, I am interested in ballet. I love the New York City Ballet and the Boston Ballet companies. Here in the USA, they have developed a technique of dancing which is not strictly following the old Russian school of ballet and gives rise to very original choreographies. Regarding books, I enjoy philosophical treats from philosophers successive to Kant. Another thing that I enjoy a lot is looking for antiquities in second hand shops and also just looking at whatever old objects are sold in yard sales. For what regards art, I like impressionism, and in particular the ballerinas of Degas. Regarding television, I am recently developing a passion for horror movies.

Q: What kinds of adventures have you been on here in the US?

A: I went snow tubing here in the Pocono’s mountains and I went on a hot-air balloon in wine country in California. Another adventure that I had was trying to keep equilibrium while sitting on a basketball ball in the back of a truck in Massachusetts. I can show you proof of this adventure in the following picture.

(Tamara's adventure of maintaining equilibrium on a ball while the truck driven by Ernest was running fast.)

Q: What kinds of adventures have you been on in your home country?

A: I was able to roll my car in a car parking, while exiting the parking lot. Don’t ask me how I did that, because I am still trying to figure that out.

Q: Describe the food in your home country. What are the most popular dishes? What are your favorite dishes?

A: In my home country, the main ingredient is olive oil. People use olive oil on their bread, meat, pasta, salad and pretty much every time they cook, starting preparing the dish in a pan with a mixture of finely chopped onions, carrots and celery sautéed in olive oil. Italians also have good ice-cream and very dense and tasty hot chocolate. My favorite Italian dish is pizza, of course! I do not eat pasta on a regular basis, but most Italians do. I show here a picture of a pasta dish.

I think Italy has worldwide reputation about good food and wine, and it is pretty accurate here in the USA, apart from the fact that Alfredo sauce does not exist in Italy and that some Italians, like myself, just hate garlic.

Q: What do you miss most about your home country?

A: I miss my family and my closest friends.

Q: If someone was going to visit your home country, what would you tell them to do there and where would you tell them to visit?

A: I would tell them to hang out with locals if they can, just to experience some real-life nights, instead of only going to famous and touristic bars and clubs. Also, I suggest visiting Sardinia, which is one of the two biggest islands of Italy. I attach here a picture that I took during a vacation in Sardinia, about two years ago. Sardinia had a strong Spanish influence in the past and some people there look more like Spanish than Italians. Also, the traditional food there is different from other places in Italy, with most dishes prepared with cheese and/or milk. I also suggest visiting Rome, which is a very prominent and monumental capital, probably the most “shocking” town in Italy, together with Florence.

(View of Sardinia's Sea)

Q: Is there anything else you would like everyone to know?

A: If you are interested in visiting Italy, you can find cheap tickets to Milan from New York!





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