Zach Komassa

Departure Date:
Return Date:
Local Institution:
Local Advisor:
Xavier Siemens, David Kaplan
Foreign Institution:
National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC)
Foreign Advisor:
Di Li
Student Status:
  • Q.What country were you staying in?
    • China
  • Q.Where were you doing research?
    • National Astronomical Observatories of China (NAOC)
  • Q.How long were you there?
    • 10 weeks
  • Q.What sort of research were you doing?
    • I worked on pulsar searching using PRESTO by developing a script to process data from the Parkes telescope and the Arecibo telescope. We spent most of the time learning how to write a bash script that would process raw data and output visible candidate plots which show the signal of a pulsar.
  • Q.Did being abroad influence the kind of research you’re doing?
    • To some extent, yes; however, the pulsar searching methods I worked on can be ongoing no matter where I am.
  • Q.What’s the coolest thing about being abroad?
    • Being exposed to a totally different culture was a truly incredible experience! Not only is it a new and fresh environment, you get to meet new people and try new things. The coolest thing overall was the exposure and the resulting open mindedness that I feel for other cultures now.
  • Q.What’s your favorite new phrase from the language?
    • 冷 (Lěng) – pronounced “lung”, which means “cold”. This was my favorite phrase since if you don’t specifically ask for a cold water or most other drinks, they will usually serve it warm no matter how hot it is outside.
  • Q.What’s the hardest thing about being abroad?
    • The hardest thing at first was surviving out on my own in a foreign country where I hardly understand any of the language or culture. I’ve hardly traveled out of my own state before, and in China I had to travel very often to areas all over the country, which was something very difficult for me to get accustomed to.
  • Q.What did you do in your free time?
    • I enjoyed the atmosphere of the city and often hung out with some of the people I worked with. Shana and I went around to see a few landmarks such as the Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square in Beijing and had fun trying new foods and just exploring the cities we were in!
  • Q.What’s the coolest thing you’ve done or seen while abroad?
    • There were so many modern and historical landmarks that I was able to see, such as the Great Wall of China, really awesome cityscapes, the mountains in Guiyang, and of course being at the FAST site was an incredible sight! In terms of my daily life, I thought it was cool to have small shops and convenience stores all around in such a dense setting; there was a really amazing atmosphere in terms of the city life there.
  • Q.What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done or seen while abroad?
    • Aside from a few people that would stare me down in some cases because of me being a foreigner, one of the weirdest things would be seeing huge groups of old people dancing to music outside in parks or public areas. I can’t imagine seeing that happen anywhere in my city.
  • Q.What advice would you offer others thinking of going abroad?
    • Be prepared to go outside of your comfort zone and try new things. The only way to get past the anxiety of being in a foreign country is to immerse yourself in it and try to make connections with people who can help you out. That being said, once you accept that you must adapt to the culture it becomes much easier to find your way around.
  • Q.What skills have you learned abroad?
    • I learned how to utilize many methods of transportation that I hadn’t used before, such as the subway, taxis, and using shared bikes that are all over the streets in Beijing. And of course I had to learn how to order food and buy groceries in Mandarin in order to survive, which wasn’t too difficult after awhile.
  • Q.Is there anything you’d do differently or anything you wish you’d have known?
    • I think anybody would say they wished they knew how the culture operates and how it’s different from the one that they’ve lived with their entire life, but I’ll just have to accept that the culture clash with the environment and the people is part of the experience! I also probably could’ve learned more of the language before arriving in China, however it is not easy to learn on your own and I think actually being there helped me learn things faster.