Nerdcon: Stories: A Review

At first thought, many people would not consider themselves storytellers, or even interested in stories. But as NerdCon: Stories proved to me – we are surrounded by, and are made of, stories. Conceived by Hank Green of Vlogbrothers fame, NerdCon: Stories, in short, was meant “to be a celebration of the story, and the ways we tell stories, and the people who tell stories, which is really all of us” (Hank Green). Stories are powerful tools in which we communicate messages that cannot be told, only experienced.

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994797_375259069240965_1310122791_nOne of the greatest things about being a young adult is seeing friends and acquaintances start to realize their dreams. Often, in the midst of reading about all these great achievements by incredibly intelligent entrepreneurs, inventors and researchers, I forget that where I am in life, right now, is the time where people start becoming those great entrepreneurs, inventors and researchers I keep reading about. I don’t have to just read about them, I can actually get to know them, and possibly even be one of them. It’s an incredibly scary and invigorating time, where the things I always read about can actually be the things I can do. Not someday, but now.

A former high-school classmate of mine, Alexandra Cohn is starting an inspiring and eye-catching project along with two of her university classmates at the University of Wisconsin. It’s called Biobulb, and it’s basically a closed microbial ecosystem that is genetically engineered to glow-in-the-dark. It’s similar to the incredibly successful Glowing Plant Kickstarter that attracted the attention of the science media. Except while Glowing Plants placed the luminescent gene in the Arabidopsis plant, the Biobulb team will be inserting the gene in E. Coli. The bacteria will be contained in a self sufficient ecosystem (that only requires the input of light), meaning the maintenance of the Biobulb will be minimal (which, in my opinion, makes it even better than the Glowing Plant). Biobulb has also been chosen as one of 30 (among 300) project finalists in the #CrowdGrant Challenge hosted by Popular Science Magazine. It’s a great example of blending art and science together to highlight the beauty of both.

Unlike the Glowing Plant Team, Alexandra and her team don’t have the resources to operate a large media campaign, so I’m trying to reach as many people as I can through this blog and my twitter feed. They are looking for funders through their Rockethub page and are hoping to raise $15,000 by the end of August. Funding Biobulb also gets you goodies as well! I really encourage you to donate some money (I did!) and/or spread the word to friends and family who you think will be interested in such a project. I think Biobulb is a great example of the innovative solutions we can make through synthetic biology. It’s also a nice reminder that NOW is always the best time to do what you’ve always wanted to do.

Biobulb Links

Rio+20 – Day 5: Obrigado Rio!

I am now back home, safe and sound. The past five days may now just be memories, but they have certainly made quite the impact on my views of life, the universe, and everything. The day started off (thankfully) a little later than the previous two days. It turns out the venue for our last panel was in the Forte de Copacabana, which was just 20-30 min. by foot down the beach from our hotel. After checking out of my hotel room and having a light breakfast, the three of us took a cab down to the Forte where we were met by a Siemens representative who handed us our admittance wristbands.

Actually, to be completely accurate, the venue of the last panel, which was part of The Urban Summit, was on top of the Forte in a temporary structure called Humanidade 2012. The structure is quite architecturally appealing, complete with exposed scaffolding and beautiful ocean views. It must have been quite the structurally engineering feat, and it is somewhat sad to know that the building will be taken down eventually. After the gates were opened, we walked up a series of ramps into the main chamber of the building where the Urban Summit would take place. We were handed a tote bag filled with booklets about city development in Rio/Brazil and publications by Siemens. While handing out tote bags and booklets may not seem the most sustainable practice (it probably isn’t) I can’t help but feel excited when I get free informational booklets like the ones I got. I probably won’t ever go through all of them, but it’s nice to have them in physical form. It appears that Siemens has a very large presence at Rio+20, as evident by the first Panel during the Urban Summit, which included the Head of Corporate Communications – Stefan Denig who facilitated the panel, Dr. Roland Busch who we had dinner with the previous night, and the CEO of Siemens Brazil – Paulo Stark. Hopefully we will see many more companies following Siemens example in leading the charge in Sustainable Development around the world.

The Panel was a different experience that the ones we attended the previous day. Here, in Humanidade 2012, there was a much larger and international crowd, something that followed more closely with my vision of a UN event. There were translators in the back, cameramen tucked in one corner, and just an overall feel of something big and business-like happening. Dr. Busch was the first to present, explaining the Green City Index (which was the basis for the Future Influencer’s idea) and encouraging cities to learn from other cities’ best practices. The overall Panel focused on this topic, with special emphasis on Rio de Janiero and it was encouraging to know that politicians and business leaders were communicating and supporting collaboration.

After the opening panel, we managed to stay for the second panel “Basic Services at the core of Sustainable Development Goals” and while I honestly want to say I learned from it, it was difficult seeing as the majority of this panel was conducted in French. We did utilize the time and excellent wifi to start writing our blog posts for the Future Influencers Community. Sadly, our agenda did not include the entire Urban Summit, which I would have liked to attend, but after the second Panel we headed out to lunch, finding a restaurant on Copacabana with a beachfront view.

Well, at least you can understand the message.

Once back at the hotel I called for a taxi and headed to the airport for my trip home, saying my goodbyes to Rashiq and Kali. Hopefully I’ll see them again sometime. My trip home went smoothly (a lot smoother than my trip to Rio) and I was glad to finally be home among familiar faces. While I didn’t attend the actual Rio+20 Summit (I don’t know if I’d want to be surrounded with so many politicians…shudder, kidding…just a little bit), I did manage to immerse myself in not only the Rio culture, but the Rio+20 culture these past five days and gain a new, more international perspective on the world and sustainable development. There’s still a lot I haven’t seen within the City itself, and that only gives me an excuse to go back to Rio some day in my lifetime. I’m incredibly thankful to Siemens for giving me the time and opportunities while at Rio and thankful for all the friends I’ve made while there, I certainly hope to see all of you again someday. But now, I’m back home, typing in my room, and looking for more opportunities out there for me, hopefully I can find them.

Rio, it’s certainly been a pleasure.

Rio+20 – Day 4: Reflections and Firsts

Our day started bright and early, with a wonderful alarm going off at 6:30 AM. Even though our presentations were finished, we continued to have a packed schedule, which was in no way a bad thing. It was both busy and relaxing at the same time. I was ready to tackle the day with whatever it threw at me and ready to take those experiences and learn from them. After a quick breakfast we called for a taxi to take us to the Windsor Barra Hotel where we met up with the German and English student teams. At the Hotel, we attended our first Panel, the UNEP Inspire & Invest Panel: The business case for the Green Economy. This session was loosely guided by the UNEP publication: Sustainable Return on Investments: The Business Case for a Green Economy. The Panel was moderated by Mark Lee, Executive Director of SustainAbility. Panelists included the Executive Director of UNEP, the CSO of PPR/Chairman of the Board of PUMA, CEO of Calvert Investments, and Barbara Kux, CSO of Siemens and Managing Board who had also been one of the judges of our presentation the previous day.

Just poking a little fun at our passions. SOURCE: xkcd.com

The Panel was interesting, especially with perspectives from within the private industry. Both the CSO of Siemens and PPR explained the challenges private businesses faced when implementing sustainable practices and the moderator was excellent in turning answers into more questions. I was also glad to hear acknowledgement of the People’s Summit by the Executive Director of UNEP, who explained that many people in the world are frustrated at governments and private businesses, seeing these institutions not as sources of innovations and answers, but as sources of problems and maintaining the unequal status quo. I’m not a fan of economics or dealings with money in general, but I know the importance of the economy and how much it influencers our everyday lives. It was great to hear the Panelists talk about the benefits of sustainable practices within the private industry and how important it was for businesses to ingrain sustainability into the “DNA of the company.” Panelists also discussed the importance in responsible leadership not just at the CEO level, but within all levels – especially the Managing Board Level to insure the sustainability of sustainability (if that makes any sense). Another interesting fact I learned was that actual companies such as Siemens and PUMA only contribute around 6% of environmental impact of the products they create, the other 94% of environmental impact comes from the supplier side. The importance of working with suppliers has never been greater, and it was great to hear the acknowledgement of all aspects of the product life cycle. Another point that I noticed was the continually statement that “we already have the technology to solve today’s problems.” This phrase was repeated by Barbara Kux both today at the panel and yesterday at the UNEP Pavilion where she announced the Empowering People award – and award that recognized that very fact: utilizing today’s technologies to solve today’s issues. I think it’s an interesting point to make, that while technology should continue to be further developed, we already have a vast toolbox of solutions we can use to start solving the world’s greatest issues, we just have to find some way to easily disseminate these solutions to the areas that need them the most. It sounds easy, but it comes with a variety of other issues, such as cost. But it’s inspiring to know that there are people out there who not only work on the technology, but act with it.

After the Opening Panel a couple of us attended a Panel entitled Business as Unusual which discussed various business practices of banks and organizations in developing and developed countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and South Korea. I couldn’t follow the presentations as well as the previous panel, but from what I could tell, there were a lot of innovative strategies being implemented around the world. It’s important to note that some countries cannot simply deal with Sustainable Development in terms of Energy and Technological advances, some countries need to look at Sustainable Development as it pertains to basic human needs such as suitable/affordable housing, infrastructure services and security in disaster/war-ridden areas. Sustainability is a fancy word for a lot of issues that we’re facing today, and it’s important that we don’t forget that.

After a buffet lunch on the second lower floor of the hotel (second lower floor? I guess that’s like the basement’s basement) we headed to the football stadium Enginão. Engenhão is the main football stadium of Rio located in the northern part of the city, and I believe it’ll host a few games for the upcoming 2014 World Cup in Rio. The Rio team had invited us to see the game, and it certainly was entertaining. The two teams playing were Santos and Flamengo (the local favorites). I’ve played football since I was little (but here in the states we call it soccer) so I was familiar with the rules and have watched many games, but nothing compares to watching the game live, it’s a whole new experience when you account for the audience. The crowd of black and red was very energetic, waving huge flags and banging drums. After the game I even heard one of the Cambridge Students comment on how more entertaining this Brazilian game was when compared to games back home. The views from the upper seats of the stadium were stunning as well, not just views of the game, but the views of the surrounding city. I am continually awed by Rio’s beauty.

With Flamengo winning the match with the help of a penalty kick, us Future Influencers said our goodbyes to the Students for Sustainability and hopped on a taxi back to the Barra area of Rio for our Dinner with Roland Busch, CEO of Siemens Cities and Infrastructure and Greg Gibbons, Head of Communications for Siemens Cities and Infrastructure. Seeing as we were having dinner with two very important people, the three of us decided to wear semi-formal clothes. However, we were pleasantly surprised and relieved to see both Dr. Busch and Mr. Gibbons wearing casual polo shirts and slacks. It appeared that this dinner would be more of a casual feel, for which I was very thankful (I was also surprised at how tall Dr. Busch was, I wasn’t able to tell that from the webcast). Both men were very friendly, and even though it was a relaxed atmosphere, I was still incredibly humbled in their presence. We talked about issues related to city development and energy as well as our respective trips to and in Rio. Also, the Future Influencers introduced Dr. Busch and Mr. Gibbons to the wonderful world of TED talks! I’m actually surprised that they hadn’t heard of them before, but now they have a treasure trove of great videos to watch! The dinner was filling both in stomach and in mind, and I’d like to thank Dr. Bush and Mr. Gibbons for taking time out of their busy schedules to dine with us, it was quite the honor.

On the way back to the hotel, Kali, Rashiq and I had a little “heart-to-heart” in the cab. We discussed life aspirations and career goals and how ones views in life are shaped by experiences. It was all very deep, philosophical and somewhat personal stuff and I’m glad to have had the opportunity to share a cab with them. Rashiq and Kali both gave me some life advice as I continue through my early states of University and I’m filled with both feelings of respect and awe of my fellow Future Influencers, and optimism and eagerness to learn all I can and do all I can about the issues I’m passionate about. I guess one thing I should take away is be open to all, expect little and know that if you really want it, you will get yourself there. It’s been interesting being the youngest member of both the Future Influencers team and the Students for Sustainability presentations, but as the youngest member, I think I learned quite a bit. I’m only on my second year of University, but I’m looking forward to it, and so much more beyond it. There will be the time in my life where I won’t be doing things just for the sake of getting to the next step (like getting through high school to get to University). Eventually I’ll find myself with the freedom to choose what I want to do and how I want to make this world a better place, and while I’m certainly nervous about it. I’m looking forward to it, even if it takes me longer than expected.

Now back in my hotel room, I have started packing my bags for the trip home tomorrow after one last panel. It’s been a great few days, full of firsts. My first trip to Brazil/South America, my first Caipirinha, my first Brazilian Barbecue, my first interview with a cameraman present, my first Night Club, my first Football match, my first handshake with a CEO of a company, my first…well, you get the idea.

Rio+20 – Day 3: The Big Day

Our big day started off nicely. Since Kali had arrived a day later than intended, she had missed the first walk down Copacabana Beach. Copacabana was just as beautiful as the first time I walked down it, although thankfully a little cooler. At Kali’s insistence, the three of us shed our socks and shoes and trekked down to the shoreline to enjoy the sand between our feet and the cool water rushing around our legs. Once we reached Forte de Copacabana – signaling the end of the beach – we continued around the corner to Ipanema, the neighboring beach and enjoyed the lovely coastal views so unique to the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Rio Metro. Photo Courtesy of Rashiq Fataar

Instead of walking back to our hotel, we decided to take the Metro back. I come from a city of only around 230,000 people, and as such, I have very little experience with underground transit. However, I have been to cities such as Shanghai, Taipei and Chicago and therefore have a general idea of what to expect when taking the Metro. I expected white, smooth-paneled walls, bright lights and basically a very artificial-looking tunnel-like system. What we found however, was an interesting mix of the natural and the artificial. The Metro stations had all the elements of a well-functioning station, stairs, platforms, tracks, lights, but all within the context of a large stone cavern. The walls weren’t smooth or white-paneled, but were exposed stone faces of the ground underneath. Rashiq commented on the beauty of this juxtaposition, saying something like “it’s not trying to be something it’s not. It looks like a tunnel in the ground and that’s what it is.” And I have to agree with him. After his comment I noticed that even the above-ground tunnels through Rio’s various hills were the same, the tunnels weren’t smooth concrete but rough edges of stone. I think this kind characteristic – the combination of natural and man-made – is found throughout Rio’s design. Just looking around one sees both hills and buildings, both towering together, almost complementing each other on the skyline. Rio de Janiero is home to the world’s largest city-surrounded urban forest, which is simply a testament to the cities continual respect of the natural world by integrating the natural and man-made worlds. For this reason I think Rio is a great city for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development.

At 12:20 we all climbed into a shuttle bus and headed to the Rio+20 Pavilion Center, where we would be participating in the “Students for Sustainability” presentation/debate/competition (still not quite sure how to label it) in the UNEP Pavilion. Before the start of the presentations, we were given a little time to browse the Pavilion Center, where I quickly visited the pavilions of Brazil, Italy, China, USA and a few others. While the Pavilions were not as large or architecturally pleasing as the pavilions at the World Expo 2010 Shanghai, I was glad to see the emphasis on Sustainable Development.

Photo Courtesy of Rashiq Fataar

In the UNEP Pavilion, six podiums with microphones were set up, each labeled with the team’s country. The Future Influencers sat behind the Multinational Podium, which I’m sure raised a few eyebrows in the audience seeing as all other podiums only had one country represented. Funnily enough, I noticed that within the program, my name was listed as “Ethn Yen”… I guess I deserved that. Thankfully, my name was written correctly on my name tag (although I was now part of the “Mutlinational” Team). It was great to hear what the other five teams were working on, each presentation definitely piqued my interest, and I could easily tell that each team put in hours and hours of effort into their projects and presentations. The format of the presentation consisted of presentations by two teams, and then a 20 minute Q&A session would commence between the two teams and the Judging Board which included the CSO of Siemens, CFO of Siemens Brazil, Chief Technology Officer of UNEP, the Director of Energy and Climate Change for the World Resources Institute, and a leading professor at COPPE. While the other teams had very locally-focused problems and solutions, our City Community idea worked on a far larger scale, which was an interesting change of pace. Our presentation went pretty smoothly, although I could have done better. But I came away from the presentation with a little more experience under my belt. In the end, the Judging Board awarded the second place prize to the South African Team for their work in energy production in remote villages and the first place prize to the Chinese Team for their work in converting waste oil into biogas. Both teams fully deserved their awards and I’m proud to be able to know all of the Students for Sustainability. While our team didn’t win, we were pleased to hear that the World Resource Institute was very interested in our idea and the promise it shows. It was an incredible honor to be a participating member of this event and being surrounded by so many incredibly intelligent, creative and passionate students and professionals.

After the end of the event, pictures were taken and Siemens TV approached a few of us for an interview. I’m sorry to say I probably didn’t provide Siemens a single usable sound bite; it was the first time I’ve ever been interviewed, perhaps with a few more I’ll get better.

Dinner with the Students for Sustainability was certainly a great time. The restaurant was once again a Brazilian Barbeque like the one I experienced on the night of my arrival. Thankfully, this restaurant provided us with small cards with one side labeled Sim and the other labeled Não to inform the waiters of whether or not our stomachs were ready to handle the massive influx of meat.

After Dinner, the Rio Team invited us for a night out in the neighborhood of Lapa, an area known for its historical monuments and nightlife. Being only 18, this was in fact the first time I was able to enter a Night Club (in the US you have to be 21) so it certainly was a nice way to relax. All in all, the day was full of new experiences that opened my eyes to the beauty of Rio and reaffirmed my passion for Sustainable Development with the knowledge that there are many friendly and intelligent people out there in the world just as, if not even more, passionate about it than myself. Thank you Siemens for giving me this incredible opportunity!

Rio+20 – Day 2: Seeing the Beach and Meeting New Friends

Copacabana Beach

Friday in Rio is now drawing to a close, and what a Friday it has been. I explored a little bit of the city, stood face-to-face with my fellow Future Influencers for the first time, and met many friendly students from all over the world. Yes, my first full day in Rio certainly turned out to be a pretty exciting one, and judging by my itinerary for the next three days, the excitement level can only rise.

I started off my day pretty slowly, waking up at 8am and heading down to breakfast at around 9. The hotel I’m staying at had a pretty interesting array set up for breakfast, there were pastries, toast, eggs, hot-dog like things, fruit and even desert items such as chocolate cake and what could have been flan. After a quick breakfast with Rashiq, the two of us decided to head out and explore a little of Copacabana Beach which is just down the street from our Hotel. From what I understand, Rio has many beaches, and Copacabana is just one of many beaches that stretch far along the city’s border.

Gas station in the middle of the road.

As this was my first morning in Rio, I made sure to try to remember all the observations I made during the walk along the beach. The first thing I noticed was the vast amount of buses on the street. Almost every street had at least two or three buses going by. It appears that Rio’s bus transit system is very regular. The second thing I remember was that along the main street running parallel to the beach, there were many gas stations. But these gas stations weren’t located on the sides of the road like I expected, they were located right in the middle of the road, separating the two lanes. These small gas stations were almost built like pit-stops at a racing track where a car could drive up to the gas station right from the road, fill up, and then keep going on the same road without making any turns. The third thing that really stuck out to me was a man who was running (we saw many runners, bikers, walkers and beach-volleyball players) along the road. At random points of time, when the street cleared, he would swerve off the sidewalk and cross the street and start running along the opposite side of the road, and then once the road cleared again he would swerve back, making a squiggly path as he ran. I’m not sure why he was doing that, but I’m pretty sure he got a lot of strange glances.

Sand-sculpture welcoming us to Rio!

Where there’s a beach, there’s plenty of sand. Along the beach, there are sand-sculptures of intricate buildings and landmarks of Rio. Apparently some took 5 days to complete, and some took 20 days. By each sand sculpture there would be one of the artists sitting there and a sign listing all the facts about the construction of the sculpture. I’m not sure how or why they do it, but they were certainly admirable. After we hit a fish market, we turned around and headed back, the entire beach-walk taking about an hour or so. It was a good experience, seeing Rio’s beach front and some of what it had to offer. I also remember passing by two schools on the way to the beach. The schools were located in gated buildings, it was almost as if the fences were meant to keep the students inside, not keep intruders out, kind of a depressing sight actually.

After the beach walk was lunch. When I reached the lobby to attend lunch with Rashiq, I was met by Kali, the third member of our Future Influencers Team. Kali was supposed to be the first one of the three of us to arrive in Rio, but because of a missed flight, Kali just arrived, making her entire trip 30 hours long. But she finally made it, and the our team was finally united in person. I should probably also say a little bit more about my fellow Future Influencers on this trip, they are both incredibly talented and marvelous people. Rashiq founded and heads an online community collaboration forum called Future Cape Town for the city of (you guessed it) Cape Town, South Africa. Kali is a founder of a non-profit called Student Energy, which brings together the world’s youth to tackle the energy issues of our time. Both of these people have day jobs along with their busy lives making the world a better place (although both are taking that step to become fully dedicated to their respective causes). I can only hope to one day become someone like them.

Due to a very slow lunch service, Kali stayed behind at the hotel while Rashiq and I were picked up by Christian in a van to go to the Students for Sustainability debate briefing. Unfortunately, Kali had the wrong address to the location of the briefing and was unable to find us for the briefing and for the dinner afterward. Apparently, we – the Future Influencers – are presenting our idea at another Siemens-sponsored event called Students for Sustainability, where student teams from universities all over the world present their sustainable-related solutions to different problems. It’s not so much a debate but a presentation format, with questions being asked by a panel of judges and the audience. Our van included the Stellenbosch Team (Stellenbosch is in South Africa), the Beijing Team and the Munich Team. When we reached the location of the briefing, we met the other two teams, Team Cambridge and Team Rio de Janeiro. All teams were made up of PhD’s and Masters students (with the exception of Cambridge, they were made up of undergrads) but nevertheless, I quickly realized that I was definitely the youngest in the group. The briefing was shorter than expected, so we had time to chat and get to know each other and I got to meet a lot of friendly people who were very passionate about the issues they worked on. It was very cool to hear all the different accents around the room, especially since I was the only person in the room that lived in the US.

Afterwards we were shipped to a bar where all the student teams and Rashiq and I relaxed, got to know everyone more and enjoy plenty of hors d’oeuvres and alcoholic beverages (yes, I even dared to have one Caipirinha, the drinking age here is 18). I got to know plenty of the folks better and look forward to seeing them again tomorrow at the debate and afterwards.

Copacabana at night

The night ended back at the hotel, with Kali, Rashiq and I meeting for around and hour to review our presentation for our idea and anything we should add. I should probably write down some key words and notes that I want to touch upon for the presentation tomorrow on a notepad, but I think I can put that off until tomorrow morning. For now, I am going to go to sleep and enjoy the fact that I have an even more exciting day coming up. Tomorrow, the big day: The Students for Sustainability debate/presentation at the United Nations Environment Programme Pavilion!

Rio+20 – Day 1: Getting Here

Olá!

Hello, from Rio de Janeiro, or more specifically, hello from a hotel room in Rio de Janeiro! While it hasn’t been my first full day here in the city, so much has already happened, from the moment I got onto my plane in Chicago to right now, where I am sitting on a comfy bed, typing on my laptop. I am in fact safe and sound, all limbs accounted for and a mixture of nervousness and excitement for the days to come.

This is the first time I’ve traveled by myself to somewhere so far from my home. I didn’t really know what to expect, but one thing was for certain, it would be a new experience for me. So when I typed in my booking code at the kiosk in the airport and received a “Your Itinerary has changed” message on the screen, I didn’t think much of it. But I should have started questioning things when I realized that A) I only had 35 min. to get off my Chicago->Sao Paolo flight, pass through customs, and get to my Sao Paolo->Rio de Janeiro flight and B) when the lady who handed me my boarding passes said “It doesn’t seem like anything has changed on your itinerary.” Well, after a pleasant 10 hour plane ride to Sao Paolo (which consisted of me sleeping through most of the flight) I got off the plane knowing that I would miss my flight, seeing as my first flight had left 20 min. later than intended. It didn’t seem to matter though, as we soon learned that our flight to Rio had actually been canceled. The middle-aged woman sitting next to me on the Chicago flight was in the same boat as me, so we decided to stick together and hit it off quite nicely. Her name was Nettie, and she was from Saskatchewan, Canada. It turns out that she was here not only for the official UN summit, but also something called the People’s Summit, which turns out to be a parallel event much like the UN summit. But unlike the UN Summit which consists of politicians, the People’s Summit consists of farm workers, social organizers and the like. Nettie was there to give a talk on Food Sovereignty, it even turns out that she had given a speech at Cornell once, and now works with someone from there. I later learned that Nettie was actually staying in a school, with mattresses being placed in the gymnasium. I was quite surprised and gained even more respect for my new-found travel friend, considering the fact that she was wearing a sling on her left arm.

After Nettie got her check-in luggage and I exchanged a bit of my US dollars for Brazilians Reales, we went off in search of the United Airlines counter so we could get our boarding passes exchanged for the next available flight. With a little help from a Portuguese-speaker, we were able to locate the United Airlines Office in the airport, followed by the large line of people waiting to be serviced. After a period of time that felt like hours, we were finally called. It appeared that the flight agents were considering sending all the people who were going to Rio on an hour-long bus ride to a ‘nearby’ airport and taking a plane from there, but thankfully they realized it would not be practical. So they gave Nettie and I our ticket vouchers for the next available flight to Rio, along with a meal voucher so we could enjoy a nice lunch, courtesy of United.

But our troubles were not over yet. After we finished our lunch and received our new tickets for our flight to Rio, we noticed that our tickets said ‘Gate 15’ while the large electronic board on the walls listed our flight as ‘Gate 21A’. Well, we trusted the tickets and sat by Gate 15 waiting to be boarded, I even asked the lady behind the counter if this was the correct gate, and she reassured me. But by the time the boarding time came, nothing happened. Another man going to Rio suggested we head to Gate 21A to check, which we did and found many more people waiting for the plane to Rio. After even more talking and deliberating with the Airport folks, we discovered that the plane leaving for Rio was not at Gate 15, OR Gate 21A, it was in fact, at Gate 17A. One can pretty much envision what happened then, a mass exodus of travelers going to Gate 17A and forming a huge line. We were put onto busses and sent to the plane, where, after 4.5 hours (but it seemed much longer) we found ourselves on the right plane to Rio.

Passed by this neat looking bridge as well.

Finally, I reached Rio. I said my goodbyes to Nettie and I took a taxi to my hotel. I even caught a brief glimpse of the silhouette of Corcovado, or as many know it, “The large Jesus statue.” One thing I did notice was that Rio is a lot…bigger than I expected. Sure it’s the second largest city in Brazil, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so sprawling. Buildings cover so much of the hills in between the large mountain ranges and the sea. It was nice to finally reach my destination, and I started settling in, unpacking my clothes and reviewing my schedule for the next four days. It turns out I am the first Future Influencer to arrive in Rio, as Kali – who was supposed to arrive before me – experienced a canceled flight due to weather and Rashiq would not arrive until later that night.

So I found myself as the only person who would be attending the dinner with Christian, our contact from Siemens for the first two days of my trip. I met Christian in the lobby of the hotel, where he handed me the three iPads that the Future Influencers would be using to blog on-location. I’ve barely touched mine, mostly because I’m completely illiterate when it comes to working Apple products (it took me a good 10 minutes before I figured out how to turn the iPad off). The restaurant we went to was a Churrascaria. Bascially a Churrascaria is a Brazilian Steakhouse, but instead of ordering your meals, you sit at the table and the servers come to you, carrying a wide variety of prepared meats on long metal rods, ready to cut you a hardy slice and place it on your plate. I have to say I have never seen so many different kinds of meat in one place, and the waiters would not stop slicing pieces for me. It took some effort before the waiters realized that I was indeed turning down some meats in favor of finishing the ones still on my plate. I can’t tell you all the different kinds we ate, but they were all tasty. Additionally, the restaurant had a salad bar and even a sushi bar, but I only managed to get myself some salad, just so I could somewhat balance out the vast amount of protein I was consuming.

While enjoying our variety of meats, Christian and I talked about many subjects. Although he lives in Germany now, he spent a few years in the US and we discussed a lot about how other countries view the US which certainly an interesting topic, especially since I had never heard how people outside the US viewed the US and it’s ideas. We also discussed the things you’d expect to talk about at Rio+20, such as sustainability and the city. It turns out that Christian also visited Cornell once for a job interview; it’s funny how the two people I’ve met so far have connections what Cornell. Turns out Christian works as a Speech-writer, an occupation that I had briefly considered myself (judging by my writing, I’m sure you are just as glad as I am that I did not pursue that). He mostly writes speeches for the CEO of Siemens, which must be interesting, crafting the words that come out of someone’s mouth.

After about an hour and half, we called for the check, and I am now here, in my hotel room, typing away, finishing my very first blog post in Rio. I can hear the sound of a shower running that’s coming from my bathroom, but every time I look I see no water leaking. It turns out it’s not ghosts, just the sound of some neighbor using his/her shower. I know it doesn’t seem like much has happened (and really, not much has in terms of our schedule as Future Influencers) but I can definitely say I’ve been exposed to a lot of new things, a new culture, language (I know some Spanish, which helps, but the main Portuguese word I’ve been using is Obrigado), city, ideas, everything I hoped of experiencing and a lot more. It’s safe to say that I’m definitely out of my comfort zone (ah ha, play on words), but in a good way, a way that I expected to be as one who has thrown himself into a new country. Sorry I don’t have any pictures (the ones used are from Wikipedia), I didn’t manage to take out my camera during the hectic traveling, but hopefully I’ll take some pictures in the coming days. I don’t know how busy we’ll be these next few days, but if I do have a enough time, I may venture down the street during the day and visit Copacabana beach. But for now, I’ll finish off this first blog post and look forward to writing more about my experiences.