Colorful statues, fireworks and long days in the lab: Zheliana’s first weeks as an intern in Valencia

From a small town in Bulgaria, Zheliana Radilova came to the Netherlands to study Life Sciences at the HAN. The lab skills she gained in the previous years come in handy at her new internship in Spain. “I notice I have an advantage compared to academic university students.”

Life Sciences-student Zheliana Radilova loopt stage in Barcelona

The Fallas Festival in Valencia ended last week, and it was a great way for Life Sciences student Zheliana Radilova (20) to be introduced to her new hometown. After a trip to Sevilla with her Spanish boyfriend – who she met in the Netherlands –, she visited the large Spring festival known for its colorful statues and fireworks. “I experienced the Crema”, she says. “That’s where they burn all the artwork of the festival. It was very exciting and emotional.”

"Quite intense'

It was a welcome break from the long days she’s currently spending behind the microscope at the Institute for Integrative Systems Biology in Valencia. “I’m studying several specifics of the C.elegans and their response to the Orsay virus. We’re investigating how the virus can positively affect the worms”, she says. “It’s really cool.”

The long days are typical for the first period of an internship, knows Zheliana. “It’s quite intense, but it’s also very interesting. And I expect the results are going to be worth it.”

Besides working hard on her research and experiments, Zheliana spent the last weeks getting acquainted with her surroundings. “The city’s architecture is magnificent. I visited places like Las Setas, Puente de Triana and Plaza de Espana. I also really like the Spanish culture, people are super helpful and welcoming. I think they are a bit more open minded than the Dutch, I feel it’s easier to make friends with nationals here than in the Netherlands.”

From Knezha to Valencia

Zheliana grew up in Knezha, a small Bulgarian town of around ten thousand citizens. It isn’t known for much, Zheliana says with a smile, though there’s one very specific thing the Knizhians specialize in. “We have a research institute there, the Maize Institute, which is fully dedicated to corn”, she tells. “I have several relatives who were scientists there, creating better corn breeds, for example. From when I was 3 years old, my grandma regularly took me on visits to the institute.”

Her interest in biology thus started at a young age. Though she also quickly knew her future wasn’t in Knezha. “It felt a bit too small for me, and I wanted to further explore my interest in nature.”

She decided to leave Bulgaria and come to Nijmegen to study Life Sciences. “The main reason I chose the Netherlands and the HAN specifically, is the educational system. I applied at Radboud University as well, but I chose the HAN because of the practical teaching methods. I’ve been spending a lot more time in labs than I would have as an academic university student.”

More confidence than university students

The skills she’s gained at the HAN come in handy in her current internship. “I notice that I have a lot more confidence in performing certain techniques than some of the university students that work here as well. Things like PCR, qPCR, Cloning, Transformation, CRISPR/Cas9, culturing cells and handling of C.elegans. At HAN we already practiced these multiple times.”

Zheliana expects to continue her labwork in the future. “I’d like to work in a hospital or a related research institute, as a microbiologist or microbial pathogenesis researcher. But I enjoy what I’m doing now as well, I’m gaining a lot of valuable knowledge.”

If you want to know more about going abroad, you can contact Kelly Vellinga-Chan

Photo David van Haren