Sunshine, twenty six degrees, a little windy and no clouds – when I arrived in Cape Town on Wednesday morning I seriously doubted that during my visit I would ever be able to spend only one hour in a dark office room working behind a flickering computer screen. About six months ago I was offered the great opportunity to take part in the exchange program of the European and South African Research Network for Anxiety Disorders (EUSARNAD). It did not take too much contemplating and weighting up before I knew that I definitely wanted to go.
After departing Frankfurt, I was very excited but also a little nervous about what life in Cape Town would be like. Not visible to me as a passenger sitting in the middle row, but as announced by the copilot we passed the Table Mountain and the Table Bay on our approach to Cape Town. I had to wait until I had solid ground under my feet before I got the first impression of South Africa. When I left Cape Town International Airport, which was extensively renovated before the FIFA World Cup in 2010, the first thing I saw was palm trees, rough beautiful mountains but from the highway in my rental car I also caught sight of parts of the housings of the Cape Flats. Cape Town is an amazing city integrated in the natural topography and built around the Table Mountain at the eastern shore of the Atlantic Ocean.
After passing fall and winter in Europe, it is hard to even think about working when you surrounded by this beautiful scenery. This of course changed dramatically when I met the resident researchers, who managed to be extraordinary productive and apparently overcome all the obstacles imposed by living in this beautiful city. I was very interested in meeting these people. Dan Stein, Jonathan Ipser and JP Fouche gave me a warm welcome on my first day. Even though I will be here only for four weeks they offered a lot of their time to introduce me to the clinic and my project. The idea is to compare the functional connectivity of fMRI resting-state networks of participants with an anxiety disorders and healthy controls. Considering that I will be here for such a short time I immediately started working. It is an exciting but also demanding task which will hopefully lead to some preliminary results or at least to some learning experience.
Brain imaging data analysis is done far too often in the dark back office. At least from my office in the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the Groote Schuur Hospital I can see the foothills of the Table Mountain massif which will hopefully be motivating and inspiring. I am looking forward to the upcoming next weeks in this unique city with lots of cultural and academic experiences with the EUSARNAD program.