Missing the melting pot

This week has been though on me for several reasons. Among these, the fact that it was pointed out to me that I was the only one in the lab who did not speak the local language (a.k.a. dutch). A few weeks ago, our lab was reorganized, and people (who happened to be my international colleagues) moved out. And now I’m alone. And I’am also the only girl left. (Although, a few girl undergrads are joining now). It’s tough.

It does not mean I don’t like my colleagues. The opposite actually. They’re all nice guys, and we do all get along very well. But, they are all dutch, share the same culture, interests, and it’s difficult not to feel like a stranger sometimes; even after nearly 2 years in the lab.

I miss being in a lab with over 20 different nationalities and even more spoken languages. Sharing and discovering other cultures, dishes, discussions. The Melting Pot a lab should be.

When moving, my thoughts were the following. Netherlands = Europe; all labs speak english; and it’s like 5 hours away from France. How different can it get ?

The answer is more then what you would think. The french latin culture is quite different from the dutch germanic one (This ranges from gastronomy to way of life). Although all professional meetings are done in English, coffee breaks are sometimes in dutch, and leave me sitting there and trying to grasp a few words (if I’m the only “international” sitting there, I understand it’s less obvious to speak english for some people, but it’s still rude).

It’s something to be aware of if you want to move to a foreign country with a language you don’t master. Honestly, it is a very good experience, but I think I might be more careful with this in the future.

I’d be interested to have your thoughts on that subject …


2 thoughts on “Missing the melting pot

  1. I used to be in a slightly different situation but I think close enough to write it here. It was shorter (5months) and in a closer country (germany), and I was less experienced than you are at this time (and also I cannot comment on the lack of parity, it was OK on this). When I remember this period, my feelings are twisted, I really enjoyed science, many social events (the most popular were bears and football evenings) and I could even meet french people but I could never feel as good as when I was in France one year before, in a completly international lab as well and in a very similar scientific context. At that time, I regretted not to have more skills in german to follow conversations, but as you said, it’s a whole package (latin versus german) that you have to take in consideration. I’m not sure, but I think what you are living is, not exactly but close to, homesickness, which is always tricky to fight. To me, the best way to start really enjoy life out there (even if I didn’t really had the time to) was to meet other homesick people outside of the lab, in erasmus bars, in particular from Spain, Italy or Asia. And finally, remember that new lab members always come, and you might also have good surprises from there as well. 🙂

    • Yeah, I guess you could call it some kind of homesickness, but really only at the lab level. My friends outside the lab are indeed Spanish, vietnamese, chinese, russian, etc .. and I don’t feel lonely or homesick at all. It’s just IN the lab that I miss having more interactions, and it’s still a place where we spend a lot of time, so it can get annoying. But, after some time, you learn to deal with it, and have your friendships with people from outside, and organize “social activities” with them. Which actually is fine, maybe even better. But I still miss having friends in the lab 😉

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