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Cultural vibes: Stories from researchers around the world

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Cultural vibes: Stories from researchers around the world

Do you have a story that you wish to share about your experiences with adjusting to the culture and language of another country? We would love to hear from researchers all across the globe and hear what surprised you about your adopted country. Chime in with an email at -

Meanwhile, read below an excerpt from an article by a researcher who had an interesting and humbling cultural experience!  

Editorial Note: You can read the full article as originally published on Aug 23, 2020 on Editage Insights as Pursuing research in your native language | Editage Insights 

Author: Hee-Kyung Ahn 

“When I started my life abroad, in the beginning, I was quite confident in conversing with others. But recently, as I spend more and more time thinking and organizing my words before I speak, I feel my English has reached its limit. Moreover, I cannot endure the awkward moment of silence, so I say whatever comes out of the top of my head. Conversation with people becomes more challenging, making life abroad feel more difficult than in the beginning.  

I am a postdoctoral researcher in J’s group. J is a native of England. He is known for his sense of humor, but it is something I often cannot relate to. I can obviously sense it is witty, but I don't understand why his jokes are funny. 

On the eve of the quarterfinal match between England and Sweden for the 2018 World Cup series, our lab had a get-together. J sat next to me and he said, "You know, we've played against Sweden before. We lost 2-1 then. The next day, there was a headline in the newspaper - ‘Swedes 2 Turnips 1’. But there will be a similar title tomorrow, ‘Swedes to Turnips 2!' Hahaha.” 

Swedes and turnips are all kinds of radishes which I haven't tried yet and, actually I cannot tell them apart exactly. As "Swede" is the word used to call Swedish people, I can guess it is a metaphor. But why did he describe the British as turnips? Would it be equally funny if I replaced parsnip in place of a turnip? Why is this funny in the first place? 

Although I had international experience and gained proficiency in English at a young age my skills have not improved much since my teenage years. Therefore, my English ability is insufficient to explain something complicated such as experiments with many variables. Also, as I build intimacy with my colleagues, I share more of my daily life with them.   

I agree it is necessary to have a universal language to share new scientific discoveries immediately. In this regard, I sometimes feel it is an unfair game for researchers who are non-native English speakers. People whose native language is English will be at an advantage since they can access information immediately without having to filter it through another language.” 

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Published on: Nov 28, 2023

PhD in Plant Molecular Biology and postdoctoral researcher at The Sainsbury Laboratory
See more from Hee-Kyung Ahn


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