Living abroad has both benefits and challenges, and it’s a matter of perspective and learning how to adapt that will help you thrive in your new home. For this second post in a series about international mobility in STEM, I’m excited to share a story from Hazel, a friend who I’ve gotten to know since living in Paris.
I decided to leave Turkey for my undergraduate studies because I wanted to study Molecular Biology, which was a new major at Turkish universities back then (2008). Furthermore, after bumping into Turkish people doing their masters or PhD studies in Molecular Biology in Goettingen, Germany when I was there to attend the XLAB International Science Camp at the age of 17, I got the impression that there was a lack of extensive research funding opportunities in Turkey. I moved to Bremen, Germany to study Biochemistry and Cell Biology at the end of August 2008, and since then I lived in Germany, the U.K. and I am currently in France as a post-doctoral research fellow at Institut Pasteur.
Both in Germany and the U.K., it took me about 1.5 years to entirely adjust to my new life. In Germany, it was due to that being my first time living abroad (although not first time away from my parents as my high school was a boarding school four hours away from my hometown) in a country with a different culture and studying entirely in English too. I didn’t have my close circle of high school friends and a wide range of extracurricular activities to choose from to continue being active. If I may literally translate from Turkish, I was a bit like ‘a fish out of the water’.
In the U.K., it was a different story. It was the PhD itself that took me around 1.5 years to adjust to. I skipped a masters degree and started my PhD right after my undergraduate studies and noticed that my summer internships failed to reflect what a PhD life would be like. However, things got better with time both in Germany and the U.K. I realized that once you grasp what your professors demand of you, whether in exams or in research, once you get friends, once you create ways to financially manage and if you are in a country where you don’t speak the language much, once you learn enough words and are courageous enough to look people in the face in shops, then things start to fall into place.
Nevertheless, I was nervous before arriving in France although I lived in two foreign countries before. I took a break after my PhD defense, went back to Turkey to do my thesis corrections and spent a few months resting while slowly applying for jobs. I got accepted to my current position at the end of September 2016, but it wasn’t until January 2017 that I could start due to all the paperwork and the visa application. And let me tell you that funnily, being back in Turkey after 7.5 years was another culture shock and I left Turkey as an outsider after physically being there for 11 months; I couldn’t adapt back.
Leaving takes courage and determination to face being a stranger both in your destination country and your home country. In the end, you might find yourself wandering around the world like me until you find your niche… Luckily forme, Paris has provided me with everything I have been looking for years and France just might be it 🙂
Hazel Silistre has an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany. Thanks to the summer internships she did both at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Goettingen, Germany and at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas, U.S.A. she was accepted for a PhD without having a masters degree. In 2011, she moved to Nottingham, U.K. to carry out her PhD studies in Molecular Microbiology at the University of Nottingham. After graduating in July 2016, she started a postdoctoral position at Institut Pasteur in January 2017. You can follow her blog Stu(r)dy Microbes if you would like to read about her PhD experience or learn more about bacteria!
If you’re interested in sharing your story of international mobility in STEM, email me!