by summerstudent Geunwoo Kim
Before coming to Berlin, I had never spoken English. In South-Korea, it is not easy to have a chance to speak English in general except for special cases. I was also a student who had never had a chance to speak English. When I applied for the HZB Summer Student Program in February 2022, I was worried about ‘Can I communicate well?’ and ‘Can I do my research well?’
When I received an email from HZB that I was selected for the summer student program, I was happy and worried. The problem was that I had never spoken English. After finishing the semester, it was time to go to Berlin
Nervous on the plane
The tension increased from the moment I boarded the plane. Looking around, there were more than half of non-Korean people. When the flight attendant asked what kind of drink I wanted, I answered with a stutter because of the tension. I memorized the necessary sentences by looking at the basic English conversation book I brought to relieve some worries. After spending about 14 hours on the plane with such nervousness, the plane arrived at the Berlin Brandenburg Airport. That’s how the first week in Berlin began.
The first week in Berlin: a shock
The first week in Berlin was hard every day. I was always overloaded, concentrating on each word to understand what people were saying. Nevertheless, I didn’t understand most of the sentences and couldn’t speak properly. So, I chose to speak only words rather than sentences.
One example: I couldn’t even say ‘Where are you from?’, so I asked, ‘What is your from?’ Isn’t it shocking? At least that’s how I felt. Of course, if given a written text, I can read and understand what it means. But speaking is a different matter. I’m shocked by myself here, but I’m not discouraged.
After finishing work in the lab, I returned home and tried to talk to native English speakers on video. I tried to speak English continuously, and now I can hear and speak more than before. The important thing here is that I tried to communicate and I didn’t give up, even with misunderstandings: I always tried to convey my intention with some confidence.
Research in a field that is different from my major in university
Language was not the only problem for me. I am an electronics engineer studying electronics at university. But my dream is to study accelerators and become an expert in the accelerator field. Since I did not major in physics, I had to learn a new field in a state of almost blankness, so there was a lot of confusion with awkward terms and concepts. I asked my supervisor many questions about things I didn’t know. And I tried to connect the new concepts with the knowledge I already had in my major. I realized that there were some specific concepts in the core accelerator field and that I could relate parts of them to what I learned in university. I have learned many things compared to a month ago, and I am getting used to it.
In other words, it gets a little bit easier now after I have acquired the basic concepts of accelerator physics. I can build new knowledge on top of it.
So far and after
As I am writing now, I saw and learned many things compared to when I first arrived in Berlin about a month ago. Of course, I’m still clumsy. However, minimal communication is now possible, and I have learned a lot about the accelerator and will continue to learn. I was able to meet good people and make a lot of progress. I’m so excited about how much I’ll develop during the rest of the schedule, and I think I can trust myself more and move on without being discouraged in an unfamiliar environment.
About the Author:
GeunWoo Kim is a senior student at Korea University, Sejong, where he is studying Electronics and Information Engineering. He is working on a research project on accelerator physics during the summer student program. He is interested in Electronics Engineering and Accelerator Physics.