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Blogger Abroad: Where Languages & Particle Physics Collide


CERN collage

During the tour of CERN, we passed the Globe, which contains a fascinating exhibit, as well as a sculpture out front (left); I also learned about the many sensors necessary to detect particles that are thrown off from collisions of protons in the Large Hadron Collider (right).


“Your Story on the Rails” summer blogger, Gwen, may have  completed her study abroad program in Zamora, Spain, but she has a few cultural adventures left to share before returning stateside!  In her words:

Geneva, Switzerland is my first stop after finishing my study abroad program, and right next door is the primary reason for my visit: CERN, an international community of scientists on the cutting edge of particle physics using the Large Hadron Collider—a 27 kilometer particle accelerator housed about 100 meters underground. 

I’m a huge advocate for science communication, and I think that CERN does an incredible job of conveying the importance of what they’re doing—as well as a sense of wonder—through engaging exhibits (including really cool animations and projections), tour guides who are actually scientists currently conducting research there, and tours available in multiple languages. So many languages are spoken over here, so languages really are currency.

After leaving Spain, where I could speak relatively well with others, I’m realizing that it’s so easy to take for granted the luxury of understanding what others say.

Luckily, on several of my train rides, I’m met people who speak English, along with their first language. On the train to Geneva, I met a mother and her toddler daughter who were traveling to visit family, and the mother attempted to translate her daughter’s rapid French as she offered me plums. I later sat by a woman who commuted to work over the French/Swiss border every day and another woman on a vacation who told me that it wasn’t possible to go directly from one end of Switzerland to the other on the ground, so she had to jump down to Paris and then back up north via train. The everyday lives of others are perhaps what I most love learning about while traveling.

What do the people I met on trains and CERN have in common? I just keep thinking about communication. Science can be a language unto itself, and CERN’s commitment to translating it to the public is impressive. The world is so big and so small, and to me, it seems important to develop an appreciation for the folks who work to improve communication, whether it be a groundbreaking research facility or anyone learning a language on their own.

Keep curious, and keep learning languages, friends!

Did you catch Gwen’s posts on Spanish music, travel tips, and cultural immersion? And be sure to check our Lead with Spanish page for ideas about university programs, scholarships, testimonials, and more!

Have you ever had a moving or memorable conversation in your—or someone else’s—second language that provided a glimpse into another person’s life? Languages facilitate connections! Tell us about it @LeadWLanguages on social media.

Geneva Train Station

Waiting for the train to take me to my next adventure: Paris! The Geneva train station is a hub for Geneva’s extensive public transport system.