Having recently completed an intensive immersion french language program at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Dr. Luda Diatchenko reflects on the importance of bilingualism in the vibrant research communities at McGill and in Montreal.
When Dr. Diatchenko emigrated to the United States in 1994 after completing her PhD in the Russian State Medical University, she hardly spoke English. Her experience was similar when she arrived in Montreal to begin her appointment at McGill University. She had an expert grasp of English, at that point, but arrived in a province where she hardly spoke the official language—French.
But the language barrier wasn't exactly an issue to the same degree as it was for her in 1994. "I can totally survive without French at McGill," Dr. Diatchenko noted. Indeed, Montreal is known to be a bilingual city, and McGill is one of few anglophone institutions in the area. But despite her fluency in English, Dr. Diatchenko noted, "I felt like I was missing something—missing something of life in Montreal."
And, as it were, Dr. Diatchenko felt she was missing out on the vibrant research culture in Montreal at large. While the research culture at McGill largely operates in English, Quebec is home to a multitude of research groups, clusters, conferences, and other research organizations that are mostly attended by francophone researchers. From the Association Québécoise de la Douleur Chonique or the Réseau Québécois de recherche sur la douleur, Québec's rich pain and genetics research community offers Dr. Diatchenko the opportunity to connect and collaborate with researchers in the province. Bilingual research communities can only exist in Montreal, she noted. During conferences hosted by these provincial organizations, she recalled, "people present slides in English and present in French, or present slides written in French but present in English...Knowing French makes the Montreal experience much richer."
That's why Dr. Diatchenko set out to complete an immersion language course. After searching for programs, she settled on the one week intensive immersion program taught at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières. "I made such a leap after this week," Dr. Diatchenko announced, "when I was driving back from Trois-Rivières, I turned the radio on to Radio Canada. For the first time since I arrived in Quebec, I could understand what they were saying."
Dr. Luda Diatchenko is the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Human Genetics, and holds a cross-appointment at McGill University in the Faculty of Dentistry and the Department of Anesthesia, and is an associate member of the Faculty of Medicine's Division of Experimental Medicine. Her laboratory, the Human Pain Genetics Lab, investigates the psychological, molecular, cellular, and genetic pathways that mediate both acute and persistent pain states.