Tufts University

Bienvenue Talloires

TalloiresThe Tufts in Talloires program allows students to explore a foreign culture -- and themselves.

Every summer for six weeks, Tufts students come to study in the French Alps as participants in the Tufts in Talloires program, housed at the Tufts University European Center in a former Benedictine priory dating back to the 11th century. While their courses are centered around the culture, environment, history and literature of the region, a significant amount of their learning takes place at home with their host families and during outings to the countryside, nearby Annecy, Paris and elsewhere in Europe.

This year, students in English lecturer Michael Ullman's nonfiction writing class recorded their observations about life at Talloires. What follows are excerpts from students' papers that represent the range of emotions and experiences they encountered during their time at the Priory.

Rebecca Abbott (A'09)
Major: Psychology
Excerpted from "Untitled"

This was the first dinner that I would share with all the members of my host family: the mother Maguelone, the father Bruno, and the two daughters Camille, who is 16, and Cecile, who is 20. I was a little nervous because I had not met the father before that night, and I was not sure how he would interact with me. I was also nervous because it has always been difficult for me to understand men when they speak French. He was patient enough throughout the dinner to speak slowly for me and forgive all my grammatical blunders...

I was putting a lot of effort into trying to seem relaxed, interested, polite, and thankful. After the main course Bruno proposed that we have some cheese. I was pleased because the cheese that I had the night before had been quite good. Cecile brought the cheese out of the refrigerator, but before I could take a piece, Bruno reached to the counter behind him and brought out this strange-looking and smelly cheese. His wife and daughters all laughed at him for eating such a vile food and I joined in on the teasing as best I could without being rude. I was not prepared for Bruno to turn to me and hold out a knife with some of this cheese on it.

I never want to seem typical, and at this point I knew that I wanted to surprise my family by not being an American too afraid to try something that was as inherently French as bizarre cheese. Thinking that there was no way that I could accept, Bruno had offered me the cheese with a skeptical smile on his face, I surprised the whole family when I said that I would try it. They were astonished and praised me for my bravery. After they poured me some wine to help me along, I put the cheese in my mouth. It was the one of the most horrible flavors I have even tasted, a combination of various foul things that I could never describe in English, never mind to the family in French. They all laughed at my expression and my frantic attempt cover up the taste with my wine. As they all stood up and clapped, I knew that it had been worth the horrible taste to see my family all rally around me.

Alison Barash (A'09)
Major: English
Excerpted from "I'm In France"

The first weekend that I spent with my host family was an eye opening experience. They informed me that would be going on a family hike on Sunday afternoon. I had just bought hiking boots and a small hiking survival kit in preparation for Tufts in Talloires and I felt well prepared. A hike seemed like the perfect outlet to burn off the extra cheese and wine calories consumed during the first week in France. After eating breakfast, we got dressed and I put on my hiking apparel.

We arrived at our destination. The majority of the altitude seemed like it had been conquered by car, and I was expecting a nice stroll along a mountain trail. The path turned into a steep incline. The ground was a combination of massive, irregular rocks and mud. Occasionally, vibrant flowers would be planted near the stump of a tree and my host mother, Elizabeth, and I would go over to admire its beauty. Elizabeth stayed behind with my roommate and me and taught us to pace ourselves. Meanwhile, my host father and sister were dominating the mountain and we were losing sight of them. I rummaged for excuses to catch my breath and take water breaks. Drenched with sweat, I was the leading contestant in the wet t-shirt contest and we had only been gone for thirty minutes. I continued to persevere and, finally, arrived at the first destination.

I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. The panoramic view took my breath away, and a group of French people who were also admiring the scenic view turned around and laughed when I gasped, "OH MY GOD!" The view was too overwhelming to concentrate on my burning leg muscles and racing heart beat. In order to capture my accomplishment, I asked Elizabeth to take a picture of me. Carefree, I posed with my arms thrown up in the air. I was on top of the world.

Joe Bryan (E'09)
Major: Electrical Engineering
Excerpted from "Autobiography"

Until one week ago, I had never left the country. Unlike many of my peers at Tufts, who seem to have traveled to every country in Europe, and half of Asia as well, my family vacations would take me from my home near Boston, up to the mighty White Mountains of New Hampshire. I was always happy in New England, but I knew there was much more to know. I wasn't interested in my language classes knowing that English could get me as far as I needed to go in the world I lived in. In history, the outcome of wars and movements of people in other lands had no effect on my isolated life. Even the news of new presidents, political overthrows, and foreign views of America couldn't catch my interest. I'd been living in a box. It was time to get outdoors and see something new...

In the most literal sense of the word, I love the outdoors. I love rocks, trees, grass, fresh air, clean water, mountains, and the sun. I cannot fathom a better day than one spent in the sun from dawn to dusk. No amusement park, video game, nightclub, car or boat can make it any better. In person or in pictures, after years of Boy Scout trips and mountain clubs, I have never seen anywhere as beautiful or as natural as Lake Annecy. The grass is lush, the water is a brilliant blue, the mountains are majestic, and the air smells wonderful. There are cars in Annecy, but not like in American cities, where the cars run the land. One can bike or walk anywhere, and the majority of the residents do. The cities and towns do not pack houses and populations into a neat grid, but rather they are settled in naturally with the hillsides. This is a place where one can escape busy, high-strung American life. This is where I can find the outdoors.

Our Talloires student handbook opens with a quote by Richard Reeves: "The French are different from you and me. Theirs is not a puritan country. We speak of the pursuit of happiness; the French just go ahead with it." Just go ahead with it. I have not seen one speed trap here, nor a "no climbing" sign, nor a "no trespassing" fence. Dogs are not on leashes and children run freely. Anyone can drive a motorboat, and bars do not check ID. The world is up for the taking here, for whoever will come outside and grab it. I'm finally outdoors, and it's a beautiful day. (continued)

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Homepage, top and gallery photos by Karina Picache (A'07). Essay photos courtesy of the students.

This story originally ran on Aug. 13, 2007.