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Emma Davis enjoys the sunset as an English Teaching Assistant in Nice, France (2022).

I started my journey of learning French when I was 12 years old, and like many young students I had to decide whether to take French or Spanish. It was an easy choice for me — the French class went on a trip to French-speaking Quebec, the Spanish class did not. So began my decade-long journey of learning French, a surprising experience that ended with living and working in the south of France and the Tufts European Center.

I always struggled with French. How does such a language exist where there are words with five vowels? (Oiseaux, the plural of “birds,” not only has five vowels, but also is pronounced like “wa·zo.” To this day, this doesn’t make sense to me.) The grammatical rules were enigmatic, and I always felt like a fool trying to do something as simple as ordering coffee. Even at Tufts University, my traditional French courses were always my most challenging courses. I quickly realized that my dream of being fluent would always be out of reach, and I resigned myself to being able to barely understand the lyrics to “La Vie en Rose.” 

Emma Davis paints in Turin, Italy after the first summer working at the Tufts European Center (2022).

Then in 2019, I was lucky enough to live with a host family for the Tufts in Talloires program and everything changed. Over many awkward dinners of struggling to express how much I loved the food; I slowly but surely improved my French. I made (many) errors, but I grew my confidence. And most importantly, I forgave myself for not being perfect. It was an experience that not only taught me how to properly use subjunctive, but how to be comfortable with failure.

My French rapidly improved when I returned to Talloires in the summers of 2022 and 2023 to work as an intern. As a member of staff, I used my French for the first time in a professional setting. Continuing my early professional life in France, I worked for two years in the South of France as an English Teaching Assistant in middle school. It was a full circle moment; where once I was the middle schooler struggling with French, now I was the teacher. Knowing my own struggle of learning a language, I never laughed at silly mistakes and focused on encouraging speaking over perfection. Living and working in France has allowed me to learn French at my own pace and in surprising ways, and it all started thanks to a summer in Talloires. 

Emma Davis enjoys the local Talloires beach with fellow staff members in summer 2023.

I am excited to return to the Tufts European Center as the Senior Program Assistant for the upcoming summer. It is no exaggeration that Talloires changed my life. Without that first summer, I would never be as confident speaking (still accented and imperfect) French as I am today. I hope to help others receive the same impact that experiential language learning had on my life.