Learning in a new language

While studying abroad in Talloires, France, BEST scholar and electrical engineering major Alejandro Colina-Valeri put his French to the test while communicating with his host family.
A college student in shorts and a T-Shirt pretends to pinch the top of the Louvre glass triangle.

This summer, rising sophomore Alejandro Colina-Valeri studied abroad in Talloires, France. Alejandro is an electrical engineering major and a scholar in the Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST) program. He blogged about his experiences in Talloires during the summer of 2018.

By Alejandro Colina-Valeri, E21

My experience in France is sadly coming to an end. I only have one day left until I have to depart from France, never knowing when I will step foot here again. These six weeks will be treasured as one of the best experiences I have had in my life, and I will never forget all the new relationships I cultivated during my stay here. I will miss my host family, but I will keep in contact with them to maintain our relationship.

My six weeks were full of adventure. I was able to attend the Annecy Animation Festival, which is an international event that is celebrated every year. Along with my animation class, we spent a whole day just watching numerous films. My favorite one was Parvana, which won the Jury Prize and the Audience Award by the end of the festival. I also had the opportunity to hike the tallest mountain, La Tournette, go paddle boating with my friends, and bike with my roommate around Lake Annecy. Still, my favorite activity was visiting Paris. I was able to visit multiple sites all around the city, but nothing can compare to Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower, especially at night, when Paris was full of life and the Eiffel Tower was as bright as gold.

During my days in Paris, my host dad introduced me to his childhood friend, who had two children. They spoke almost no English, so my French and deductive skills were put to the test. As we were eating at a restaurant, we started talking about the World Cup, and then sports, favorite colors, and tongue twisters. From this conversation, I felt a sensation I have not experienced for a long time, one that I once felt when I moved to the United States.

When I moved to the United States, I knew very little English. Back in Venezuela, no English school teacher could have prepared me for what I was going to face. Learning English was tough. I first interacted with my peers through hand gestures and by nodding my head “yes” or “no”. About six months later, I overcame my fears, and with my best effort, I started communicating, no matter if I said the wrong words by mistake, or if I had to repeat myself because of my accent. Looking back, I strongly appreciate having gone through this challenge, because it allowed me to let go of my fears in order to learn English in the best possible way, which is from a daily interaction with a native speaker.

That night at the Paris restaurant was the longest conversation I had held with a French speaker, up to that point. I have been speaking English for years, so I forgot the feeling of jumping onto the unknown, where I had to push myself to communicate in a language I was not comfortable with. These six weeks didn't teach me as much French as the first six months that I learned English, but they did remind me how culture differs across the world and influences the perspective of an individual. This experience has helped me decide to brighten my knowledge by learning more about different cultures. Whether it is by watching foreign movies, perfecting a new language, or traveling to other countries, I am excited to learn different perspectives that are offered through other cultures.

Au revoir!