Tufts in Talloires: Handy Dorceus

While studying abroad in France, Handy Dorceus, E20, is learning how to overcome the language barrier and his fears.
Mountain scenery in Talloires, France
On a field trip for a summer course, Tufts in Talloires students learned about more than 30 varieties of flower and appreciated the view of one of the highest points in the Alps. Photo courtesy of Handy Dorceus.

This summer, three students from the Bridge to Engineering Success at Tufts (BEST) program are sharing their experiences from Tufts in Talloires, a six-week summer program that offers students a dynamic group of courses taught by Tufts faculty in Talloires, France. In addition to coursework, students have the opportunity to explore the unique Haute-Savoie region of France through a wide variety of optional outdoor activities, weekly hikes into the Alps, field trips, and organized events. 

By Handy Dorceus

Oui… Oui… Oui… Oui… Oui…

Apparently, this is my favorite French word. More accurately, this is the word that I find myself using the most. From the moment that my host mother picked me up from the priory, English became a thing of the past. Luckily I knew enough French from high school that I could mostly understand my host family when they spoke to me. Communicating back, on the other hand, was far more challenging. I often found myself resorting to the default: “Oui.”

I was excited and terrified to learn that in the second week of the program, I would be traveling with my host family to Die (yes, it’s an actual place) in the southeastern part of France directly south of Annecy, containing a vast mountain region and beautiful countryside. During the three-hour car ride, I witnessed the breathtaking beauty of the landscape as I drifted in and out of sleep in a car stuffed with food and luggage. The smell of cheese was so strong inside the car as we were roasted by the sun. It still pierces my nose.

We were headed to the family’s summer home for the holidays and to celebrate the 18th birthday of my host mother’s son. I was excited to meet everyone and to have my taste buds stimulated by the genuine home-cooked food, but I was alarmed at the idea that my engagement in the family activities would be limited by the language barrier. To my surprise, not one member of the family spoke English and my nightmare became a reality. For the first few hours, I was quiet and distant from everyone because I didn’t know what to say or do. However, that all changed when they took me to the river.

It was my first time in a river. When I stepped into the water, it was ice cold, but I was too busy trying to avoid getting swept away by the current to worry about the temperature. As they saw me struggling, they came to my aid and helped me learn how to navigate the unforgiving waters. That was the beginning of a special bond that I will hold onto for as long as I live. From that moment, I understood that this family was committed to my inclusion in all the festivities that they had planned, despite our inability to communicate. During my time with them I danced, laughed, jumped from a waterfall, learned how to make pizza from scratch, and gained a new perspective on the virtues and value of family.

As I said my goodbyes two days later on a Sunday afternoon, I left Die with a plethora of new French vocabulary words to try and a new outlook on life. My extended host family made me feel like I had a home away from home and I almost forgot that we didn’t speak the same language. As I continue my time in France, I have a new outlook on adventure and face every new day with the confidence that it will be an opportunity for learning and growth.

Handy Dorceus is a rising sophomore from Boston, Massachusetts, majoring in mechanical engineering.