My first few days at Tufts were filled with so many new faces and places. I loved the constant feeling of excitement, always standing at the precipice of something new. I couldn’t wait to become familiar with every inch of our campus, and, in time, I did. I grew to love it and the comfort it gave me—the comfort of knowing where I’m going to eat, who I’m going to see, which trees I’m going to hammock between. But, even then, I felt I had not finished building a home because, for me, home is not a place but the people around me. Home is being vulnerable with friends who know my fears, the ones I confide in and share my life with. I found myself reminiscing about high school as if it were some vanished Eden. I missed my old friends, who were all off at college now, living their respective lives in different states and countries.
I set out to meet as many people as I could. I joined more clubs than I can remember and struck up conversations everywhere—in class, in line for coffee, the mailroom—and it was all very promising at first. I learned what people wanted to study, where they were from, and what clubs they had joined. But after a while, I became jaded by those trite conversations. I was bent on making a massive volume of connections until I realized all the superficial things shared in passing amounted to nothing. I was homesick not for a place, but for people, and I was exhausted from showing up every day to a place I was supposed to, but could not, call home.
Tufts was not the haven I wanted it to be, and it demanded all my strength to try to make it one. I needed a change. And so I found myself, in December of last year, applying to Tufts in Talloires. At the start of the summer, I would be packing my bags for six weeks to live with a host family and study in a tiny town in the French Alps. It was an impulsive decision, and, in retrospect, I don’t know why I thought moving to a foreign country for a stint of time would make me feel more at home, but I consider it one of my happiest accidents to date. On May 17, as the plane lifted me away, I saw my freshman year behind me, growing smaller in the distance, and a second chance on the horizon.
My first day at the priory, my flight had been delayed, so I was alone while the rest of the program was with their host families. I explored the place that would become my home for a little while. I remember being enamored by the view of the lake from the balcony, clear waters shimmering in the bright light of day. From the garden, you could see the mountains that reached for the sky, decorated in equal parts by clouds and paragliders, and I wondered if I would ever get used to this view. Slowly, other students began arriving—familiar and unfamiliar faces filtered in one by one.
It’s odd to think back to a time when I didn’t know any of the people I met here. It’s even odder to think of those I became friends with in Talloires whom I had met beforehand: people I knew from pre-orientation, friends of friends I’d met countless times in passing, people who sat directly in front of me in Genetics for a semester whom I never noticed. I had unknowingly crossed paths with people I’d one day cherish and call some of my dearest friends. It’s startling to think of an alternate reality in which I never came to Talloires. We simply would’ve continued passing by each other with a respectful nod or wave or other perfunctory acknowledgment without any further thought.
I have ruminated over this phenomenon countless times, mulling over how France brought me so close to people I otherwise never would have known so well. I don’t think I’ll ever have it down to a science, but what I can say with certainty is that being in a foreign country makes someone vulnerable.
We didn’t know much—the people, the place, the language—it was all new. But we knew we had each other. I never knew what my host mom packed me for lunch, but I knew who I would be eating it across from. I rarely knew what I would be doing on any given day besides going to class, but I knew who I would be seeing. Some nights I didn’t know how I’d be getting home, but I always knew we’d be getting there together.
Finding myself in a foreign country for some time meant building my home among people. The moments and memories we shared forged, brick by brick, a home I could carry with me everywhere. Day by day, I learned the minutiae about people, like how they took their coffee or what they liked to buy at the beloved 8-à-Huit grocery store. Each day I learned more. We shared memories of our past and hopes for our future over coffee, dinner, then eventually over nothing at all when conversation was enough to consider a night made. By the end, words were no longer necessary. I learned that another’s presence could be so fulfilling that our voices weren’t needed to fill the silence as we watched the stars for the last time on that final night by the lake.
This travel rejuvenated me in a way I feel like travel often doesn’t. It wasn’t the feeling of not being at home that renewed life in me, but rather the way that unfamiliar environment allowed me to build a home with the people around me. It’s hard to sum up how or why my walls came crashing down in Talloires, but the French seem to have a word for it: dépaysement. It refers to the excitement, fear, and rejuvenation one feels when everything around them is suddenly new. The disorientation of grappling with life in an entirely new place, even if just for a short while, put things into perspective. None of the things that used to scare me were scary anymore. Whether it was paragliding off a mountain or showing how much I cared about someone, I embraced experiences I never would have before. I invited so much more into my life because of my experience with dépaysement, and my life is so much richer because of it.
Knowing and loving people so unique in their own rights made my life infinitely more colorful. To have known people who see the world through different eyes, people who could show me beauty in places I had never seen, made life doubly beautiful.
In Talloires, I found love in people and places I never would have expected. I found it in long conversations by the lake at night, and in pictures of the moon sent back and forth. I found it in stifled laughter outside the apartment at 2 a.m. I found it in gold tinsel thread through my hair and sunscreen on each other’s backs. I found it in the bakery where I would always buy more than I could eat just so that I had an excuse to share.