By Gabriella Goldstein
In March of 2020, the Tufts European Center was preparing for what promised to be a busy summer season at the Prieuré in Talloires. Our signature programs— Tufts in Talloires, Tufts in Annecy, and Tufts Summit— were well subscribed; our meeting and events calendar was full; and we were just a few weeks away from departing for Talloires.
As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic derailed all those plans. It sent Tufts students home from the main Medford campus to finish the spring semester remotely. It closed international borders and pushed France into lockdown. We on the Prieuré staff had no choice but to cancel all of our 2020 summer programs. Worse still, the timing and abruptness of the shutdown left us insufficient time to implement an alternative delivery method for our programs.
To ensure that our season could still be productive, we re-directed our energies to other important projects for the Center: We created a new and updated website; we launched an electronic newsletter; we spent many hours attending webinars to improve our skills; and we began planning for summer 2021. Although the new year brought hope for mass vaccinations and herd immunity, it also brought COVID variants, new global pandemic surges, and continuing limitations on international travel— all of which made it very clear that a return to Talloires wouldn’t be possible for summer 2021.
Will students buy it?
With heavy hearts, in January we made the decision to adopt a virtual format for our 2021 Tufts in Talloires and Tufts Summit programs (for college and high school students, respectively). “I was disappointed, but also not surprised, given how the world is still attempting to manage the pandemic,” said Sarah Craver, assistant director of the European Center. “I recognize the paramount importance of keeping our communities safe, and of allowing our faculty (and ourselves) time to create a rich, exciting virtual experience for our students,”
Obviously, a virtual community cannot replace face-to-face interactions, not to mention real life immersion in the HauteSavoie culture. Nevertheless, we are very excited about the new ways that we will provide engaging international content for students. All of our classes will include virtual guest speakers from Talloires/Annecy/Geneva and beyond, who will interact with students and help provide the international perspective we have always sought to include in our programs. If we can’t bring students to Talloires, we will bring Talloires to them!
Will students buy this sales pitch? “Virtual learning definitely opens up some unique opportunities,” comments one of our former Talloires students, Taite Pierson. “It’s easier to see everyone in the class, and the chat function is really great for asking questions and making comments. I’ve been able to connect with people from all over the world in online learning environments, people I probably wouldn’t have otherwise met.” Tufts senior Lily Russell offered, “It can be challenging to take classes online, but it can also allow for so much more flexibility in my day, which I enjoy. There is no commute to class, and I have the freedom to be located where I wish to be. Ultimately, I do wish all of my courses were in person this semester. But online classes are still rewarding and engaging.”
And how will we maintain the MacJannet legacy in all of this? “The MacJannet legacy is not only about a place—Talloires—it is about respect, diversity, understanding, and learning,” suggested our staff assistant, Kim DeCrescenzo. “The values go beyond a physical building and can be understood and appreciated from anywhere in the world.” Sarah Craver added, “Our approach reflects values that were crucial to the MacJannets: tenacity, persistence, and keeping learning at the heart of any experience. When I think of the times that the MacJannets lived through, I think of the challenges that they faced and the creativity with which they had to respond. We must not only reflect these values, but we must also strengthen our community by getting to know our students well and developing an environment of support and rich learning that they will remember for a long time!”
For the Tufts European Center, the summer of 2021 will present both challenges and opportunities. With a strong legacy to guide us, a healthy dose of energy and imagination, an incredibly dedicated staff and faculty, and a supportive community both in the U.S. and in Talloires, we are confident that it will be a very successful experience for all of us. As you see, we are heirs to the MacJannet tradition. What else could we be but optimists?
Gabriella Goldstein is director of the Tufts European Center in Talloires, France.