Me with the Petrified, statues representing victims of human rights violations around the world _ At the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, Switzerland during the CEE 193 field trip

You know you’ve become frenchy if you cannot spend two days without eating a baguette.

While my brain does not remember many things especially details of my past, my experiences while staying in France will always stay in my mind because I am forever grateful for how these indispensable moments changed my life. You may be wondering about how I ended up in France, and what I was doing there.

One of the best gifts that spring 2018 left me with was to figure out what I would like to focus on for my education career: water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). And, I realize that as an environmental engineering student, I first need to be knowledgeable enough about the field, which is why I have been focusing on research projects related to WASH. Spring 2018 also reminded me of the importance of people in our lives. One of those great people who have changed my life is Jane Etish-Andrews, the director of the International Center at Tufts University. I cannot say how I am very sad for her upcoming retirement in October.

In the beginning of fall 2017, I learned that there is a club at Tufts, Timmy Global Health, that serves in Guatemala with the provision of health care and supplies to people over a week. While I wanted to go to Guatemala (because I was thinking that this trip would allow me to understand how the world should shift its focus from treating symptoms to treating causes as in focusing on WASH to reduce diarrheal diseases instead of investing only in antidiarrheal medicines), I had to raise funds for the trip. Thanks be to God that I was able to get full funding for my trip to Guatemala over the previous winter break. One of the institutions that funded this trip to Guatemala was Tufts International Center. When the check from the International Center was ready to pick up, Mrs. Etish-Andrews told me to stop by her office. We chatted for a while, and we came to talk about Tufts in Talloires, a 6-week program by Tufts in Talloires, France. While I had heard of the program, I never considered the program because there was no way I would get $8000 to fully attend the program. Mrs. Etish-Andrews encouragingly told me to check it out, but I was not that hopeful because I knew that it required a lot of money. However, the other side of my heart urged me to check it out because we all know that ‘we never know’.

Afterwards, I went to the Tufts European Center and found out that Civil and Environmental Engineering 193 (CEE 193) taught by Professor David A. Gute was going to be offered. I was very exhilarated because CEE 193 is about global health crises, and that is interesting to me because the class would help me continue learn more about the intersection of public health and engineering. You can imagine how exploring my topic of interest in the Alpine setting sounded incredibly amazing to me.

While applying for funding to cover the program, I realized that I could actually use this great opportunity to explore one of the subjects that even scare me: water. Water issues scare me because although it is a human right, 2.1 billion people around the world still do not have access to well-managed drinking water sources. In spite of the the fact that the world has higher abundance of this natural resource (as oceans, lakes, rivers) compared to other natural resources, countries like Yemen still experience water scarcity. However, I am hopeful that one day, people who do not currently have access to drinkable water will rejoice in gladness. I have a dream that one day, lack of access to drinkable water, poor sanitation, and hygiene issues we keep seeing around the world will be history that the world will remember and simply laugh joyfully. Therefore, these ideas greatly propelled me to use my stay in France to learn about water.

So, I was like: how about I explore water in Haute Savoie, one of the departments of France, that is located in Eastern France. While writing proposals and statements, I would think about how far I’ve come . I could not believe that the Magnifique I was 4 years is ago is the Magnifique that was writing a proposal for this project. As a result, I decided to research about water treatment and shortage in Haute-Savoie. My questions included: how is water treatment done in an European country such as France? What is the source of drinkable water ? Are Haute-Savoyards satisfied with the water quality? if not, what measures have they taken? What about water conservation?

Eventually, I got full funding from different institutions, and I will always appreciate this privilege. One of the awards that I am particularly grateful for is Anne Boghersani Memorial Prize, because the Boghersanis triggered my interests, and I actually realized that that my passion for international community and WASH can be combined. I am grateful for a great opportunity that I was given so as to go out there and learn about topics that I care about. Awards like this depict blessings that unexpectedly pop up to one’s life and define the next steps. Therefore, I am very grateful for having gone to France due to the help of great people who never cease to expose students to life-changing experiences.

My trip to France allowed me to learn more about water treatment in Annecy, Haute Savoie as it was the first aspect of my project. While in France, I was able to visit Station de Potabilization de La Puya, a water treatment plant in Annecy. I saw where water comes from (Lake Annecy), how it is treated and stored before being distributed to 42 communes of Haute-Savoie. Most importantly, I saw how ultrafiltration (filtration with a membrane that is fine enough to retain a wide range of particles even viruses) has made water treatment easier in this part of France. In Public Health Engineering class taught by my advisor, Professor Lantagne, we learned about water treatment but never saw it done vis à vis. How enlightening was it to see that what I would like to pursue is impacting many lives in Haute-Savoie. I am grateful for Professor Lantagne’s advisory on this project because she’s really helped me think thoroughly about my project, and what I want to achieve eventually. Of course, she’s been my inspiration in the field of WASH. I am indeed grateful for her mentorship. In addition, I am grateful for Gabriella Goldstein, the director of the Tufts European Center and Prof David A. Gute for supporting me on my visit to the water treatment plant. I could not have done it without them. And, I cannot appreciate enough the leadership of Ms. Goldstein in Tufts in Talloires. The program would definitely be something else if she did not spearhead it . In addition, for the second aspect of the project, I will be surveying a couple French households hoping to understand how they feel about the quality of their water or if they have taken any measures to fight against the global water shortage that many parts of the world are currently experiencing due to climate change.

Prof. David A. Gute (on the left), Madame Valerie Calvez in the middle (a worker of the water treatment plant), and me on the right _At the Station de Potabilization de La Puya

I cannot stress enough how my six weeks in France reiterated the prominence of working hard especially toward one’s goals. I was reminded of why I really do what I do: to make the world a better place. One thing that keeps resounding in my mind is our field trip organized by Prof. David A. Gute in CEE 193 to the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC). At this organization, we heard from an Environmental Engineer who does water-related work for ICRC in different countries around the world. I saw how water treatment is being applied in war-or tragedies-torn countries to improve the standards of living of people. It was emotionally moving to hear from someone who is in the field that I envision myself in. To me, ICRC is a special institution because of its cardinal principles including humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity, and universality, which depict the idea that everyone deserves access to water and sanitation services, everyone deserves to be treated if they are injured, and that everyone is human no matter where they stand. This truth means the world to me because if the whole world grasped this, we would not have to worry about devastating issues we are seeing nowadays around the world. The principle of ICRC made me realize how important it is for me to work in such environment that values every human being the same. I was indeed given a chance to ponder how speaking at least French and English is helpful especially if you are doing that kind of work in different nations. This encouraged me to speak more French when I was in France because I want to be able to communicate with people in case I end up in the French-speaking part of Africa.

You know you’ve become frenchy if you cannot spend two days without eating a baguette (french bread). If this happens to you, then you know that France has changed you. When I came back to the States and went to Stop and Shop for groceries, I could not leave the place without buying a baguette because seeing a baguette again greatly reminded me of the best moments that I spent with my French host family: the Mazzarinos. Honestly, I never thought about going to France before. I did not know much about France as I hated French in high school (my former classmates can testify more about that) until I came to understand that I may need French in my career. When I went to France, I was scared because it had been so long without using French. I was wondering how I would communicate with the Mazzarinos. When I arrived at my host family, I was impressed by how this family is very understanding, supportive, and kind. I really felt at home while staying with them. I got to know their friends and tasted lots of type of cheese, baguettes, quiche, pain perdu. I was given a chance to live in such an encouraging family that enjoys learning about different cultures and living life to the fullest. My six weeks in France indeed gave me another family. I could not be more grateful for the time I spent in this family because my love for French skyrocketed.

My host family (Mr. and Mrs. Mazzarino) and I hiking at Le Semnoz

In addition, reuniting with my high school friends whom I have not seen for almost 4 years was also my highlight. As someone who greatly enjoys camaraderie of high school friends, it was indeed a great pleasure to go to Lyon and Montpellier to visit these lovely friends. Through these visits, I explored more about the French culture and learned how to prepare interesting dishes such as potato gratin, which I have already started to mimic.

Furthermore, I got to understand the importance of nature in our lives. As we were taking classes from the Priory in Talloires, a building that is 1000 years old (did you get that? let me repeat it… a 1000 years old… woow… it still amazes me), most of us who were not living near the Priory would take buses to Talloires. These short trips really allowed me to look around and appreciate the cruciality of nature in our lives because nature shapes our thinking and gives us a sense of belonging, a sense of recreation, and a sense of environmental protection so that we may continue to enjoy the existence of nature. How crucial was it for me to be surrounded by these weird-looking mountains and the lake, which embody the beauty of Talloires! Moreover, this good view was a great stress reliever especially if one has not got enough sleep the night before while trying to finish up assignments. Academically, this was Tufts, but the nature made it very enjoyable and hard for me to understand how days went by. On the last day, I was very nostalgic. I could not imagine that my time to speak more French was coming to an end. I could not imagine that my time to continue living such a slow-paced life was almost over.

I will always cherish these incredibly wonderful moments I spent in France. You really know that a trip to a certain country was tremendously indispensable when your life changes, when your worldview completely shifts to another angle, and most importantly when you purpose to make the world a better place is exponentially amplified. Je serai toujours très reconnaissante pour avoir eu une telle splendide opportunité. Grands mercis à Elizabeth et Roger Boghersani, Tufts European Center, Centre of STEM Diversity, Tufts International Center, Tufts Institutional Review Board, Station de Potabilisation de La Puya, Chiamaka Chima, Monsieur et Madame Mazzarino, Prof. Daniele Lantagne, Prof. David A. Gute, et Prof. Brian Roach pour m’avoir soutenu énormément et pour avoir eu un impact sur ma vie. Je vous dois beacoup. Merci!

More photos:

At St. Germain, one of the oldest churches in Talloires
My Environmental Economics Class at the International House of the Environment in Geneva, Switzerland
Me at Le Semnoz again excited to see the entire city of Annecy.