February First Friday Speaker: Allison Rainville
Sarah O'Neill

Allison Rainville, M.A TESOL; B.A. Music, Linguistics; spoke to the Tilton Community at the First Friday school meeting this past week. Allison is the English Speakers of Other Languages program director as well as a 20 year veteran of the classroom and a prior Peace Corp volunteer in Bulgaria. She spoke on the topic: ‘Moments Matter.’

Allison confidently rose to the lectern and began: “I’ve never been the kind of person who looks into the extended future and makes plans for what my life should look like.” Getting right to the point, she recollected the day a Finnish exchange student (Maria) entered her life while in the 10th grade, “Hosting an exchange student was a little out-of-character for my family – we’re a group of introverts if ever there was one, so the idea of inviting a stranger into our home for a year was one we really needed to wrap our heads around.” 

Her life was permanently altered by the openness and spontaneity that Maria brought into the routine of her life, “She was only about 9 months older than I was, but she seemed more worldly, more experienced at life. She asked my parents questions I had never thought to ask them, and I learned things about them that I’d never known. I looked at the world around me - one I'd lived with for 16 years - through different eyes, and realized how strange and wonderful it was.” But beyond the initial awkwardness and novelty of having her first sister, deeper and more profound changes were taking place, “With Maria living in our house, I began to consider my options beyond high school, and being an exchange student myself became a serious contender.” 

Allison’s life was about to take a dramatic turn. She would not attend college but instead, travel to Norway, a country she came to love, and for the first time language became the focus of her thoughts. “I was very much doing something that no one else in my world did. And it was one of the most influential decisions I ever made... My passion for languages – largely dormant but clearly still simmering under the surface – finally made sense. My year in Norway was the first time I’d felt comfortable in my own skin, in ways that I still - decades later - cannot explain.” After cataloguing her growing love and facility with language she broadened her thoughts to take the audience beyond the story of her blossoming love of language. “Whenever I feel like something is impossible for me to do, I tell myself that if I can successfully negotiate complex public transportation systems in two languages other than English, I can pretty much do anything.” 

In her closing, Allison looked back over the “twists and turns” that her life has taken as a result of the unexpected intrusion into life made by a young woman from Finland who opened up her mind to possibilities that life provides us all: 

“But over the years, I’ve come to realize that it’s not about being certain about what you want the future to look like, but being open to the possibilities that are created by each twist and turn in the road you travel, put there by the people you meet and the experiences you have.”

“The road I’ve traveled has led me here so far, and I’m tremendously content with where I have allowed the twists and turns to take me. And for me, the road began at the moment Mom came home and asked, “Did you know that your school is looking for a host family for an exchange student from Finland for next year?”


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