Author Archives: Jada N. Chambers

About Jada N. Chambers

Jada is a first-year undergrad at Emory University. She is from the rural South but has big-city dreams of travel and work as a translator. She enjoys David Bowie, vinyl records, vintage postcards, and reading the travel blog Shut Up and Go, to which she attributes her love of languages and travel. She has a cat named Sophie who she loves and misses dearly.

Do You Have Any Fruits and Vegetables? – Jada Chambers

Critical thinking is not something I would have consciously considered when prompted about my skills in the workforce, especially in my native language. One year ago, however, that all changed. 


I stand in line at Customs at the Atlanta airport in an utterly exhausted haze. Through the haze, I hear a Border agent’s voice call out over the din of travelers.

“Does anyone here know French?” he calls out. I look for the teacher I’m traveling with. She spoke French quite well. I look again, but I can’t find her. She’s not here. I look again. Still not here. I raise my hand.

The agent waves me over. 

“You speak French?” 

Why are you asking again, you just asked, I think. 


“I need you to help me ask this gentleman some questions.”

 A tall, old man with white hair and the same plaid shirt every old man owns acknowledges me. I smile at him and tell him, “Bonjour.” 

The border agent goes through the questions with me. What’s your purpose in the United States, where is your final destination, how long will you be staying, and finally, do you have any food or drink with you? I consider the first question, thinking of the right words. I am so nervous I’m sweating, but the agent nor the man can see that, see that my heart is about to beat out of my chest. I ask the man his purpose in the United States. He tells me. 

I look  at the agent and say, “He’s on vacation.”

The agent nods and repeats the second question. The man and I go through the same process with this question. He’s going to New Orleans. How long is he staying here? This one causes some trouble. I can’t quite hear the man. He holds up both hands and splays his fingers. Ten days. 

“Ask him if he has any food or drink.” 

I start the process again. Something is wrong. Before, I found the words, found some equivalent that got the point across. This time, I can’t think. I don’t know the words for food or drink, not right now at least. I turn to the old man, and finally ask him if he has any fruits or vegetables. He shakes his head and I tell the agent he has nothing. 

We’re done. The French man and I share a moment of relief that this ordeal is over. The older man thanks me profusely, in the (admittedly adorable) formal french only older people use. I tell him it’s nothing, really, and then he leaves, off to New Orleans. 


That happened almost a year ago. I would be lying if I said I didn’t think of that day and that old man often. I think of that day with reverence, too. I hold that day dear because it was the first time I was able to put skills I had learned in the classroom, in my major, to use in real life. I was able to communicate with this man and he was able to understand me, even when I made mistakes, and even when I hesitated or felt silly because I couldn’t translate the sentence exactly as the agent had asked it. I was able to make several quick decisions in the moment despite being exhausted, from deciding to help the man and agent, to finding substitutes for words or phrases when I didn’t know the most accurate translation, all while making sure neither man saw that I was anxious out of my mind. 

My experience translating gave me the confidence I needed to continue pursuing my major, and is a constant reminder that I am capable of performing essential critical thinking needed for the workforce, even when I doubt myself.

The author on a roadside overlook in Nice, France, with the Côte d’Azur and the Mediterranean sea behind.

Anywhere but Here – Jada Chambers

My name is Jada Chambers, and I do not belong here. Where is here? I don’t know. I think it’s the house I grew up in, or maybe it’s the quiet southern suburb where everyone marries someone who went to their highschool. Here could also be Mississippi, a place where a few people still believe everyone in the world should speak English, especially in the United States. Maybe here is Georgia, or Dekalb County, or Emory. Maybe it’s the United States. Maybe here is anywhere but there. Where is there? That’s easy. There is a town in the French Riviera, with a classroom full of children eager to learn English. There is a publishing house in Paris where French novels are waiting to be translated. There is a French cinema company with movies that need to be subtitled. There is where I want to be, where I must be. 

In my tiny Southern community, moving out of town to trade it in for a big city is almost unheard of to anyone over the age of thirty. My town is a place where, if you stay too long, you will die where you were born. It’s a place where people never travel more than a state or two away in any direction. Some people are okay with that, and that’s fine. I am not some people. I do not want to die in the same town I was born, not without seeing what lies beyond the quaint houses built in the 60s, the supermarkets, and the crepe myrtle trees found in the front yard of any respectable southern family. I love my hometown, I know it will always be there to catch me if I fall, but I would not be able to live with myself if I didn’t at least try to see what else the world has to offer. However, if my father has taught me anything, you can never, “have a want in one hand and a wish in the other.” I couldn’t just wish I was somewhere else, I had to make it happen. Thankfully, I was raised by two people who always told me if I wanted something, I could make it happen, even the impossible. 

When I was applying to colleges a little over a year ago, I applied to six in total, and every single college I applied to (with the exception of just one institution) was out of state. One of those colleges was Emory. It was an expensive, elite private school– seemingly out of reach for someone from one of the lowest ranked states in education, and one of the highest in poverty. When I told people I had applied, and later, was attending, Emory, they usually asked, “What’s Emory?” If they knew what Emory was, they raised their eyebrows in disbelief. How could someone from here get into Emory? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I like to think it was because, despite our low income, my parents still pushed and encouraged me to take my wants and my wishes and turn them into realities. A Fulbright grant would help me turn another wish into reality. It would help make sure I don’t die in the place I was born, at least not without taking me from here to there first. 

The Call is Coming From Inside the House

The role study abroad plays in the academic trajectory of a foreign languages student is a role that is so inseparable and intertwined it seems that one cannot exist without the other. While I believe that the two are linked, I do not believe they are so codependent on one another as universities, students, and even faculty may have one believe. I believe that as academics, we should allow the two subjects to interact, certainly, but it is also our duty to ensure that we can separate the two topics into their own distinct areas. 

The purpose of a liberal arts education is to provide a sort of well-roundedness to a student’s education. To say that studying abroad is expected, or even required, to succeed in learning a foreign language, contradicts the foundational beliefs of a liberal arts education, which is that students should be allowed to choose their own path in a variety of studies. There is nothing wrong with studying abroad in practice, but there is something wrong with the way we talk about it, in academic and non-academic circles. There is a stigma attached to studying abroad, be it a summer, semester, or even a year abroad. That stigma is that studying abroad is viewed as being nearly hedonistic, as it is associated with wealth and affluence, which also leads it to being viewed as a glorified vacation. If we create this culture around studying abroad that presents it as elite, something only wealthy students can afford to do, why do we present it as a requirement to complete a foreign language degree? This stigma creates unnecessary pressure on the foreign language student, especially the low-income student and the role of study abroad in a foreign language student’s studies becomes a burden rather than something that should be enriching and educational, and yes, even fun. 

The accessibility of study abroad (to all students, studying foreign languages or not) is by and large perceived as a challenge to students who don’t fit a certain mold. In American university culture, and by extension, American culture, the only students who study abroad are affluent, white, and focus more on the “abroad” portion of study abroad. These students are stereotyped as aloof and with a total disregard of their studies. 

In order to transform the role of study abroad from an imposing academic stronghold where only the elite are admitted, the conversation around it must change, and it is our job as foreign language and cultures students to change it.  

As a low-income student, I find study abroad and university in general to be extremely elite and inaccessible. While this may seem ironic, as I am at an elite university writing about study abroad, I can attest that everything leading up to this moment was nothing short of a long, intimidating, inaccessible process. I will also not say that I speak for all foreign language students, and I most certainly don’t speak for all low-income students. This is not to say that I am ungrateful. I am extremely lucky to be in my current position, but that does not mean that I cannot address the injustices from the inside. The call is most definitely coming from inside the house, and I don’t plan on hanging up anytime soon.

How to Have Dinner in Italy Without Speaking Italian (or English)

When asked, the stereotypical American traveler will tell you that learning the language of whatever European country you’ve decided to travel to is unnecessary. 

“Everyone speaks English,” they say. These travelers are also the ones that say every native speaker in every place they’ve ever visited (especially in Paris), are extremely rude. This is devastating, especially considering how English often borrows from other languages. The study of foreign languages and cultures is arguably essential and necessary for a well-rounded education. A background with a foreign language can make travel or international business transactions easier, and it raises the standard of American education closer to its European counterpart, where foreign languages are taught as young as five years old.   

I distinctly remember a spring break trip to Europe. It was with a school group, in the middle of the Tuscan countryside in a hotel that rarely saw such large groups. That night, the tour guide told us that it was our choice if a group wanted to walk to get pizza or another wanted to eat at the hotel restaurant. The chaperone (my high school french teacher), the tour guide, and the rest of the students decided that they wanted to walk to a small pizzeria about a mile away for dinner. That day, we had walked the entire city of Florence and climbed one of the steepest hills you have ever encountered in your life in order to see a view of the city. 

I did not want to walk a mile for pizza. The hotel restaurant was right there and we could eat where we wanted. I asked if I could eat at the restaurant, even though no one else would come with me. In retrospect, it was probably unwise of my teacher to let a minor eat alone in a restaurant in a foreign country, but hindsight is always 20/20. Before the trip, my teacher had taught everyone common phrases in Italian, to be polite to native speakers and in case we encountered someone who didn’t speak English. I was grateful for my french teacher that night. 


Once my group leaves, I go to the restaurant. My waitress is an italian woman in her sixties. She has dark, short hair, tan skin, and a warm smile. She hands me a menu and I look it over for a few minutes. I stare at the menu like it’s full of hieroglyphs. I decide to go with whatever had been chosen for “the menu of the day.” My waitress returns, and I tell her I want the menu of the day, per favore

She shakes her head and mutters negatives in Italian. Oh no, what did I do?

“You have to pick,” she explains in Italian (by some miracle of my French and limited Spanish, I understand her completely). She starts reading the entire menu to me, and somehow, it makes sense. I recognize words in Spanish or French and start praying they mean the same in Italian. I hear, “pesto,” and something like, “beef” and I know what I want.

The waitress and I get through dinner with smiles and nods. The food is fabulous. She even helps me pronounce a word. Google translate is my savior. I pay and leave. 


I think about that dinner often. I think about how things could have gone if I hadn’t taken language classes, and while I’m grateful I learned what I could, I couldn’t help but wish I’d had more.

Perhaps Europeans aren’t rude. Perhaps the values of American education are misplaced. 

photo of thinly sliced meat on a plate. grease gathers on the meat and a lemon wedge rests on top. end alt text.

Mystery beef eaten by the author. The true identity of the meat remains unknown to this day.


Jada Chambers

Jada is a first-year at Emory. She is from the rural South but has big-city dreams of travel and work as a translator. She enjoys David Bowie, vinyl records, vintage postcards, film photography, and reading the travel blog Shut Up and Go, to which she attributes her love of languages and travel. She has a cat named Sophie who she loves and misses dearly. Jada is excited to contribute to this blog and publish her writing for the first time!