A Glimpse into TAPIF: Alumni Feature

In considering all of the time, care, and energy devoted to the process of learning a language, who is to say that your engagement with the French language must taper off once you’ve graduated, passed that LPE, or finished FREN 1004? Whether you are formally majoring/minoring in French or just an enthusiast of the language, the TAPIF program offers the perfect chance to keep your French skills sharp as well as continue to participate in an educational sphere in France after completing your undergraduate degree. But this time, you could be the teacher! As FRIT alumni Molly McDougall (class of 2011) can attest, this program offers a unique chance to open doors to adventures abroad.

For more information about the TAPIF program from Molly’s perspective, read on! (Furthermore, check out the program website and application details here: http://highereducation.frenchculture.org/teach-in-france)

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Once upon a time, not more than a couple of years ago, I was in the same spot as many of you fine readers. A recent study abroad returnee, nearly-graduated language major just trying to find out how to leave the country and do more exploring in the very near future, and maybe, just maybe, make a job out of it. I had heard quite a bit of talk about the Teaching Abroad Program In France (TAPIF) among other UofM French majors, but was unsure about committing to a year of teaching as I am not entirely set on being a teacher, be it in the U.S. or otherwise. Several jobs, cities, and countries after my graduation from the University, I now find myself writing with a view of the French countryside just outside of my apartment and school where I am a TAPIF English assistant.

I did my fair share of bouncing around after graduation. I returned to the city where I did my studies in France to visit friends for a month, I had a brief stint in Los Angeles and I actually applied and was accepted to the TAPIF program for the 2012-2013 school year put it off to save money and really think about what I wanted to get out of the program if I chose to do it at some point in the future. After working through the summer of 2012 I decided to re-apply to TAPIF for the 2013-2014 school year. The application opens sometime in the fall and is typically due by mid-January. It’s nothing too daunting; a statement about why you want to do the program and a couple of references are the jist of it. The rest of the application asks about personal preferences regarding regions or “académies” you would like to work in and what aged children you would like to teach. It is important to note that although French académies are the rough equivalent of school districts in the U.S., they differ greatly in that they cover a much larger area. I am currently a language assistant in the académie of Toulouse, but my 4,000 person town that plays host to my high school is a full hour and a half train ride from the city. Admittedly, I was originally disappointed by my placement so far from the city of interest in my second-choice académie, but have since changed my tune and thoroughly enjoy the small-town community of which I am slowly but surely becoming a part.

I arrived in France at the end of September to have a week of visiting and relaxation before my seven month contract began. The work structure here is anything but American. I have found that the vacation favoring, fluid schedule is truly a double edged sword. To begin, I arrived at my school on October 2nd and was informed that I would start my work with two weeks of observing classes, after which there would be a two week vacation and I would start my individual class time with students upon my return on the 6th of November. Of course a paid month consisting of two weeks of observations and two weeks of visiting France and Portugal was an amazing start to my new job. Plus one, France. However, upon my return I have found that the paperwork loving French school system has yet to work out several kinks regarding my schedule. Already in my first week I have been told the wrong classroom and class time at least once a day, and my current schedule resembles almost nothing on my original time table that I received in October. All of this is quite common, I’m told. Although it is sometimes exhausting trying to keep up with the constantly changing schedule, it is just something that I have to wrap my head around. It hasn’t had any kind of negative effect on my time actually spent with students. On the contrary, I have thoroughly enjoyed all of my classes thus far.

Being that the TAPIF job title is technically an “assistant” the work requires no grading or test-writing, excepting that there are opportunities to help professors in order to make up hours that you may miss to take a long weekend here or there. I have a 12-hour work week consisting of several hours with middle schoolers and the rest is spent mostly with upper-level high schoolers. The largest class I’ve had is 13 students. Students are put into classes according to the track that they have chosen to follow, either littéraire (L), scientifique (S) or économique et sociale (ES). The difference between the students in these three tracks is noticeable and it’s been fun to hear the different dialogue in our classes that comes about as a result.

I feel fortunate to be an American in this program. I strongly sense that I have an advantage over assistants from other countries as the students have already had significant contact with American culture. They listen to American musicians, they watch American television (I’ve even had several students who are familiar with the Timberwolves and the Vikings, SKOL!), they watch American movies, and some even read English books. My job is completely orally oriented, I simply need to get the students to practice speaking. We’ve been playing charades and 20 questions-esque games and we’ve talked a lot about movies and music that they like. It’s been fun for both myself and the students to include these shared interests in our lessons. Additionally, thanks to social media, it is easy to stay in contact with other assistants in the académie. It’s been great being able to swap stories about what is working with students, what isn’t, lesson ideas, etc.

Overall my first six weeks in France as a language assistant can only be described as a whirlwind. I am living in rural France with a Spanish assistant from Mexico, I have students ranging from the ages of 11 to 18, I have already visited three different countries since arriving, and I’ve filled out more bank, insurance, lodging, social security, medical, and translation forms than I can count (and there are undoubtedly more to come). My classes are ever-changing and each new day presents a new set of challenges which I am confident are building skills within me that will be assets for whatever job I may land in the future. I am testing my flexibility, patience, and creativity, not to mention constantly learning from the endless cultural differences that are noticeable in everything from grocery shopping to post office hours and have become a part of my quotidien. It is an exciting, challenging adventure and I would recommend it to anyone who is looking to expand their international experiences.

November 11, 2013

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