If you’ve been with me from the beginning (you deserve a big shout-out if you have!), you would probably know that my road to becoming a TAPIF Assistant wasn’t the easiest. Back in April 2017, I had to make the very difficult decision between attending graduate school after receiving an official acceptance and riding out the TAPIF waitlist. As you all know, after a lot of thought and prayer, I ultimately decided to ride out the waitlist and defer graduate school for one year. After a few weeks of anxiously waiting, I received an e-mail from Natalie (USA TAPIF Program Coordinator) in late May saying that I had been taken off the waitlist and was offered the position as an English Teaching Assistant. I immediately accepted my placement within the académie of Dijon at the high school level…and the rest is history.
Maybe you, reader of my blog, are not a long-time follower. Maybe you’ve come across my blog as a prospective applicant, or, like me, you’re in a waitlist placement conundrum, unsure of what decision you want to make. Or maybe, you just want to know if being an assistant and working in France is worth it.
Well, that’s the question I’m going to (attempt) to answer. Is TAPIF worth it? And in my case, was it worth it to defer my educational attainment for the opportunity to live and work in France?
In general, is TAPIF worth it?
The very short answer: In my opinion, 100%, yes.
But let’s break it down.
The Good: As an assistant, you get to live in France for seven months, working 12 hours a week, all while getting paid a modest salary to do so. While for some it can be a bit tricky to balance our 790 euro salary with the cost of living, especially if you live somewhere like Paris, you learn to adjust over time. Living in a small town, and thereby not having many places where I could have spent my money, I found the salary very easy to live off of and even managed to save a decent sum of money to transfer back to my American account afterward.
If you are an assistant who is truly interested in teaching, being an assistant in France is a unique opportunity to gain experience working at an educational establishment that is (most likely) much different than those of which you are used to. Depending on the amount of autonomy given to you by your colleagues, you might have plenty of opportunities to be creative and experimental in the classroom, all while having fun with the students. Plus, you don’t have to worry about giving grades, tests, or punishing students anything more than sending them back to their teacher’s classroom if they misbehave with you. If you are interested in being an assistant more so for the opportunities to travel, those four, two-week vacation allows for plenty of that! Over the course of seven months, I visited 31 cities in France and 5 countries/8 cities outside of France. While that may seem like a lot, I’m sure there are plenty of assistants who traveled way more than I did.
Finally, living and working in France has the obvious benefit of being able to practice and improve your French, explore all the history and culture France has to offer, and truly establish roots in the city you teach in. No matter if you are practically fluent or just starting off your French language studies, seven months of immersion will do wonders for your French. If you are at all passionate about French history, culture, food, art, music, etc., the plentiful museums, churches, castles, and the pass d’education will be your best friends. Being in France for seven months really allows you to establish roots in your city. You get to know your favorite market vendors, where to get the best pastry and coffee on Saturday morning, and you find things to do and places to go to occupy your weekends, thereby meeting locals (or other assistants) and creating relationships.
The Bad: Of course, there are plenty of challenges and difficulties that come along with living in France. The initial culture shock, potentially being lost in a language you struggle to keep up with, transitioning from a big US city to a small French village (me) or vice-versa, and of course, you know if you’ve read any amount of TAPIF blogs (or experienced it first hand) that the French bureaucratic system seems to pride itself at moving along at a turtle’s pace. You will most likely have some sort of trouble along the way – between setting up a bank account, getting a SIM card, finding an apartment, receiving CAF reimbursements, dealing with OFII, trying to get your carte vitale, etc. – you are guaranteed to have your fair share of bureaucratic difficulties, but it’s nothing you can’t get past.
The In-Between: There are a lot of factors that are out of your control that can make the difference between having a wonderful time in France and having a less-than-stellar time. Besides telling them what academy you want to be placed in and what city size you prefer, you don’t really have a choice of where you end up. For example, if you might put a preference for the academy of Dijon and a medium-sized city and be hoping to teach at a high school. Even though they might put you in the right academy, you could end up being placed at two or three middle schools that aren’t in the same town, thereby making your choice of where to live based on how much you want to commute.
Other factors that are out of your control would be the colleagues you end up with and their level of welcomeness & help and the students you teach & their motivation to learn English–two factors that could very much make or break your experience. All that being said, it appears that most schools are excited to have an assistant and most students like to get away from their normal classes to have classes with an assistant as well, so it’s not something to stress over.
Personally speaking, was TAPIF worth it?
Without a doubt, 100% absolutely worth it.
Being an assistant is the best choice I ever could have made, and I am so thankful for the experiences I had. As someone who never got to study abroad, it was an amazing opportunity to live and experience all that is France, while at the same time improving my French and diving head-first into a language, culture, and job that I truly love.
Because of this experience, I am more independent, self-confident, and adventurous than ever before. I have grown and changed in more ways than I can count – my experiences in France have truly altered my worldview and have taught me what is ultimately most important. I’ve discovered my values and learned so much more about myself than I would have if I had been away at school.
In the back of my mind, I thought that taking a gap year might de-motivate me from going back to school, but in actuality, I’m excited to go back to school. I’m looking forward to continuing my education, graduating, and seeing what job opportunities are out there for me. Finding a job where I can combine my love for French and for social work would be ideal, but we will see where life takes me.
There is no way I could write this post without commenting on life in Clamecy itself. I love the friends I made, the colleagues and students I worked with, and the unique experiences I had living in a tiny town in rural France for seven months. And it probably makes me a totally biased toward my experience in Clamecy, but if I had never been an assistant, I would have never met L. Love might make you see things through rose-colored glasses, but if that’s the case, I am happy to be wearing them. He really is the best 🙂
At the end of the day, being a TAPIF assistant is what you make of it. If you go into it with an open mind, stay positive even when circumstances seem to be against you, and do things that bring you joy (maybe that’s traveling, picking up a new hobby or sport, improving your French, or focusing on being the best teacher you can be), you will be a-okay.
Until next time,