It was the fall of 2016 and the end of university was in sight. I was living with my long term boyfriend (now my husband!)
I would come home from class, eat some pre-planned crockpot dinner, and sit on the couch with him wondering what was next. What exactly do you do with a degree in French and history? People had been asking me this question for quite some time, and they always seemed dubious about my future prospects. I had applied to law school and been accepted, but I wasn’t ready for the monotony that school inevitably brings to my routine to take over my life for another 3 years. Not quite yet.
I didn’t really know what my other options were. I had begun to accept the prospect of jumping directly from undergrad to law school, although I wasn’t thrilled about it. Then one day, a dangerous and exciting seed was planted in my mind. I had come to speak with my French literature professor about a presentation on a beautiful, rainy fall day. It was the kind of day that made me grateful for the University of Oregon’s thick, omnipresent trees and their shield from the wet, blustery world. Everything glistened green and dewy around me.
My professor was a sweet little French man who encompassed tradition with his very presence, a true gentleman who could barely stand to let the young ladies in his classes open the door for themselves. Although he was certainly past the days of his youth, the brilliant sparkle in his eyes clearly revealed the jovial person within. He looked at me with those lit up eyes, and told me that I absolutely MUST go to France when I graduated. It would change my life, he promised.
My professor grabbed my notebook from my hands and scrawled 5 letters in it with determination: TAPIF. I didn’t think much of it. I studied two languages in college, and professors were always urging me to go abroad and immerse myself. But something about this interaction stuck with me. I wasn’t sure whether I would get into the program, or whether I would even apply at that point, but it was definitely on my mind.
Then finally, last winter, I made the life changing decision to apply for a job with the program my professor suggested: TAPIF. For those of you who aren’t familiar with TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program In France), it is a program sponsored by the French government that places native English speakers like me (as well as speakers of other languages) in French public schools as teaching assistants. You have to speak French at an “intermediate” level, but high level fluency is by no means required. There are 1,100 spots available to Americans and about 1,800 people apply for those each year. It’s a desirable program because the government sponsors and streamlines your visa process (they even pay your visa fee!) Anyone who has attempted to live abroad or lived abroad understands the struggle of visa sponsorship/the visa process in general, so this is a pretty big advantage.
As wonderful as this program is, the process definitely is not designed for those lacking in patience. Applications are due mid-January and decisions don’t arrive until April 15. This year, there was a delay and many participants, myself included, didn’t receive their acceptance until days after the decision deadline. I was relieved to (at last!) open mine, which announced that I had been accepted and placed in the Poitiers region. This was my third choice, which is obviously better than not having my preferences considered at all, but also not completely ideal. Nonetheless, I was excited about my acceptance into the program and thrilled at the opportunity to live in France for part of the year.
After I received my acceptance, the waiting game recommenced. Now it was time to await my actual work contract — I wouldn’t know which specific town I would be teaching in until I received this document. The program told us that it could arrive as late as mid-August, and our contracts begin October 1. This doesn’t provide much turn around time for the assistant to arrange housing and other accommodations for their arrival. I was very lucky and incredibly grateful to receive my assignment early in July and find out that we would be living in Cognac, a sweet medieval town of about 20,000. This seemed much preferable to the 900 person villages some others were being assigned to, plus all of my friends and family can say “cognac” consistently because they enjoy drinking. “Poitiers” was a lot more difficult for the non-French speaking part of my tribe.
I was also grateful to find out I’d be working with two very kind English teachers, both of whom made an effort to contact me immediately. I will be working at a middle school and a high school, and both of the teachers I will work under have been extremely kind and helpful as we prepare to make the move to France. At this point, I am not entirely sure what I can expect to find when I arrive in France, but I will definitely keep you posted.