What I Learned from Teaching Abroad
The Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) offers a hands-on, eye-opening approach to soaking up French culture while improving your language skills and gaining teaching experience. As an assistante de langue, I joined around 4,500 educators from 60 countries to teach a collective 15 languages in public schools around metropolitan France and its overseas departments (such as Guadeloupe or Martinique) for seven months.
In order to be selected for TAPIF, I completed an application requiring a personal statement, written in French, a language evaluation, an academic/professional recommendation, transcripts, and other necessary personal information, including my top three regions in which I would like to teach. A few months later, I discovered that I was accepted and placed in the department of Nancy-Metz, located in Northeast France.
I learned a great deal of independence and problem-solving skills throughout my experience in Nancy. Nobody is there to hold your hand through the process of finding housing, opening bank accounts, and doing other more-complicated-than-they-seem life activities in a foreign country, using a foreign language. Thankfully, my time in Paris through the Hamilton in France study abroad program, as well as my French major, equipped me with the language skills to survive and thrive on my own.
Likewise, there is no true teaching manual for TAPIF. While some schools and teachers may provide more specific instructions or wishes for their classrooms, I was given the freedom to run my classes as I chose. My purpose was to share my American culture while improving verbal and written English language skills of students aged 11-19. I learned versatility by finding what worked and what didn’t work through the process of trial and error. Even if I spent hours before class preparing a lesson and it didn’t resonate with the students, I needed to adapt and think quickly on my feet to make learning fun and hold their attention. I learned to laugh at myself, because who can take themselves seriously in a room full of middle schoolers?
For students potentially interested in joining any aspect of the education sector, I suggest searching for an experience like TAPIF (or other teaching abroad programs). Being a teaching assistant offers a taste of the challenges and joys that classrooms offer, invaluable to future teachers, administrators, and policymakers alike. This type of experience also allows a broadened cultural perspective by placing young educators at the heart of a country’s future: its next generation of leaders and thinkers.
My experience would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of Hamilton professors Joseph Mwantuali and Cheryl Morgan, as well as my colleagues and friends Maria Lazgin Ciercielli’18, Rafiatou Ouro Aguy ’18, Caroline Rock ’18, and Alan Yeh ’18, who embarked on the TAPIF journey with me in their own corners of France.