Well, it finally happened! After four and a half weeks of extreme impatience, followed by sixteen days of continuous email-checking, I finally received the email I had been waiting for: a message from the French embassy in Canada telling me that I had been selected for the 2015-2016 TAPIF program and was being offered a teaching job in Normandy. Of course I emailed back right away to accept the offer, and so I am happy to announce that I will be moving to France this fall to teach English to high school students!
One of the best parts about hearing back from TAPIF is that I can stop obsessively reading TAPIF blogs written by past participants and start writing my own blog to chronicle my adventures abroad. Although there aren’t exactly any adventures to report on just yet – I have one more week left to suffer (i.e. write essays) before I’m officially done my degree – I thought I’d launch this blog to burn off some France-induced excitement. I’ll answer some basic questions you might have and try to explain exactly what I’ll be up to next year!
So what exactly is TAPIF, anyway?
TAPIF (an oh-so-typically-French acronym for Teaching Assistant Program in France) is a program offered through the French Embassy and the French Ministry of Education that offers teaching assistant jobs in French schools to Canadians and Americans. Successful applicants move to France for a seven-month contract starting in October and teach English to French elementary, junior high or high school students in up to three schools. It’s pretty much a win-win situation for everyone: French students get the chance to speak English with native speakers and learn about Canadian/American culture, and teaching assistants get to live in France, improve their French, travel, and experience French culture.
Sounds amazing, right? That’s not to say that there aren’t some downsides to the program – for example, you can request to be in a certain area of France, or académie (the school districts in France are called académies, each one named after the biggest city in the area), but the Ministry of Education can literally send you anywhere in France or even to one of the départements d’outre mer (Guadeloupe, Martinique, Guyane, or La Réunion) – and from what I’ve heard, it’s not unusual for teaching assistants to find their jobs difficult. But there are also a significant number of positives. For one thing, you only have to work twelve hours per week (yes, you read that right! Twelve. Hours. Per. Week.) and get paid a very liveable salary, especially if you don’t get sent to a big city like Paris where the cost of living is very high. For anyone thinking about teaching as a career, TAPIF is also supposed to be a great way to see if that might be something you’re really passionate about. And finally, you get to live in France! Need I say more?
So, Normandy, right? Where in Normandy will you be living?
Right now, all I know is that I’ve been offered a position in the Académie de Caen, which corresponds to the region of Lower Normandy. I could be assigned to a school in Caen proper (after all, I did request a medium-sized city of 100 000 to 200 000 people, and Caen seems to be the only city in Lower Normandy with a population of more than 20 000), but really, I could be sent anywhere. I’ll know more in a month or two, when I receive my arrêté de nomination or work contract.
Well, that is an excellent question! The truth is that when I applied for TAPIF, I could select up to three académies that I preferred, and the Académie de Caen was actually my third choice. My first choice was the Académie de Grenoble (in the Rhône-Alpes region, close to Switzerland, Italy and the Alps) and my second was the Académie de Montpellier (in Languedoc-Roussillon, close to Spain, the Pyrenees and the Mediterranean). On the TAPIF application, the académies are organized into three categories: the académies that almost everyone wants (Paris, Strasbourg, Lyon, Grenoble, etc.), the fairly popular académies (Dijon, Toulouse, Nantes, Montpellier, etc), and the académies that are much less popular (Poitiers, Rouen, Amiens, Caen, etc). Applicants have to pick one académie from each category, so I picked Grenoble, Montpellier, and Caen.
To be honest, I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’ll be going to Caen, because I was pretty much convinced that I would get one of my top choices. I’m not sad about being placed in Caen – I’ve been to Normandy before, and I had a great time! Lower Normandy in particular has so much to see, like the Mont Saint-Michel, the Bayeux tapestry, and of course the D-Day beaches! It’s also close to Paris, and who can complain about that? And over the last few weeks, I had a bit of a premonition that I would be placed in the Académie de Caen, maybe because I was learning about D-Day in history class. That premonition was only strengthened last week when the American applicants began to get their acceptance emails, and while multiple people were selected for Grenoble and Montpellier, almost nobody was selected for Caen.
Today, now that I’ve had about twenty-four hours to think about it, I think I am just slightly sorry that I won’t be going to a slightly sunnier part of France, or one that I haven’t seen before. I mean, there are palm trees in Montpellier! But on the whole I am excited to have the prospect of getting to know the Lower Normandy region better. And hey, even if I absolutely hate it there, France is so small compared to Canada that I could easily hop on a train and be on the opposite side of France in a matter of hours!
You studied in Dijon, Burgundy a couple of years ago, so why didn’t you apply to teach there?
I did indeed study abroad in Dijon for eight months in 2012-2013, and it made for an unforgettable second year of university. To be honest, though, I feel like I’ve seen everything that there is to see there (ok, so I didn’t end up climbing the tower of Philippe Le Bon, which I kind of regret … but not enough to move back to Dijon for that purpose!). I definitely plan on going back to visit my host family and my amazing teachers at the University of Burgundy, but I thought that it was time for a new adventure.
(I also remember the weather being really terrible and rainy while I was there, so I wanted to live in a slightly sunnier part of France. Oh the irony. Now I’m moving to a region just off the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel, where it rains almost every day, apparently.)
If you only work twelve hours per week, what on earth are you going to do with all that spare time?
That’s right, I’ll only be working twelve hours per week … and did I mention that I get seven weeks of paid vacation (?!?!)? Hmm, do I really need an answer other than “rejoicing in the fact that I will be done my degree and won’t have any essays to write”? How about “relaxing in some French café, sipping coffee and consuming ridiculous amounts of croissants and éclairs”? Nah, just kidding (I think).
In all seriousness, I have heard from previous participants that you really do need a hobby so as not to go crazy, especially at the beginning when you’re just adjusting and you’re probably a bit lonely and homesick. Over the summer, my plan is to come up with a list of goals to work towards during my seven to eight months abroad. Off the top of my head, I can say that I would like to start reading for fun again, since I haven’t had much time to do that since high school. Other than that, the only thing that I know I really want to do is devote a lot of that spare time to running. Last summer and fall, I not only trained hard for the Toronto half marathon, but I discovered a real love of running along the way. Running is one of the only things that makes me forget about all of my worries and insecurities; when I run, I feel powerful, motivated, and strong. Over the winter, because of my schoolwork, running fell by the wayside and I really feel like my confidence and overall happiness has suffered as a result, so I’m looking forward to making it part of my routine again.
Of course, travel is definitely going to be part of my plans. Last time I was in France, I travelled quite a bit outside of France during breaks from school, and this time I would like to spend more time travelling within France itself (hey, maybe to Grenoble and Montpellier!). Some participants also do private tutoring or work as an au pair on the side, so that is also an option.
What is next for you?
In terms of the TAPIF program, I have accepted the job, so really all I need to do now is complete a seminar next week about the administrative process that I will need to go through before and during my time in France. After that, all I can do is wait for my work contract. Once that arrives, I will know where I will be living and can start looking at accommodation options and apply for an assistant visa.
There may be five months left until I move to France, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any adventures coming up! Next Friday I will be completely done my degree, and then a short 6 days later I will be flying to China with my dad and my sister, and then to Nepal, and then to South Korea! Then I will be flying back to Nova Scotia for my graduation ceremony, and then back to Alberta to stay with my parents and work for the summer. Those travels won’t exactly be “the adventures of an anglophone girl in a francophone world,” but I might just blog about it here anyway. And of course I plan to update this blog as I reflect more on my upcoming adventure and navigate all of the administrative hurdles necessary to obtain a visa.
Before I go back to my essays, just one more question …
Why did you call your blog “An « Anglo-Saxonne » Abroad”?
Because as someone named Julia Jones, I love alliteration? Just kidding. The name of my blog was actually inspired by one of my teachers in Dijon, Pascale, who loved to yell “Pas d’Anglo-Saxons ensemble!” (“No English-speakers together!”) at the beginning of every class. Yes, that’s right, French people use the adjective anglo-saxon to refer to anything to do with the anglophone world, and English speakers are known as les Anglo-Saxons (Anglo-Saxonnes for us women). It seems a bit weird to me – every time anyone referred to me as an Anglo-Saxonne, I felt like I should be wearing a horned hat or something – but I have fond memories of my classes with Pascale and “An Anglo-Saxonne Abroad” just sounded catchy, hence the title of my blog.
That’s it for now – if anyone who is reading this is also going to France next year, feel free to comment below! I would love to hear from you!