As follow-up to my first post on making the transition into TAPIF assistant-hood, I would like to provide mon grain de sel on some pre-departure anxieties, of which I had quite a few. As much as I was looking forward to meeting my students and settling into a substantially-more French day-to-day routine, I couldn’t help but let my nerves get the better of me every now and then – and with good reason, I thought. Who’s ever heard of Nontron? Agreeing to pack up and move, only to realize that you don’t know Jacques about where you’re headed? Courageux, toi!
I write this in part as a resource to all assistants de langue who find themselves assigned to those unmappable, unsearchable towns, villages, and communes in the middle of nowhere, for which little information is published and for which little is done to answer the question: What am I getting myself into?
But I write this especially for assistants in Nontron, a niche audience to be sure, because it is the only assistantship about which I can truly speak and because I know what it feels like to be placed in so remote a place. When I received my arrêté de nomination, and started doing research on the town that I would call my home for eight months, I can admit to having felt a bit discouraged. Nontron was smaller than I expected, less accessible than I expected, more unknown than I expected.
So, dear Nontron Assistant (after all, there only is one of you), with this I hope to provide you some information that you may find useful – useful, in that the information is correct, but not because the news all happens to be “good.”
Souci nº1: I will be all alone.
Nontron is a small town. Despite being the capital of the Périgord vert, the northernmost quarter of the Dordogne which boasts a population of nearly 90,000, Nontron itself has a population of only a few thousand. The school where you will be working, a dual collège-lycée, is the only one in town, and you will be the only language assistant at your school, English-speaking or otherwise. Just a small number of students can really call themselves Nontronnais, as the majority live dispersed throughout the countryside in even smaller “hameaux” and “lieux-dits” – the same is true of faculty and staff at the school.
However, you are not fated to solitude. Although you probably are closer in age to your students, your fellow teachers are likely to be your fastest friends. You’ll see them in the salle des profs, you’ll work with them to prepare lessons, you’ll whisper with them about problem students, you’ll stand in a group of them day after day as they suck down cigarettes twenty meters from the principal’s office during la récré. Show them that you’re interested in their teaching, their school, their town, their country, and say yes when they ask you over for dinner, or invite you on a weekend away. The teachers and staff members in Nontron are all very sweet (particularly the English contingent, mais peut-être j’ai un avis biaisé…), and I really encourage you to spend time with them outside of the walls of the cité scolaire. Egalement, do take care to reciprocate their generosity by sharing parts of your culture with them – they’ll welcome social, political, or artistic discussion, just as well as they’d welcome a taste of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (albeit with a palpable sense of extreme curiosity and extreme fear).
C’est-à-dire, befriend your colleagues – they will help you make the most of your year as an assistant and are very sympathetic to the fact that you’re by yourself in a tiny town in a new country. Ey-trawn-zhay are few and far between in these here parts of the Dordogne, et les Périgordins voudraient te montrer que ça vaut le détour.