Souci nº3: I will be stuck.
My hunch is that fresh-faced would-be assistants who take the time to apply to Tapif, brave the lines and attitudes at the French Consulate, do so primarily out of a desire to travel – to see France, and to explore a little bit more of the world. Teaching English may seem like a fun and enriching experience, though at 12 hours of work a week, it’s easy to dream about how to spend all that lovely time outside of the classroom. But then you get placed in a town that’s barely on the map and you start to wonder if any of the grand adventures you’ve imagined are even doable…
Pour ne pas édulcorer la vérité, one could very easily get stuck in Nontron. Smaller périgordin towns like La Douze (pop. 1,018), Douzillac (pop. 809), and Limeyrat (pop. 450), all have train stations with daily service, but not dear old Nontron, who hasn’t seen a passenger roll into town since 1946. The nearest gare SNCF is in Thiviers, a forty minute drive from Nontron, on the Périgueux-Limoges line. Bus service does exist but is limited and not particularly useful for assistants, despite being primarily a “ramassage scolaire.” Monday to Friday there is one bus a day: in the early mornings it makes the trip from Nontron to Périgueux, picking up those returning to Nontron in the evening. C’est-à-dire, c’est parfaitement à l’envers. As for the weekends, sacré veinard: aucun bus!
However, the good news is that one can also become unstuck – it just takes a bit of elbow nudging and a lot of flexibility. As I have mentioned, teachers and staff at my school would often invite me over for lunch or dinner, but almost as frequently, they would offer to include me in on their travel plans, letting me know where they were headed and if I would like to join. You’d be surprised how easy it is to catch a ride to nearby Bergerac or Sarlat-la-Canéda, as well as trips farther west to Bordeaux and east into neighboring Limousin and Midi-Pyrenees. Though, if you can corner someone into letting you tag along to Périgueux (not much of a feat, as many teachers live there), you’ll find that it is a good starting point for both local and more expansive travel.
Case in point: during my stint as an assistant in Nontron, I was able to make several trips to Bordeaux, hike in Ordesa y Monte Perdido National Park, follow Hemingway’s footsteps in Pamplona, get sand in my pants at La Dune du Pyla, and even spend a nostalgic weekend up in Nantes. Not to mention many short jaunts into the paysage of the Dordogne, a two-week trip to Portugal, and an extended stay on the Croatian coast – soon to be recounted here, je vous jure!
It will take some ingenuity and perhaps some strategic mingling in the salle des profs, but travel for a language assistant in Nontron does not need to be limited to trips down to the Super-U and back.
Of course, a car can ease a lot of the transportation issues for a newbie Nontronnais – but that is a topic deserving of its own post…bientôt!