Souci nº4: I will be disappointed.
Well aren’t you a pisse-vinaigre! But you make a good point – it’s true, you could be disappointed. For once please excuse my French, but c’est la vie. Feeling short-changed, let down, cheated…it’s normal, and it even happened to me.
But it didn’t define my experience as an English assistant with TAPIF. By now, if you know anything about the town of Nontron, it’s because I have written extensively about just how in the middle of nowhere it is. And when I first got my arrêté de nomination, that’s all I knew about it. In the months prior to the start of my contract I spent an unfortunate amount of time worrying – based entirely off of one puny piece of information!
Here’s what my arrêté didn’t tell me:
- Nontron is located in one of the most scenic departments of France;
- Teachers in Nontron are extremely supportive;
- Students in Nontron are (generally) very engaged and curious learners;
- School administration in Nontron is sympathetic to the language assistant experience;
- The Nontronnais and Périgourdins will go out of their way to welcome you into their community.
Of course, I can only speak to my own experience. I have known assistants who could not say that one or any of the above comments were true of their assistantship, so I feel lucky to have spent my year teaching in Nontron. Even without comparison to the horror stories recounted by other assistants, I feel fortunate to have had my particular placement. But it certainly wasn’t lacking for challenges.
It is a mistake to anticipate a transition to life in France where you find yourself free of needing to wait in lines or fill out paperwork; where information you are given by one individual will match what you or your friend is told at another moment; where you expect to always feel welcomed by the French aux bras grands ouverts – unfortunately, I don’t believe that is what Robespierre meant by “liberté, égalité, fraternité.”
Even when it gets frustrating, remember why you’re there: TAPIF is a chance to impact the lives of French students by exposing them to linguistic possibilities outside the prescriptive walls of the Académie Française. Do not confuse it with a vacation or study abroad; you are there because you agreed to perform a job, and luckily it’s one that has the potential to be fun and rewarding – in fact, with plenty of time for travel. To top it all off, you can call France home for a year and earn enough euros for a morning croissant and a roof over your head.
So why worry? Things like finding a place to live or opening a bank account may indeed be difficult; the temperaments of your students or the location of your placement may not be ideal, but that is precisely the reason why you applied to TAPIF. Part of its charm is that you very well may end up in the center of Bordeaux, or in a bucolic locale where cows outnumber humans and transit by tractors is de rigueur. Other than the fact that you’ll be somewhere in France and theoretically giving English lessons a few times a week, the rest is up in the air and that is why the opportunity is so special. The Frenchy “powers that be” may seem cruel and unrelenting, but learning how to handle situations like these will make the experience valuable.
So spread your wings and fly little bird, il faut que tu t’envoles du nid! Do not worry about disappointment; focus instead on buying a plane ticket and counting down the days until you can use it. You cannot possibly predict all that is to happen in the year to come. Some moments will be tough, bien entendu, but so many more will be beautiful in ways that you would never expect. On verra bien !