For the past few months, I’ve been employed by the TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) Organization as a teaching assistant in Central France. TAPIF is an American association that selects current or recently-graduated American students for the purpose of teaching English as a second language in French elementary and high schools. The organization works directly with the French government to place applicants in different “académies” (school districts) across France and French territories, based on both the country’s educational needs and the personal requests of the applicant.
For those who love French language and culture, TAPIF seems to be the perfect situation. The opportunity to be immersed in French daily life, work only 12 hours per week, and be practically gifted all the rights of a European work visa–it’s a package that’s hard to refuse. For many applicants, the experience is extremely rewarding and provides a great deal of self-discovery and personal development over the course of the year abroad. Quite a few teaching assistants even go on to reapply for a second year because of their level of satisfaction with their teaching experience. Yet, nothing is perfect and many assistants choose to not reapply, or even choose to end their year early, often due to any number of difficulties and frustrations.
The hard truth is that the challenges that come with relocating to a different country are often challenges that cannot be foreseen or avoided. I’d say that all the teaching assistants who I know have each experienced their own share of surprises and inconveniences while adjusting to life in France. What determines the outcome is how a person chooses to deal with these problems, along with whether or not they allow their year to be defined by the more frustrating elements.
I’ve chosen to write this guide to TAPIF because I want to expose what my personal trials have been as a teaching assistant, but more importantly because I feel that it’s necessary to help potential and future teaching assistants understand what they’re getting into. Since many others have also been surprised and disappointed by their experience with this teaching program, my hope is that the following articles will serve as a sort of compass for those who are about to embark on such a unique life experience.