I’d describe TAPIF, or the Teaching Assistant Program in France, as basically being one step up from studying abroad.
Typically when you study abroad you are in a program like Erasmus, CIEP, or CEA to name just a few. In said program, you are completely taken care of in regards to your university classes, a place to live, and pre-planned excursions and activities to enhance and occupy your time. You may be nervous to live in a foreign country, but at least your basic necessities and amenities are met and you don’t have to worry.
With TAPIF however, you quickly learn that you are almost entirely independent from start to finish. You alone are in charge of finding your own housing, communicating with your schools, opening a French bank account, and countless more responsibilities. It’s solely up to you if you want to experience French culture, visit musuems, or plan meet-ups with others. From the get go you learn to be resourceful, strategic, and efficient in effectively producing your needs and wants. To state it simply, no one is holding your hand and you only reap the benefits once you embrace the process for the way it is- because TAPIF is truly one of a kind.
TAPIF truly gives you an incredible opportunity- you have a seven month contract to live and teach in France– and is unique in the fact that it’s up to you to choose how to spend the rest of your time and handle it. I find it quite an appropriate and progressive jump into adulthood and I can’t wait to see where this year takes me!
For me, I was lucky enough to receive my second choice of region- Montpellier! I couldn’t have been more stoked to get the chance to live near the Mediterranean Sea and indulge myself in the warm, temperate weather. Coming from California, it seemed like the perfect transition and I knew I’d get along just fine in my new home.
One of the parts I love about TAPIF is how it gives you the chance to forge the life you want under their contract. For example, since I’d always wanted to be an Au Pair, I found a family to live with and now have an extra job on the side in exchange. Most other assistants choose to find apartments, but I took my own route and am living out two of my dreams! The point is, you have the freedom to choose, even if it seems stressful at first.
Plus, since assistants only work 12 hours a week, you quickly realize you need other activities to fill your free time, and this adds yet another task to accomplish! So far I’ve noticed that other people in the program are looking for tutoring jobs, babysitting gigs, jobs at Irish pubs, cafes, etc. to make some extra money on the assistantship budget, which is just a step above the undergraduate student budget. All in all, you really have a lot on your plate when undertaking TAPIF and in a sense it’s not as easy and carefree as you’d expect! Although it’s all going to be worth it!
Currently, I’m just over two weeks in on this adventure and it’s really been incredible so far. I arrived about a week before the official start date of October 1st to settle in and I’ve been balancing my time between important administrative tasks, exploring the city center, spending time with my host family, and meeting new people. So far, all the primary school assistants like myself have just had a few days of orientation where you go over the basics about the program. It’s nice to finally meet the administrators of the program that I’d been constantly emailing all summer! The meetings are short yet prolonged, and all in French. We were given more information about the paperwork process for OFII (the Office of Immigration), for opening up a bank account, and for obtaining social security.
On the teaching side of things, we were all told to make an introduction presentation about ourselves for the first official teaching day and have gotten to meet our rectorat, or contact person, for our schools in person. I have been given four schools to teach at between both Tuesday and Thursday each week. My first day of observation in a classroom was last Thursday and it was so exciting to finally be exposed to a French classroom. There’s a lot more to come but this is just the beginning!
One of the best parts for me so far has been meeting all the other language assistants in Montpellier! All summer people posted and messaged via Facebook and at last we are all in the same place for the same mission. Everyone has been so nice and welcoming in the program and we’ve organized some fun meet-ups already like at the beach and at bars in the city center. Some assistants are living on the outskirts of Montpellier so they have to travel farther to meet up, but it’s great everyone has been putting in the effort to get to know each other.
I’m super glad that I personally chose to live walking distance from the city center which gives me more freedom to go to and from as I please for various reasons. The main part of the city, or Place Comédie, is the hub of all the action day and night and “the fountain with the three women” is the ideal spot to meet up. I believe Montpellier at night to be especially alluring and tranquil; there’s a distinct vibe that lightens up the entire city which certainly has warmed my heart!
It’s amazing to me that for the little time I’ve been here I have already made some truly wonderful friends. Good people make any place better and it’s been fun exploring around and getting better acquainted with the city together. From watching the sunset at Place Peyrou to visiting the nearby Château Flaugergues, I’ve already got my travel buddies for the upcoming Toussaint vacations at the end of October!
You may be asking yourself, but you haven’t even started teaching yet?! Yes, that’s correct, we hardworking TAPIF-ers will have a break before we start the main purpose of our stay in France. But I see no one complaining!
A tout à l’heure mes potes!