Sometimes not knowing what to expect can be a blessing. This is what Shane O’Bannon (B.A. ’18) learned while working as a teaching assistant in France during the 2018-19 school year. The high school where he taught in Bretagne was very different from the high school experience most Americans have. But in the end he, like many of our other B.A. graduates in French, had a fulfilling experience.
TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) is a program run by the French Ministry of Education and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy that places Americans between 20-35 years of age as assistant English teachers in elementary and secondary schools throughout France. The TAPIF program is a great way for individuals to immerse themselves in French culture and increase their fluency.
O’Bannon spent the past seven months teaching in a technical boarding school in the city of Quimper in Bretagne, located in the Finistère region of France. Despite the rainy weather, the region is a popular destination for the French to retire since it is on the seaside and has a mild climate. He found the food wonderful, especially le beurre demi-sel, a specialty of the region, as well as fresh seafood and savory crêpes.
Like all TAPIF positions, O’Bannon’s teaching job was part-time, with various semester breaks allowing him to travel and explore the country. At the school, he noticed the lack of diversity: The student population was comprised of all males with similar interests. Another big difference O’Bannon noticed compared with U.S. high schools is that there were no non-academic courses such as sports, art, or music. The teachers there created a traditional, teacher-centered environment, so there was a not a lot of room for creativity in lesson planning. But O’Bannon settled in and was lucky to live rent-free at the school, and eat very cheaply at the cafeteria. This allowed him to stretch his part-time salary and pay for many short trips throughout northern France.
He took advantage of the many discounts for young people in France, including train tickets and musuem entrance fees, as well as the many youth hostels, which allow you to pay little for overnight accommodations while traveling. Visiting Mont St Michel off the coast of Normandy was a high point for him. Here he shared a particularly great evening with other travelers at the hostel. “They were just as excited as I was,” he recalls, “to meet someone of a different nationality that was friendly, open-minded, and eager to make a connection.”
O’Bannon noted that a foreigner must be outgoing and motivated to make friends in France. The French take longer to get to know, he says, and it took longer to be invited and included in groups. His advice for future TAPIF participants is to not have any set expectations about what the experience will be like. Remain flexible, and it is likely there will be many pleasant surprises.