Now that I’ve been home awhile, I’ve had some time to reflect on my experience as an assistant in France. Since I’m considering returning to France for l’année prochaine, and I’ve talked to some of the nouveaux assistants, I’ve really started thinking about the expectations versus realities of being an assistant. Especially now that I’m back in Kentucky where everyone asks me what I did in France and talks about how ‘ideal’ it must be to live there for eight months.
I’ve used this photo before, but now it seems even more relevant as people try to tell me what I’ve probbbbably been doing abroad. And I think about what is was actually like.
Expectation: I’ll live in a teeny, tiny but super cute french appartement, with decent roomies. Hey, maybe they’ll be my age and we can struggle together and do stuff together and talk! Bonus: they’re french or trying to improve their french so we can practice together! How awesome! I’ll live in the city center and it’ll be easy to walk everywhere I need.
Reality: wtf, I live at a high school. But hey, it’s free and big and has all the fixings you’d want in an apartment (including 6 wine openers…score!) so I’m not complaining. No one is around on the weekends since my roommate moved out, ad its a tiny town. It only takes a few minutes to get to the grocery store wooooo! But carrying my groceries (and/or wet laundry) up the mountain to my school apartment is. the. worst. Too bad my roommate left her volunteer program to return to Germany bc now its hella boring.
Work experience & time management
Expectation: I work 12 hours a week, so I’ll spend a few more preparing lesson plans and creating activities. Maybe I can help out the teachers with other stuff. My students will think I’m the greatest teacher ever. When I’m not teaching I can explore my little town, visit friends in the city, prep for the GRE, etc.
Reality: Hmmmm…I’m done working for the week. What can I watch on Netflix next? Damn, why does Netflix in France suck? *goes to Strasbourg for the weekend* *gets bored in small town*
Expectation: ohhhh I’ll drink and sleep and party with le francais. I’ll go to dinner parties and have picnics. I’ll pick up my baguette, fresh, every day. I’ll look extra chic and walk around with the baguettes with all my friends.
Reality: Ope, it’s just me here in this town? okay cool. Sprinkle in a little travel, a little school, a little hanging out with my english teacher colleagues and call it a day. Maybe I can hang out with my students? Or head to Strasbourg? (Thx to my stras friends for always hosting me, you da best!)
Language learning & improvement
Expectation: By the time I leave France, my basic french knowledge will be so improved. I’ll return to the US totally fluent and super French. My new french friends will help me improve, and my english friends will practice their french with me too.
Reality: Wow, my french has definitely improved. I’m now fluent in a weird sort of Franglais. So not fluent, fluent, but definitely better.
Expectation: I’ll travel to allllll the countries in Europe because it’ll be really cheap and stuff. I’ll post all kinds of cute pictures on Instagram and Facebook and it will be really great. I’ll meet tons of new friends in my hostels and buy cheap plane tickets and be totally glamorous because that’s how europe works right?
Reality: Well, travel can be pretty cheap, but not always. And an assistant salary only stretches so far. But, there are many places to see and photograph and remember forever that you wish to see. There’s also overnight buses, power going out in Airbnbs, people stealing credit cards, accidentally leaving stuff behind in accommodations, driving on the wrong side of the road, delayed flights, forgetting to pack important items (i.e., a bathing suit for the baths in Budapest). There’s waking up early, getting lost on the metro, and passing out in your hostel bed late at night, and hostel roommates who stumble in drunk even later than you stumbled in drunk. The list of possible problems goes on. But you live and you learn and you right a blog about it hahahaha.
While my expectations varied from the reality of my time as a TAPIF assistant in France, my eight months in Gérardmer were great! The experience is different for everyone. And while I don’t want to live in a teeny town for another 8 months, I’m thankful for my colleagues and students who made my time there great!
For any other language assistants, ESL teachers, study abroad peeps, expats, and the like, what were your expectations and realities of living abroad?