Interview with French Major Courtney Brown

Courtney Anderson Brown TAPIF NMU

NMU student Courtney Anderson Brown is certainly not studying abroad in the traditional sense. Instead of taking classes, she is teaching them. Accepted into the French government-sponsored Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF), Courtney has spent the last year teaching and assisting in high school classrooms in Givors, France. Although TAPIF is not actually a study abroad program, Courtney has been able to take online courses through NMU and is still on schedule to graduate in May 2014 with a triple major in French, Education, and Theater. Below, Courtney offers more detail about her TAPIF assignment and offers advice for those interested in pursuing a similar experience.

1. What is TAPIF?

TAPIF is an acronym for a program sponsored by the French government (Teaching Assistant Program in France). TAPIF is designed to put native speakers (mostly English, but also German, Spanish, Chinese, etc.) in schools across France to help students of all ages acquire other language skills. I am paid a living salary monthly to be an assistant.

2. What are the various components of your TAPIF assignment?

I teach high school level students in Givors, a small town just outside Lyon, France. I work about 12 hours a week, teaching small classes and groups, and assisting teachers in their classrooms. On top of that, I create lesson plans and assist with exam preparation outside of the classroom. However, I have more than enough time for exploring, meeting up with friends, and enjoying my time in France.

3. What are some of the challenges you have experienced as part of the TAPIF program?

Courtney Anderson Brown TAPIF NMUOne of the first challenges with being part of TAPIF is finding a place to live for the year when you arrive. I stayed in a hotel during my first week in Lyon, but through the help of housing websites and word-of-mouth, I found a place to stay after the first week. I live right next to the Saône River in the northern part of Lyon in a house with all French people. I have my own bedroom, but share a kitchen and living spaces with other people living in the house. I purposely looked for a place that had plenty of native French speakers so that I could work on my French speaking as much as possible. So far, they have all been very patient with me, and I am more than happy where I live!

Another challenge concerns classroom training. I can not stress this enough: if you are not an education major, look for opportunities to take a course in pedagogy, or ways to work with the age group that you think that you would like to teach. While TAPIF is a program that I would recommend to anyone because it is an excellent opportunity, they do not train the assistants in teaching methods or classroom management. This is the biggest complaint that I hear from other assistants who come from diverse backgrounds, but most of who have never put together a lesson plan or taught before. Personally, this was not a concern for me because I am an education major, but I know that some assistants have even quit the program because they either did not like teaching or were unprepared for the classroom. Come into teaching as prepared as possible!

4. What advice would you share with students who want to pursue teaching opportunities in France?

In addition to the considerations outlined in the previous question, I would suggest to bring materials with you. When packing for teaching abroad, I would recommend bringing little "prizes" or cool US things to use in the classroom. I brought a roll of 50 pennies and about 40 NMU pencils, and have given them out as prizes or just as little gifts to students and teachers. I also made a photo book of my life in the US so that the students could look through it and ask questions.

Depending on where you are placed in the TAPIF program, I would also suggest bringing a personal laptop. The school that I work at has many technology issues and no wifi, so I usually need to download video clips and information from my house to have it available in the classroom. I only brought a tablet, which works great and is portable, but is unable to connect to a projector in the classroom. Plan your technology accordingly!

5. How did your French studies at NMU prepare you for the experience of living abroad in France?

It's a funny story for me - I decided to take French courses my first year at NMU on a whim. I had never studied a foreign language before, but I wanted to learn! Throughout my four years on campus, the French program not only taught me excellent French reading and writing skills, but also emphasized learning French culture. This was really a good thing because I did experience some culture shock when I arrived in France, even though I had learned most of the differences in class. For example, I took a course solely on love and seduction in France while at NMU, but it still took some adjustment time for me with how the men would catcall and approach women on the streets! At this point, after being here for six months, I have learned to just ignore them.

Besides my French courses, I also participated in the French club for four years and went to the extra activities that the French program coordinated, such as the French film screenings and guest speakers. Most importantly, I spent a good amount of time utilizing the Language Lab and scouring French magazines and books at the NMU library. The tutors at the Language Lab helped me every semester with papers, oral exam preparations, and general conversation. I still had a lot to learn when I arrived in France, but all of these resources have prepared me in an excellent way for my year abroad.

6. What advice would you share with students currently learning French and who want to go abroad? Is there anything they can do in the U.S. or Marquette to prepare Anderson Brown NMU TAPIFthemselves better?

I would suggest taking every opportunity to learn as much about France and the French language as possible before going abroad. Between the courses, Language Lab, and outside activities such as French table and French film festivals, there are ample opportunities to learn about the different places in France. Also, I would say that having a clear plan of where you want to study in France would be helpful. For example, I knew that I did not want to live in Paris because it is very expensive and extremely crowded. So, I researched other cities, and chose to apply to the Lyon program because the size, location, and overall feel of the city was comfortable for me. Also, do not forget about the other countries that speak French such as Senegal, Morocco, or Switzerland! Having a clear and researched idea about the culture and geography of your location is probably the best advice I can give, especially if you need to carefully budget.

7. How has your experience in France influenced your plans for the future?

For me, this experience has not just strengthened my French speaking skills and cultural understanding, but has also inspired my plans to be a teacher in the future. Really, this year has served as my first year of teaching! Of course, I was not a full-fledged teacher, but I had a couple of my own classes, attended some planning meetings, and even graded some papers. I feel more than ready to student teach in the subject of English and French in the U.S next year. I was also very lucky – the teachers that I worked with at the school in Givors were so kind and helpful and fueled a lot of my enthusiasm for teaching.

Find out more about the TAPIF program here


April 7, 2014