Thursday, June 20, 2013

And So It Begins!

Back in December 2011, while morosely watching the French mainland disappear far below me on a flight headed back to the US, never did I think I'd be fortunate enough to get to call France my home yet again.

Thankfully, I was dead wrong.

After all, when I was saying my teary-eyed farewells to my host parents Béatrix and Quentin, Béatrix told me it wasn't au revoir (good-bye), but more of an à bientôt (see you soon)...

From left to right: Oscar (host parents' grandson), Lydie (his mom), Béatrix (host mom), Mathieu (host brother/Lydie's partner), Quentin (host dad)

After graduating from Providence College in May 2012, I honestly had no idea in which direction I wanted to steer my life. Did I want to stay in Rhode Island? Move back home to be with my family? Look for a job far away? And what kind of job was I really thinking about getting anyways?! I decided to head home at least for the summer, spend it working my 2 part-time jobs, and hopefully save up some money before the dreaded school loan payments started coming due. While it was nice to be hauling in some easy money every week, I clearly knew that my fate did not include being condemned to work in customer service every morning and waiting tables in the evenings.

Itching to get a "real" job which was somehow linked to the French language, I started optimistically sending out my résumé to multiple companies looking for bilingual French/English speakers. From corporate customer service positions answering emails about Legos to manning phones all night long in case some French person calls in with a question about radios or vacuums, to translating foreign Ebay postings, to working as a translator at a big firm, I naively thought that I could get hired to do anything. Barely anyone speaks French out in my neck of the woods, and I got top marks doing French things in college, so I'd be in high demand, right? NOT.

Wake-up call: getting a job right out of college in this economy is a lot harder than it sounds. Especially when you major in something as relatively obscure as French. But I knew that since I was passionate about the French language and not the least bit willing to just settle for any old job, I would keep on trucking and find my niche somewhere, somehow...

And that's when I learned about the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF).

Every school year, the French Ministry of Education, in partnership with the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., hires over 1,100 Americans between the ages of 20 and 30 to help teach English in public schools throughout mainland France and its overseas territories. Since I couldn't get hired by domestic companies in my own back yard due to my "lack of experience in the field", why not shoot for the stars and apply to work for a foreign government? Move back to France for 7 months, get a job related to what I went to school for, and most importantly get that year of experience my résumé had been lacking...sounds like a no-brainer!

So, I applied to TAPIF and then found out I had to wait 4 excruciating months until they decided which candidates they wanted to hire. 

I hadn't been using my French since graduation, really, besides listening to French radio on my computer, reading the occasional French novel and sending monthly emails to my host parents back in Paris. I happened to learn that my brother's school, Springfield Technical Community College, offered a certificate program in Medical Interpreting open to people of all languages. While I couldn't really envision myself in the medical field, I did have an interest in translating and interpreting, so I decided to enroll, figuring that at least I'd keep myself occupied until I heard back from TAPIF.

Not surprisingly, I was the only French-speaker in the class of 18 - everyone else spoke either Spanish or Vietnamese. We focused more on the guidelines of interpreting, ethical dilemmas, legalities, etc. but had some homework and role-plays during class in our respective target languages. I felt a little disadvantaged during the class as everyone else had a fellow student to bounce vocabulary questions off of, while I resorted to becoming extra friendly with my French dictionary. In the end, I feel that the class was beneficial as I got to use French again, gained some new skills as well as another line item for my résumé, and an honorific title - you can now call me Rachael White, TMI (Trained Medical Interpreter)!

A week before the class ended, I got a much-anticipated email from TAPIF saying that I had been chosen as a participant - finally! I was assigned a position for secondary ed (kids 11-18) in the Académie de Nancy-Metz, which is basically a broad area like a county in which my school would be located. This was my first-choice age group and region - I wanted to be able to have intelligent conversations with the kids I was teaching, not labor away on basic things like how to pronounce letters and numbers in English, and I wanted to be in a different region of the country than those I had previously visited or lived in.

The Académie de Nancy-Metz is located about 90 minutes by train to the East of Paris, near the upper right-hand side of the hexagone, as France is called due to its 6-sided shape.

Due to my love of travel, I ideally wanted to be located near the Eastern boundaries of France, as the country borders Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy to the East (as well as Monaco, Andorra and Spain in the South/Southwest), figuring that the closer I was to these nations, the easier/cheaper it'd be to explore them.

After being strung along another month and a half, I received a letter early this week with more precise information as to where I had been placed. I will be splitting my time teaching between two schools which are located in the same building, 4 hours a week at the collège (middle school) Jean Moulin and 8 hours a week at the lycée (high school) Jean Moulin in the city of Forbach. 

Click here to see where Forbach is on the map. When I said I wanted to be close to neighboring countries, I guess I got my wish, because if you zoom in on the town itself (like this), I can literally stroll across the border into Germany from the town's northernmost edge! I have a feeling that I'll expand my German language vocabulary by living there - as right now telling someone my name (Ich heiße Rachael), stating that it's windy outside (es ist windig), and saying cheers (prost!) probably won't get me too far!

Forbach is a city of 23,000 people located in the Lorraine region of France, in the Moselle département (known for its Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines, among others!), an area of the country long fought over by France and Germany, and thus very rich in history. When I Googled Forbach, these were some of the pictures I found:

Needless to say, the history buff in me will be very interested to explore the region and visit historic landmarks of the many wars fought in this area. The city also has more uplifting things there like old castles and churches, an annual Christmas market, and there are many museums and cultural attractions in the surrounding towns. 

Thankfully, and maybe most importantly, Forbach is located along the high-speed TGV train route between Paris (1:40 minutes away) and Frankfurt (2:10 minutes away), and it has a bus and tram line in town as well - I was nervous that I'd be stuck out in the boonies in the middle of nowhere with no way to travel anywhere! With friends who will be doing TAPIF in Paris and Nîmes, as well as my host family in Paris and a good friend who lives just over the border in Western Germany, I am planning on doing lots of travelling and can now breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I'm in a position to do so!

So that's my story...for now! Next up: working all summer, getting my French Visa, and booking my flight.

And in case you were wondering, the title of my blog (which I re-used after my Paris blog,, "La Vie Est Ailleurs," means "Life is Elsewhere" and comes from a contemporary French song I love by a French-Canadian artist who goes by Cœur de Pirate (Heart of a Pirate). Check it out here!

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1 comment:

  1. It's gonna be another great adventure Rach! Go out there and make Dad and I proud. I love you a ton and will miss you like crazy :)