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Teaching Traveling: Laura Willis has some advice based on her own experience working in France.
Laura, tell about your background.
Laura: My name is Laura, a 25-year-old teacher and student from Iowa. I moved to France in 2013 as part of the TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) program where I was placed in three elementary schools in Western France.
After one year of teaching, I wasn’t ready to leave. Everything about France and teaching excited me. Going to the post office or getting a haircut in a different language was challenging and felt like a major accomplishment.
I enrolled to do a Master’s program the following year, and moved to the French Alps. After three wonderful years teaching in France, I am now back in the United States, living in Boston and working at the French Consulate.
TT: Love it! Tell us more about your travels in France.
L: I never quite had the “finding yourself, backpack through Europe,” experience, but in three years, I have lived in several parts of France, taking teaching jobs here and there.
After teaching elementary school children, I worked in a private business English school. One day my boss asked if I could go out for a teaching assignment… to the local French army.
I was hesitant to teach the army because of my flaming liberal political views. I felt nervous arriving with tanks and armed guards. I told them I was the English teacher and a 6’5″ soldier smiled and offered me an espresso.
Teaching the military after a year of singing “I’m a Little Teapot” and the “ABCs” was quite comical. I had the opportunity to interact with people I thought I would never step into a room with.
Teaching English helped us to get to know one another in an atmosphere that was much more relaxed, helping to see that despite political angles that people are just people.
TT: Such a great scene. So, what advice do you have for people who want to teach in France?
L: For those who wish to teach in France, TAPIF is a great source. They do look for candidates who do have some grasp of the French language under their belt (as you must write a short essay in French).
Because I was placed in a small town where it was difficult to find English-speakers, I was fortunate in finding other teaching opportunities. To find out more about TAPIF, click here. For housing and teaching other jobs in France, click here.
TT: How did you find the money to fund this France travel?
L: Before leaving, I worked at an office and also worked as a freelance photographer. Saving is important before moving to France; the cost of living is much higher here than in other European countries.
I’m truly lucky to have a very supportive family who has helped me during rough times, despite their own economic struggles.
TT: Tell us one moment from your time working in France that was particularly powerful.
L: 2015 and 2016 have been historic years to live in France – for better and for worse. I was in France during some major moments in the country’s history. After the November attacks in Paris, I was an English-French interpreter for an international newspaper. I interviewed victims and saw the Bataclan and Stade de France a few days after the attacks happened.
Being in France at this time was an emotional experience, and one in which I still think about every day. It gave me this sense of French patriotism that I never felt I had, making me feel as if this country was home – a place that stays with you during your highest highs and lowest lows.
TT: How have your French travels and teaching in France impacted you in your current career?
L: During my first week of teaching in an elementary school, kids wanted to exchange Pokemon cards at recess.
They wanted me to translate Rhianna lyrics and asked if I was a part time princess or ninja.
They constantly made me laugh, mainly because I realized that half way around the world that kids are exactly the same.
Thanks to teaching abroad, I feel that I’m much more open minded. My students are constantly inspiring me – whether at 7, 19 or 75 years-old, I learn so much more from them.
Before teaching, I was quick to judge people. I thought a kid was just a kid. Someone in the army meant that I couldn’t openly discuss politics with them.
My perspective has changed in that I try to see individuals as a blank canvas.
TT: How have your travels in France impacted you as a person?
L: I have a new level of respect for kids – I truly admire their creativity and honesty. Kids want to be seen as adults. They are much more intelligent than adults give them credit for. I have limited the high pitch squeals and cheek pinching to babies and animals.
I wish to be more like my elementary school students – so free of judgement and the ability to dress or dance without fear of what those around them think.
TT: What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?
L: There are times where I wake up feeling far. I get frustrated with money issues or health problems or missing Thanksgiving and Christmas.
But even on their last breath, human beings can really do extraordinary things.
Traveling abroad is one thing, but living is another. Go in with an open mind, and know that people traveling aren’t always as happy as they seem on social media. The challenges are great, but the rewards even greater.