So let me guess. You are a second semester junior and are coming back from study abroad. You most likely study Liberal Arts or a language and have spent the last four months in the blissful world of minimal schoolwork, country hopping on weekends, learning a new language, and falling in love with a city that you undoubtedly already call home.
You are now facing the dreaded “reverse culture shock.” I have to move back in with my parents?! Everyone speaks English?! What even is American coffee?! And you already preface 75% of your conversations with “Well, when I studied abroad…” Sound familiar? That is because you are not alone in your youthful wanderlust.
Around ten percent of American undergraduates choose to study abroad. While this number is relatively low compared to other countries, it continues to climb each year. Some undergraduate programs have begun to make study abroad a requirement for some majors and almost all encourage students to spend at least one semester inside another culture and outside their comfort zone. Colleges understand that international exchange provide experience and knowledge that a classroom cannot.
While study abroad is the extent of most students’ international experience, many end up feeling feel that one semester is simply not enough. Often by the time a student gets fully acclimated, it is time to leave. For those who share this sentiment, I strongly recommend teaching English abroad for a full academic year after graduation.
I am personally finishing up seven months as an English teaching assistant in Hyères, France, a cozy town on the French Riviera. I knew as soon as my study abroad in Aix-en-Provence ended that I wanted to return to France, further immerse myself in the language and culture, and of course see more of Europe. So that is exactly what I did.
I applied last Spring to an organization called TAPIF, or the Teaching Assistant Program in France. I was not only accepted, but received my first choice in region (Academy of Nice) and grade level (primary school, ages six through eleven). Once accepted, it took awhile for the reality of returning to France for seven months to sink in. But as soon as I arrived in the land of baguettes, cheese, and wine, I knew it was where I was supposed to be.
I should disclose that I am in no way, shape, or form qualified to be a teacher. The key word here is “assistant.” It was not allowed for a teacher to leave me alone with students. I did not have the responsibilities of a real teacher (grading, a full-time classroom, recess duty, etc.). And I certainly did not know what I was doing all the time.
The point of TAPIF and other teach abroad programs is not to make us into teachers, but to make the students into language learners. My main objective was to spark interest in English, get students used to having an native speaker in the classroom, and foster cross-cultural relationships.
The assistant also greatly benefits from this exchange. Because I taught children, I had no choice but to speak French with my classes as means of clarification. Doing this greatly improved my French competency and allowed me to better connect with my students (since my French language skill was basically comparable to a six year old’s). I also had the chance to work in a foreign professional setting and made friends with my French colleagues.
In my city and across France, there were language assistants from far and wide (Spain, Columbia, Italy, Mexico, Germany, England, the list goes on). While we came from different places, we shared being a foreigner in France. We became close friends, colleagues, and of course travel buddies.
Much like study abroad, teach abroad is not always easy. Homesickness, language barriers, and culture shock do come with the package. Without these things, however, there would be no opportunity to grow. Teach abroad both challenges and nurtures you in all the right ways. There is no doubt that you will emerge a more compassionate, cultured, and engaged global citizen.
If you’d like more information about Teach Abroad or are having difficulty finding a program that is right for you, I recommend looking into CIEE Teach Abroad. They are an acclaimed study and teach abroad provider based in the United States and have helped thousands of students achieve their dreams of cross cultural exchange.