Besides the fact that an experience abroad will allow you to: discover a new way of living, expand your global perspective, or perhaps altogether destroy your comfort zone. You need to go abroad to discover a strength.
I was recently completing an interview and one of the questions included, "What has been your most impactful travel experience?" I didn't hesitate in saying that it has been my year in France.
Anyone who I've shared with, knows just how much of a roller coaster this year has been. When I made the decision to come to France, it was the riskiest thing I had ever decided to do. I was making a decision that would be taking me away from my family, my friends, and my way of life. It seemed like I was turning my life upside down and the scariest thing was that I didn't know if it would be worth it.
I had a good setup in Chicago but I wasn't happy. What I had before France wasn't fulfilling, otherwise I wouldn't have even filled out the application.
Compared to my previous travels, my journey to France was a solo one. I came to a country without a support system and without a set of guidelines as to what awaited me. However, I can't say that I didn't know to some extent what I was getting myself into, because not knowing what the year would bring was one of the attractions. I liked the idea of unpredictability.
And it has very much been an unpredictable year.
I would have never pegged myself as someone who got homesick, but this year has changed that. I've missed my family and friends more than I could ever express in words. I was also never a person who drew into herself, but on more than one occasion that was the case. I have been pushed beyond what I could handle, I have further understood the meaning of humility, and I've experienced isolation.
To be honest, there are many things that this year brought me face to face with that I would have never willingly put myself through. But, I also know that I have never felt stronger. This year has given me a self-assuredness that I have never possessed and I will not take that for granted.
TAPIF brought me a renewed perspective and a firm belief that I can handle anything brought before me. This program is good for anyone willing to take a solo challenge. Though you have "some" initial advising from program administration, you must be prepared to handle the unexpected on your own. TAPIF will bring you to meet people from all parts of the world who are also assistants and they will become your friends and support system. I am still in contact with the few that became my guidance for that year of surprises we endured. If you're interested in pursuing a career in education at any level, learning about a different educational system on an international level from the point of view of teachers and students is refreshing and humbling. You get to collaborate with dedicated educators who really want the best for their students and while improving your language skills.
To go abroad is to take a leap of faith. Yes, it can seem risky but the risk has the potential to yield something amazing. You're taking on a challenge that many wouldn't consider and it can allow you to become the best version of yourself.
It is going to come with unexpected struggles and some days will make you question your sanity for going in the first place. But, without a doubt it was one of the best things I could have done for myself.
Take the leap.
What would you improve about this program?
I think TAPIF has a desire to become one of France's leading cultural exchange programs, but it lacks organization. Each year the program receives about 1200 assistants from many parts of the world but they are not equipped to work with that number. In the time I have been here, there have been assistants who went home due to poor or complete lack of school support. I know the experience will not be suited for everyone, but the conversations I have that focus around this issue are more than I expected.
One of the issues is the missing aspect of cultural education the expecting host schools and teachers receive about their assistants. I do think this is an important aspect because I strongly believe if a program wants to be a cultural exchange initiative then the exchange must occur on both sides.
Some of the other challenges include: supervision of application materials, no city orientation, being paid late, unclear/mixed messages about administrative tasks (e.g. pay, social security, transportation, visa info).
The expectations of our host schools versus our said responsibilities under the program administration are not always on the same page. There's constantly two messages being given on any given matter and they are at conflict with each other. It's simply unsettling.
From my perspective, I would have a hard time speaking about the program management in the best light. I have to be very frank and I think that is only fair, especially for future assistants who may find themselves in a similar situation.