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Rewards & Challenges of Teaching English in France: Q&A with Kiara Wessling

Kiara Wessling of Ohio taught high school English at Lycée Pierre Bourdan in Guéret, France for a school year. Here’s her story:

(Note- Guéret is in the Limoges académie)

Q: What made you want to become TESOL certified?

A: There were many reasons I wanted to become an English teacher in France. I wanted to spend some time in France immersing myself in the language and culture beyond the experience of being in Paris for a 5-week summer study abroad opportunity. I wanted to teach at a French lycée (high school), because I wanted to pursue my MA at the University of Kentucky in French. I knew there would be a French language-teaching component and I wanted to have both experiences with French and English of teaching the target language in a non-native speaking country.

Q: How did you select the location in which you would be?

A: My background is in French which drew me to France. The Teaching Assistantship Program in France (TAPIF) places teachers in high schools all over France every academic year. I chose three regions of France that interested me for different reasons. Limoges was one of them, because of its centrality and the ease of travel from this region.

Q: What was your biggest classroom challenge?

A: Every teacher had a different expectation as to my role in the classroom. Some teachers were not very clear on what they actually wanted me to do or teach in the classroom, which created some anxiety. As the only native English speaker in the city, I rotated from class to class depending on the day and the week.

Q: What was your biggest personal challenge during your time in France?

A: For me, this changed throughout my time spent in France. During the first two months, I had a lot of difficulty coming to terms with the city and the amount of time on my hands. I went from being a double major living the life of a crazy busy college student to living in a town of 14,000 people and working 12-15 hours a week. There was not much to do in my town, and there weren’t many people my age. It was an adjustment, to say the least. During the latter part of my time in France, my biggest personal challenge was trying to figure out what I would do beyond this experience and what I wanted out of MA program.

Q: What was the best part of your experience teaching English abroad?

A: Honestly, I think the best part of my experience was listening and watching the students grow and play with the language. (This is pretty much the same part I love about teaching French.) As the academic year wore on and the students became more comfortable with the language and with me, our conversations would become longer and more intense. The students were more willing to talk about their opinions and feelings than when we first started. From one boy telling me his favorite movie was Top Gun to students telling me their hopes and dreams – I loved all of those moments. For me, all of those little, sometimes seemingly insignificant moments made the entire time completely worthwhile.

Q: Do you feel like you had an impact on education while in France?

A: I believe I made an impact on the education of those students of Lycée Pierre Bourdan while I was in France. I was able to bring to the table a native English speaker’s vernacular and dialect, as well as American culture and my experiences.

Q: If you could do it over, would you? Why or why not?

A: In a heartbeat. My TAPIF experience between my BA and my MA was exactly what I needed at that point in my life. Teaching in France taught me a great deal. This sounds very cliché, but I would not be the person I am today without the year I spent in France. I learned about myself, what I wanted, what was important to me, the value of experiences and of trying new things. I have never done something so difficult and so rewarding in my life.

Q: Would you recommend TESOL/ESL teaching opportunities for others?

A: Of course. In fact, recently while I was substitute teaching in a high school I was telling a student about teaching English in France and the great experience it was. He left our conversation excited about the possibilities the future holds, which excites me. I personally love it every time I get the opportunity to share my experiences, the good ones and the bad.

Q: What advice would you share with other individuals preparing to embark on life as a TESOL certified ESL educator?

A: Every experience is a bit different. However, I think with all TESOL/TEFL experiences you have to be willing to go out on a limb, both with your experiences and the experiences of the students. Sometimes I wish I would have done more interactive lessons with my students whether that be making something, scavenger hunting or debating important issues. My style of teaching has definitely changed since my time in France. In hindsight, I wish I had played a little bit with the language alongside of my students by looking at our culture and slang. Living in the host country will be an experience unlike any other. Truly living and working in an area is the best way to understand and love a culture. I still remember my path every day to work, the patisserie I would stop at, and the crêperie my friends and I would eat dinner at.

To sum it up, my advice is this: Embrace the normalcy in your new life. Let yourself love your new home, even while missing your old one.

Q: What do you miss or not miss most about France?

A: This might be the hardest question of all. The list goes on and on. There are many things I miss about France. Some seem trivial and some seem quite legitimate. Let’s start with what I don’t miss about France. I don’t miss my tiny apartment with my two burners, mini-fridge, super uncomfortable bed, and shower that I had to press a button every 30 seconds to get a constant stream of water. I don’t miss not having people my age to go out with or having a six hour time difference between France and the U.S. There are more, but the funny thing is the further away you are from the experience, the more you miss. Even that little apartment I somehow miss, because it was mine. It was my apartment in France. I got mail there and knew people there. It was home. I miss having a home in France and the feeling I had when my train would arrive at the Guéret train station. I miss my daily stops at Leader Price, the small grocery store in town, and the weekly stops at Le Clerc, the bigger grocery store a half an hour walk away, with my new friends. (I don’t miss hauling all those groceries back home, however!) I miss the people, among them the woman at the patisserie that I loved, and the couple who worked at the crêperie that my friends and I loved. I miss being able to travel and the train rides. I miss the walk to school every day, the bisoux with teachers every morning, our coffee machine, our bright green walls in the teachers lounge and the spiral staircase to get to the computers. I miss working in a school that was built under Napoleon and still looks the same. I miss talking to students about life and language. I miss the independence that I had and being the young woman completely on her own in France. All in all, I miss ma vie française and all that it encompasses.

Ultimately, it was a wonderful experience that I will cherish forever.

Stay tuned for more stories just like Kiara Wessling’s that may help you on your journey to teach abroad.

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