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Department of World Languages, Literatures, and Cultures

Division of Humanities

Jacksonville University
2800 University Blvd N.
Jacksonville, Florida, 32211

Tel. 904-256-7102

Designed by prof. Jorge. M. 2011. Jacksonville University.

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My first experience abroad came in the form of a nine month long teaching internship. I first heard about this opportunity through my French professor at Georgia Southern University, and became interested in participating for several reasons. I had never been to France before (or left the U.S. for that matter), the duration of the program was longer than any study abroad I had researched, internships look stellar on job applications, and I wouldn’t be obligated to beg my friends and family for money, since it is more like a paying job than a study abroad. It would also be a fantastic chance to become more like a native French speaker, and really delve into the French culture and traditions. This internship was arranged by a former French professor at GSU. The host school, L’Institution Saint Louis, is in his home town of Saumur, France, and is a private Catholic school. The school chooses one undergrad student per year to serve as an English teaching assistant at the high school level. Knowing it was a long-shot because of my age and work experience, I jumped at the chance anyway. Unsurprisingly, I passed by for an older and more experienced candidate. I was surprised, however, when they called a week later, saying that for the first time, they were accepting two assistants instead of one. Elated, and completely terrified, I prepared to move to France.

I can honestly say that getting here was the hardest part, as the process of obtaining a work visa is quite lengthy and stressful. The French Consulate in Atlanta was unhelpful and slow to say the least, even faxing me the last pieces of necessary paperwork during my layover at the airport! I arrived a few days before the school year began, giving me time to get over the jetlag and the culture shock. My work schedule is quite light, around fourteen hours a week, with a two week long vacation every six weeks. This gives the assistants plenty of time to explore neighboring towns on weekends, and to make more substantial trips during the school holidays. So far I have visited the south of France, England, and Italy and am planning a trip to Germany as well. The language assistants assist the high school professors who teach their respective languages, which is what I was expecting to do as well. Imagine my shock when I was told I would be teaching elementary school children, and that I would not only be working here at the Institution Saint Louis, but in three other schools in the area as well! 

I like to think that my experience here is truly unique, as I am the first to work solely at the elementary school. The kids I teach range in age, anywhere from 5 to 13, but I spend most of my time with the older elementary kids here at my host school (between 8 and 11 years of age). The teachers I work with make me feel more like a colleague than an assistant. While they must approve my lesson plans and supervise my work in the classroom, most of the time it’s just me standing in front of 25 or so little wiggle worms, struggling to make learning English seem like a cool thing to do.  I also like to think that my job is more fun than the others, given the unpredictable and spirited nature of children. Really, nothing could have prepared me for this. They frustrate me, they make me laugh, test me in every possible way, and amaze me with their learning ability and their kindness.

Without a doubt, it’s these children who have taught me the most. They are so proud to introduce me as their English teacher, and love to ask me questions about all the English celebrities I’m supposed to have met. (It has taken me 7 months to teach them that I am American, and that England and the U.S. are two separate countries. Some of them still aren’t convinced.) They are also very enthusiastic about teaching me their traditions, and even let me have “la fève” when we ate “gallettes des rois” so that I could be the queen. The tradition goes that whoever gets “la fève” (originally a ceramic baby Jesus) hidden in their cake becomes the king or queen. They then must choose a significant other (mine was a lucky 11 year-old named Louis) to rule with them. They also have to buy the next cake.

I was also lucky enough to take a field trip with them to La Bourboule, a small town in Augergne. There we spent a week with them learning about the volcanoes in the area, taking hikes, and listening to the local bedtime stories. I still have about two months left of the internship to go, and while I have missed my home and family immensely, I have no regrets about taking this opportunity. It has been one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of my life. I have forged lasting friendships, and I learned so much, not only about the French language and culture, but about myself as well. These kids have touched me to the core and what I treasure most about this experience is my time with them.

Je voulais écrire un peu en français. Finalement, c’est pourquoi j’ai eu cette occasion d’apprendre. Je trouve qu’après 7 mois ici, ma vocabulaire et la facilite dont je parle a grandi énormément, grâce aux enfants. Normalement, j’explique les activités en français, donc il faut bien penser à ce que je veux dire pour que les enfants puissent comprendre. Aussi dans les activités d’anglais que je fais, j’ai du bien réviser tous les sujets dans les deux langues. Ils me font penser, c’est sûr, et j’espère qu’ils peuvent dire les mêmes choses de moi.

by Julie Whiddon

Julie Whiddon devant Notre-Dame, Paris.