When you study abroad you fall in love with a culture that you hope you will return to someday. For Tessa Mackenzie, returning to France after her study abroad in Lyon was something she knew she wanted to do within her first week of her five-week summer study session.
Tessa was open to any opportunity that would send her back to France which is when she discovered the TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) program. Through this program, you’re provided the opportunity to live and work in France for seven months teaching English to French students. After applying to the program, and being accepted, Tessa was placed in a French town where she is currently living and teaching.
As with anything in life, every experience is different, and Tessa’s TAPIF experience varies significantly from her study abroad experience. Below she shares her story about applying for TAPIF, returning to France, and how her future has changed because of study abroad.
When did you study abroad in Lyon?
I studied abroad the summer semester of 2016. I was there for five weeks and it was really a superb time to go to the south of France. It was warm, sunny and beautiful.
What was your major in college?
I had a major in international relations and a double minor in French and mass communications.
Why did you choose to study abroad in Lyon?
I had previously been to Paris and I was looking to branch out a bit. When I met with Megan Talpash, she showed me different options for studying abroad. USAC ended up being the most affordable for me and was a convenient time for me to go and study. They offer two locations, Pau and Lyon. I thrive in urban environments, so upon seeing that Lyon is the second largest city in France, I decided that would be the best for me. I didn’t know much about it otherwise, honestly.
What surprised you most about Lyon?
I was surprised by how much I loved it. It’s clean, it’s big, it’s accessible, there’s a plethora of green space. It was everything I wanted in a city in that there was a lot of museums, outdoor recreation, historical sites and it was large enough to explore something new every day but not so large and densely populated that you were terrified of being lost.
What was your favorite course from your time abroad and why?
I ended up in a theatre course and it was quite lovely. For one, it forces you to use the language in an environment that challenges you but is also a bit silly so the terror of messing up isn’t looming over you. You’re constantly talking and acting in these different scenarios so it was great for language practice. More than that, the environment fostered a sense of solidarity and I met some of my closest friends in that class.
When did you know you wanted to go back to Lyon?
I was there for a week and I knew I loved it. Unfortunately, TAPIF places you based on merit and where you are needed so I am currently in Compiegne, a city about a 45-minute train ride north of Paris. However, at the end of October, there’s a two-week vacation and I am very much itching to make a quick trip to visit friends and see Lyon.
Why did you decide to apply for the TAPIF program vs other opportunities to return abroad?
In all honesty, the application process was very straight-forward and simple and it was a way for me to immerse myself in the culture and get paid while being there long-term.
How is being back in France different than your time there when you studied abroad?
Let me count the ways. For starters, this program is infinitely more independent. You are expected to handle your paperwork, your housing, reaching out to your schools, opening a bank account, etc. largely on your own. Furthermore, I think studying abroad has a different feel to it; your time is typically more finite and there are more activities packed into the day. You’re going to class, studying and then going on these cultural excursions that are either provided in your tuition, or something that you just have the time do. For me, while studying abroad, every moment was about making sure that I got to do everything I wanted within and around the city. It was action-packed, full schedule almost every day. With TAPIF, it’s much more a sense of /living/ in France. If you’re lucky like I am, other assistants live near you and you have that camaraderie, but there are some people who live out in very small towns and rural areas and it is just them and you really don’t know where you’re going to be placed when you first start. So, for me, I don’t rush every day and try to hit two museums or to fill my day entirely with activities. It’s a bit slower; I have a lot of time to explore, to enjoy and to just live my life. Sometimes this includes day trips to Paris, and other times it means I sit and watch Netflix all day.
How has study abroad impacted your life since you’ve returned home?
It has shown me how real and economical traveling can be. It made traveling abroad a reality for me and really just gave me the confidence to go out and do it. After I studied abroad in Lyon, I took a two-week vacation back to France simply because I felt like it and I had learned how to. Furthermore, traveling abroad really opens your eyes and your heart to so many new opportunities and new people. Sharing cultural knowledge is a beautiful thing, and getting to experience it authentically is even better.
What are your plans after the TAPIF program is over?
“What you can plan is too small for you to live.” A friend of mine who, incidentally, is a travel bug much like myself shared that quote with me recently and it’s really resonated with me. I have no definitive plans, just some goals. Journalism is my passion, and with the recent move of Food and Wine Magazine to Birmingham, I’m really hoping to get an entry level position there. But who knows, really? I’m almost two weeks into a life-changing move of seven months, my hopes and dreams are bound to evolve and change in the process.
Do you have any tips/advice for students who are looking to return to their study abroad location after college?
Don’t sign up for a program that doesn’t guarantee a location. I’m mostly kidding, but that is a reality that needs to be recognized with TAPIF. You are not guaranteed a location, but that is really the beauty of it. It may seem like a bit of a bummer at first but, in reality, it’s just a forced invitation for you to explore somewhere else. Furthermore, with France, your location is just a short train ride away.
Depending on what you want to do, look up the logistics of moving abroad for a period of time. Can you study again? Could you be an au pair? Is there an internship available? It’s not just going to magically happen if you want to do it in the long-term. You have to put in the effort to see what is available and what is feasible.