Things you should know before doing an Assistantship
Grace Marsh studies French and Linguistics at the University of York. She is currently on her year abroad working as an English Language Assistant in The Ardennes in North East France, and blogging about her experiences. Here she shares some funny anecdotes of her experience so far which she hopes future Language Assistants will find useful.
With only two months of my British Council Teaching Assistantship left I’m starting to reflect on my time in France and what has made it so memorable. While planning my year abroad, I remember hearing so much practical information and advice, and you will too! To shake things up a bit, here is a little list post that may be useful to future assistants and might, (I say might), be marginally entertaining.
1. Expect the unexpected, always.
Having to make up lessons on the spot, acting serious when a student makes a funny mistake in English, learning how to act when your 15-year-old students declare their love for you. You can’t learn these things in books and even if I come back unsatisfied with how much my French has improved, the life experience I have gained is invaluable.
2. You will feel like a celebrity for the first and last time in your life while at school.
I walk down the corridors and people whisper to each other “ohh c’est l’assistante.” Once I was out running in the dark and I heard those very words. Another time I tied my hair up for the first time and someone in the corridor said “elle a changé le style”… Small town life doesn’t move that quickly.
3. My golden rule of my year abroad holds true: accept every opportunity to speak the language.
Whether it’s dinner with a prof or talking to the supermarket owner about the problems in your town. Yes, you may feel out of your comfort zone but that’s a good thing. I’ve learnt so much French from situations like these and even made some friends (yay).
4. Life as an English Language Assistant isn’t as glamorous as you may think…
I didn’t envisage running to the school office twice this week to inform them that our singular shared toilet didn’t work. Trying to magic up toilet-related vocabulary was great fun.
5. It’s awkward when your students add you on Facebook and you just kinda leave their request hanging.
Let’s be honest, it’s not appropriate to have your 15-year-old pupils on Facebook no matter how nice they are. I always feel guilty when I teach students who have done this to me but I never want to bring it up. Hopefully they’ll get the message. Conversely, I am friends with the students who are almost my age and who I’m not allowed to teach. That’s different.
6. The year abroad truly is what you want it to be.
It’s up to you what you make of it. I almost cried when I googled the town where I have been placed. It certainly wasn’t the beautiful French town I had been dreaming of when I applied but I couldn’t be happier here. I speak more French than my friends in bigger towns and have a lot of French student friends. I’m learning lots of French slang ready to present to my professors in my French oral exam when I get back to York. I’m sure they’re going to love that.
7. Try really hard not to laugh when you walk into one of your classes, which smells of weed, and you have to watch the teacher give one of your best pupils a talking to.
Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone but I had to mention it because it was such a funny and awkward experience.
8. In our beloved country we take a lot of things for granted that just do not exist in others.
There is nowhere to get a coffee on a Sunday in my little French town. Nowhere. What’s worse? Coffee is codeword for espresso, and if you ordered a latte where I live I honestly don’t think they’d have a clue what you were talking about. The same applies for supermarkets. Never have I yearned more for a Sainsbury's local or Tesco express when I need cake and biscuits in my life. At least cheese is in abundance everywhere you go.
9. It takes a while to grasp telephone etiquette and I’m still not there.
You don’t learn this stuff at school. Trying to act like a native French speaker is challenging when someone’s speaking fast down the phone and you’re discussing your health insurance or something equally as boring and important. Closing the conversation, however, results in me being like “uhh d’accord, ok, umm bonne journée.” Perhaps that needs a bit more work.
10. Travel, travel, travel.
Never in your life (well in mine anyway) are you going to have such nice amount of money and time to go wherever you please. I’ll be reminiscing about all this when I’m sat in the library with endless red bulls and coffees crying about fourth year.