Many things in these first few months have made me think about this question:
What’s the difference between studying abroad and doing TAPIF?
I think this question is relevant to a lot of people, so I’ll use my experience to answer it for myself, and maybe it will resonate with someone!
First, some important background:
Then: Paris, lived in a homestay, went through a program organized by an American university with 45 other students, stayed for one semester. Studied (12 hours of class + homework). First time abroad.
Now: Valenciennes, live in a tiny room-apartment, went through the TAPIF program (organized by the French Ministry of Education), staying for almost a whole academic year (7 months). Working 12 hours/week.
I’ll make this comparison in list format, because it’s an internet trend but also because it’s organized and pretty
- The application process: This part is actually fairly similar. Both study abroad and TAPIF require everyone to fill out an application with some of the same material listed. One of the major differences is that the TAPIF application requires you to essentially translate your CV into French, by listing all your activities and extracurriculars in French instead of English. TAPIF is also much more competitive these days.
- The visa process: This is EASIER for TAPIF than it is for study abroad. They didn’t require nearly as much paperwork, and the French government paid for the visa fee. Unfortunately the trip to San Francisco is still required for people from my neck of the woods.
- The packing/panicking process: There’s no “things to bring” lists or advice or people to talk to if you’re in a panic when you do TAPIF. There’s Carolyn Collins, who sends out some e-mails throughout the summer, and the Guide de l’Assistant de Langue en France. I read all the things, and none of them particularly prepared me or helped in moments of panic. In my study abroad program there were lots of helping hands in case we got stuck or panicky, between the study abroad liaison at Whitman and the directors of the Paris program.
- Leaping into the unknown: Nobody knows where they’re going or what it will be like before they leave. This was a HUGE difference, because with study abroad programs there are usually past participant testimonies, a general structure to the program that we know ahead of time, and we plan out things to do and everything before arrival. Including housing.
- Speaking French: In my study abroad program, we were required to speak French on school grounds, and also generally had to use French to talk to our host families and the professors and administration at our French schools. All of that goes away with TAPIF, depending on your situation. In my case, I live alone, hang out with English speakers, and most of the people I know at my high school are English teachers, so it takes a lot more effort to speak French. Sometimes it’s possible to find a host family, so if that’s a concern for you, explore your options.
- Helping Hands: With TAPIF, you are at the mercy of kind souls in your school who may or may not want to help you get set up, find a bank, find a house, get a phone, etc. There isn’t a conveniently located center for the program with advice and deals and all the answers. If there are no kind souls, you do it yourself! I was fortunate and my teacher contact helped me out a lot with the bank, but for most things I was on my own.
- Work vs. School: You are no longer a student when doing TAPIF. You have a job, and having a job means being professional, interacting with colleagues, and setting a good example for the students you teach. Living a student life in Paris, nobody was expecting me to be anywhere or do anything or interact with them professionally in a work capacity. Here, I definitely feel watched at school, and there are many expectations. On the flip side, I’m not actually in school very much, and I live in a different town so I don’t worry about running into students outside of class. And I like having a work life and a home life!
- Location: In study abroad, I was in Paris! And now I’m in Val. It’s like going from magical fairy wonderland to the woods. Magical fairy wonderland was a new adventure full of shiny things to see and learn every single day, and the woods are basically the same all the time. But the woods are more natural and teach me survival skills, so I’m happy with it. But: don’t expect the woods to be magical fairy wonderland! Appreciate them for what they are.
- The ex-pat community: There is a different community of people awaiting with TAPIF. In my case, my friends are not all American study abroad students…they are European, American, South American, Canadian lecteurs (English teachers at university level), assistants, and students. And even some French students, teachers, and families. It’s great for French sometimes, not so great other times…but in my case, I feel like I’ve found some people that share my passion for cultural exchange, just as I did during study abroad!
- Living conditions: In Paris, my friends and I were generally housed in home stays or student foyers. Now, it’s everyone for themselves, and the conditions range from single-room shared-facilities to 3-story house.
- Making a salary (!?): Now, I make money! In Paris, I didn’t. That being said, the salary is barely enough to live on, even in a less expensive area!
The most important difference to me personally is that before, I was going back somewhere — Whitman, my home away from home — to do something determined. So, the whole semester had a magical feel to it, my first experiences not at home and in a country that I’d dreamed of visiting for so long. I left feeling like I had unfinished business.
Now, I am officially launched into the world, so this is like my debutante ball. I am living MY life! And I’m trying to decide where it’s going next. Who knows where my business will be finished?