The first step to landing an assistantship with the teaching assistant program in France, and the first look at French paperwork, comes from the application. But don’t worry, the photocopies only pile up from there.
Most of the application is fairly simple: passport photo, recommendations from teachers, transcripts, passport scans, and the like. But the big kahuna is the personal statement, 500 words in French.
Here’s how I got through it.
Learn from my embarrassing example
Looking back at my 500-word personal statement for my teaching assistant application, it’s pretty clear that the best decision I ever made for my French education was to be an assistant in France. Because that essay makes me cringe.
It’s been two years since I last lived in France, four years since I wrote the TAPIF application, and even though my French writing ability has faded some since I moved back to the United States, it is still a million, a billion, times better than this essay.
Keep in mind that I wrote this as I was reaching the end of my Bachelor’s in French and English. I had been studying French, hard, and doing well for more than six years. And yet still I want to crawl under a rock when I read it back now.
The thing is, it’s not so much that it’s rife with grammatical errors (although it certainly is) or that it’s so syrupy sweet and brown-nosey when it comes to my motivations for applying (but it does that too). It’s that my writing sounds like an English robot with a French dictionary put the words down.
I can tell, because living in France gave me a small, lesser version of native speaker intuition that I still carry with me, even now as I struggle to make sure I watch French TV, read a book, or listen to a podcast every day to keep my language ability fresh. If I were to rewrite that essay today, it would sound infinitely more natural, even if it still had mistakes galore.
I’m not going to do that, though. But here’s what I did to give even my weak essay a chance at gaining me placement as a teaching assistant. I’m not saying it will work for you—I’m sure a lot has changed since I was in TAPIF, and I know it gets more popular with higher competition every year. Full disclosure, this essay landed me on the waitlist for the 2014-2015 school year. I did eventually get accepted, but following everything I did might not get you into the program.
Picking the top three regions strategically
I knew going into the process that some regions were in much higher demand than others. Advice I’d gotten from professors (and other TAPIFers) was to not even dream of selecting Paris since it was in such high demand. I figured the same would be true for the South of France. I essentially guessed based on the departements I had heard of, and went for the ones I hadn’t.
That meant that if someone was assigned to the region and didn’t want it, I would be more likely to get in off the waitlist.
That’s how I came to list Brittany as my first choice. From there, I researched. Since I’d never heard much of the region, I got to work looking through tourism sites and blogs to get details. As someone who loves celtic history, it turned out this was the perfect fit for me, and the climate couldn’t have been any more similar to my home state of Washington.
Sugary sweet paragraphs about my chosen region
After my research, I set to work drafting my essay. This type of earnest, sincere writing was ill-suited to my personal writing style (and I hadn’t found la Connasse yet so I didn’t have the French vocabulary of sass), but it was what I was most easily able to write in French.
That might seem contrived, and in a way it was. But I wanted to go to France, and showing an avid interest and sincere enthusiasm was the best way I could come up with to do it.
But with a prompt like, “Write about why you want to be a Teaching Assistant in France (personal, academic, professional reasons). DO NOT have your French corrected by anyone with knowledge of the French language (professors, friends, family),” there’s a lot of room for interpretation. And rambling.
No one proofread my essay
This was advice I got all over the place—other TAPIF blogs, my teachers, and quite emphatically by the application documents themselves. I really don’t know how this affected anything, but it did get me onto the waitlist and ultimately into a French lycée.
If you’re applying for TAPIF this year, best of luck! And if you want to see more on everything to do with getting a job in France, you can click here.