French at Aquinas College

Alumni Profiles

Miranda Burel '17

September 17, 2018

A year ago, I was a bundle of nerves.

Before last fall, I hadn’t spent more than five days in France in my whole life, despite having a French minor. Yet there I was, preparing to live in a country where I had a small understanding of the language and knew exactly one person. I was terrified.

I applied for the program on a whim. Monsieur Bédère had insisted for years that I study abroad in France (I went to Ireland), and in the penultimate semester of my fifth year, he pulled me aside and told me I should apply for TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France).

I laughed him off, claiming that I wasn’t qualified to do that, even though you only need a Bachelor’s degree, English fluency, and moderate French. And even if I was qualified, I told him I wouldn’t make the deadline, even though I had nearly two months. But after some minor self-reflection, and reminders that not getting accepted is the worst case scenario, I frantically emailed M. Bédère and M. Pichot over Christmas break and submitted the application in AB on my third day back to school.

Then, I had to wait. And I waited for a long time. In May, I graduated, not really knowing what my plans were, holding out hope that I would eventually move to France. It wasn’t until June that I was accepted, and not until the end of July that I found out my school placement: I would be teaching 9 hours a week at a lycée (high school) in Boulogne sur Mer and 3 hours a week at a collège (middle school) in Wimille. In August, I traveled to Chicago, twice, to get my visa, and in September, I blindly rented an apartment, packed up my suitcase, and left. In October, I began.

My first week was overwhelming. I had dinner my first night with my prof référent, Mélanie, and her family, and the next day I was introduced to all the other English teachers, my new colleagues. I explored town and walked around the ramparts of the ville fortifiée where my flat was. I went to the sea. I went to training in Lille with about 200 teaching assistants from other languages including Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, and German. I took videos of my flat and the garden and bought cheese and wine and consumed them while dancing alone in my apartment. It was euphoric. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

And I was.

Meeting my students was frightening and thrilling. I taught 12 hours a week, and my classes were split in half, so I would get 30 minutes with each group. For weeks we spoke in broken Franglish, using translators and hand gestures and photographs to try and get our point across. I told them about Grand Rapids and how Aquinas had as many students as their entire school. I disappointed them when I told them I’d never been to New York or Hollywood, and I didn’t know who Johnny Hallyday was (RIP). We played games and talked about Harry Potter and danced to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” because that was the only Christmas song they knew.

While there, I developed a deep appreciation for the French school system. That’s not to say I don’t have issues with it, but as a teacher’s assistant doing her gap year in Europe, it was kind of a dream. They’re in session for six weeks, then they break for two, and the system repeats.

Within my first month of living in France, I traveled to Paris, Budapest, and Vienna. For Christmas I went to Oslo, then Dublin, and back to dear old Tullycross. I went to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Gothenburg, London, and Bath for spring break. I finished my time in France by traveling back to Budapest, Vienna, and swinging by Prague. I even traveled to Oxford and Stratford upon Avon with my students on a field trip to England. Beyond the breaks, it was remarkably easy to travel on weekends, too. I frequently went to Lille and Brussels and could have gone further if I didn’t love my new little home so much.

I am unbelievably lucky that I got to travel as much as I did. But I’m even luckier that, near the end of every great trip, I got so excited to go back and see my students. I almost always had fun with them. I’ll admit there were a lot of days where I didn’t want to go teach, and I would complain about it even though it was an incredibly easy and fun job. But every class that I left, I felt fulfilled. Countless classes were filled with laughter, and by Friday, I would walk home feeling lighter and happier than I had all week.

More than that, I was surrounded by so many good and helpful people. Everyone I worked with was kind and welcoming, and a few of them became very close friends. I found it easy to get along with other assistants, had Sunday roast and game nights with my professors and their families, I went to the sea year round, took time for myself, and enjoyed what I had even though I knew my time was limited.

I know that not everyone’s experience as a teacher’s assistant is a good one, and there were times mine wasn’t either. But in hindsight, it was an opportunity I’m so glad I took. I got to travel through Europe and meet people I never would have met. I become stronger in a language I loved and took time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do next. It was seven months filled with growth and change and self discovery, and I am extraordinarily thankful I ended up taking that step. I wouldn’t change trade for the world.

Elizabeth Lang '13

alumna headshotWhile attending Aquinas College I pursued a major in French. My studies included courses in French translation and composition, and participating in AQ’s study abroad program. I spent a semester in Angers, France attending a local university and living with a host family. Studying abroad presented an opportunity to immerse myself in the French language and culture. I greatly improved my language skills and expanded my familiarity with the French culture by taking courses in French focused on oral comprehension and expression, French business, and art history. I established a positive relationship with my host family that enabled me to become a part of the culture while learning about daily life in France and the francophones who live it.
Pursuing a major in French not only led the path to studying abroad but also to professional opportunities. After spending the spring semester of my junior year in France I attained a job working as the student assistant to Joelle Baldwin, the Director of International Programs at Aquinas College. I assisted in the coordination of AQ’s study abroad programs while sharing my passion for foreign language studies and cultural experiences to the student body and prospective students.  Following graduation, I accepted a teaching position in France through the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) to further my exploration of the French language and culture.  I am currently living in the historic city of Avignon teaching English in three nearby elementary schools.

Profitez de la vie! Make the most of life! Studying French at Aquinas College has inspired and led me to do just that. In my pursuit of mastering “the language of love” and discovering the culture by which it is enveloped, I have been presented with wondrous academic, professional and travel opportunities; those that are often labeled as “once in a lifetime.” I encourage all students with an interest in foreign language study to benefit from the personable, passionate and supportive language professors, smaller class sizes, and life-changing study abroad programs Aquinas College has to offer.