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Eliz­abeth Garner ’18 is cur­rently teaching English in France. Eliz­abeth Garner | Courtesy

Along the Clain river in France lies a small town by the name of Poitiers, where Eliz­abeth Garner ’18 has been residing and teaching English to ele­mentary stu­dents since late Sep­tember.

Encouraged by French pro­fessors Marie-Claire Morellec, Sherri Rose, and Anne Theobald during her studies, Garner dis­covered a French embassy program called Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF),  which encourages cul­tural exchanges for stu­dents in France. The program allows her to work as an English teaching assistant in three ele­mentary schools in Poitiers, working with a total of 19 classes with stu­dents ranging from ages 4 to 11.

“Dr. Theobald first told me about the oppor­tunity with TAPIF,” Garner said. “I was sitting in her office in the fall of my junior year. I’d just studied abroad in Tours, France that summer, and I longed to return to France, though the idea seemed highly unlikely.”

Theobald said she herself com­pleted the program in 2003 and was in a high school in Ton­nerre, France.

“It was a boarding school where stu­dents came from tiny vil­lages and would often stay during the week then leave on the weekends.”

Theobald said she was encouraged by her French pro­fessor in college to apply to TAPIF. Spending the time in France served as the ideal tran­sition for Theobald from under­graduate to graduate school.

“I think it is a great oppor­tunity to have a year abroad before you start working, have a full-time job, or even a family,” Theobald said. “It is an opportune time, and a good tran­sition between college and starting a career.”

After assisting 20 stu­dents in applying for the program during her eight years as a pro­fessor, Theobald knew Garner would be a perfect fit.

“She was a model student,” Theobald said. “I was so excited she decided to do the program and was placed in Poitiers, because it’s an ideal location — small city, but not too big.”

Although TAPIF was an exciting and ideal oppor­tunity for Garner, she didn’t know she was accepted to the program until April of last year.

“This was her dream, but extremely unex­pected,” junior and fellow member of Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, Katie Dimmer, said. “Up until April, this was not her plan.”

Knowing she wanted to pursue teaching since an early age, Garner said she finds ful­fillment in her work, with some days being enjoyable and other days being exhausting or over­whelming.

“Teaching is an adventure,” Garner said. “I love seeing the joy in my stu­dents’ eyes when they remember a vocab­ulary word or have an epiphany. I also enjoy having freedom to be cre­ative with my lessons.”

Garner said she sees many dif­fer­ences between the American and French edu­ca­tional systems, namely, the emphasis on the impor­tance of inter­cul­tural exchange in French edu­cation.

“France hires thou­sands of assis­tants from across the world to teach their native lan­guages in French schools,” Garner said. “Most American schools don’t offer foreign lan­guages until high school, or perhaps a bit in junior high. In France, I’m teaching English to 4-year-olds. And with my 11-year-olds, we’re watching real weather fore­casts from American news channels.”

When not teaching, Garner enjoys having the time to do things she has not been able to do for around 10 years.

“I’ve been trav­eling solo, reading for enjoyment rather than for school, vis­iting friends, painting, dab­bling in pho­tog­raphy, trying to improve my French with locals, and simply loving life,” Garner said. “I’ve joined a uni­versity club, Groupe Biblique Uni­ver­si­taire (equiv­alent to Inter­Varsity in the U.S.). As the only non-native speaker in the room, it’s chal­lenging to study scripture and try to express spir­itual thoughts in French.”

In general, Garner said, the lifestyle in France is very dif­ferent from that of America — what she likes to refer to as “art de vivre,” which trans­lates to “art of living.” The phrase refers to the slower-paced and quiet life of the French, versus the “hurried” American lifestyle.

“Time is not rushed,” Garner said. “Every­thing — from cities, to archi­tecture, to parks, and to pas­tries — appears care­fully crafted with an intent to be beau­tiful.”

While living in France, Garner appre­ciates the beauty of the country and the new life it offers her.

“Simply walking down the street in France is a literal and visual breath of fresh air,” she said. “I find the tiny cob­ble­stone streets so charming. I love how the towns are built for walking rather than driving. I also love the smell of fresh baked bread and patis­series when I’m on my way to work. There’s just nothing like it.”

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    I’ve been to France many, many times on business. Once you get outside of Paris it’s really a beau­tiful country-not that Paris is not beau­tiful, but they have too many ethnic issues these days with all the recent immi­grants from devel­oping nations and it’s not always pleasant.

    I think my favorite city I visited in France was L’Orient. We took a train from Paris and it was a scenic trip, very pleasant. Our waitress at dinner that first night had worked at Florida’s Epcot in the French area and wanted to get back there in the worst way, as I recall. The wine they serve with each dish-meat, fowl, fish-was always perfect. The French know how to enjoy meals!