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.”