The first of a series featuring Americans living abroad in France! First up, Edward Wojciechowski. Edward’s YouTube channel documents his life as an English teaching assistant in Cannes. From Learning to Ski in the Alps to attending The Cannes Shopping Festival, it seems Edward and his friends are always up to a new adventure — while always keeping it REAL. (Because hey, don’t we all accidentally trespass onto French private property at some point?) Enjoy the Q&A below where we discuss TAPIF, life in France, and what comes next in his multilingual lifestyle.
When did you first start learning languages?
Specifically with French, I had always been extremely interested in it — even as a young kid. But it wasn’t until middle school that it became a part of my school curriculum. The first year, we studied Spanish, French and German all in one quarter. The next year you chose one language to learn for a full quarter, and by eigth grade you would take the full first level so that by the time you graduated high school you could have taken five full years of the same language.
I chose French to start with and then my senior year I decided to skip lunches so I could take Spanish and German, too. Then, I petitioned the school to pay for an online Italian course and ended up taking that, as well. So by the end of high school I was taking four languages.
That sounds like a great way to give students exposure and interest in languages. Or at least, it sounds like it successfully interested you! Very impressed. How did you decide which of these to study in college?
I went in with the idea that I would major in linguistics but when I was finally able to take the introductory class, I realized it was too theoretical for me. I was more interested in the cultural aspects of learning a language so I decided to double major in French and Spanish. If Italian had been available as a minor I would have done that too, but I just took as many classes as I could in it.
And I always knew that I wanted to study abroad. That was the only question I ever asked at college visits: “How early? And how many times can I go?”
And did you?
Yes! My sophomore year I spent a semester in Paris and then the next semester in Spain and then the following fall “studied abroad” in D.C. to do our internship option.
Where did you intern there?
It was a Press & Communications internship at the French Embassy, actually. I was working with their English publications and helping with the Twitter account and answering phones and all the fun stuff that comes with internships.
Amazing! I’d kill to have the French Embassy on my resume. When did you first hear about TAPIF?
I got in touch the coordinator of the TAPIF program while I was in DC. At that point I hadn’t realized that teaching was something I wanted to go into yet, but it was in the back of my mind. So when it came around to senior year and I got more interested in teaching, I remembered TAPIF and applied.
Was the Académie de Nice your first choice?
Yes, I want to say so… The first time I went to France was in high school for a school trip and we had come to Avignon and Nice so I had known something about this area, but not a ton. Really, I was happy to go anywhere because I had only ever spent time in Paris but I think I chose Nice because it’s sunnier.
Are you happy with your placement there?
I do enjoy it here, I really do. I live in an adjacent neighborhood of Centre Ville, right next to the beach. When I take the bus to work I pass the Palais des Festivals and it’s always cool to see what new convention is in town. The only downside is it is one of the more expensive areas of France. Rent here can be cheap, but in general things are going to be pricier — not as bad as in Paris but I’d say it’s the second most expensive placement in the TAPIF program.
How was it getting settled in when you first arrived?
I was lucky with my housing. When I got my placement the coordinator for the assistant program at my school e-mailed me and said that her daughter rented an apartment in Cannes to assistants. Although, it would have been easy if I had just gotten here and done it on the fly, as most everyone does.
What kind of school have you been working in as a language assistant?
I work at a lycée professionnel which is a lot different than most of my friends who work at LGTs, or lyéee général technologique. They’re more like a normal high school, more science and math, STEM type stuff. Mine is a fashion professional school so a lot of the students do business, commerce, sales, hospitality and then there will be another section of students who do costumes for operas and plays and stuff like that.
Ahh very cool! What kinds of activities do you do with them in class?
It really depends on the level. For some of the fashion students, the level can be a little bit higher and students are more open to talking in general with me. We’ve watched movie trailers and discussed them, or, more recently I’ve had to talk about the primary elections. But for students with a lower level of English, it’s “What are your favorite things?” Or, “what did you do over the holiday?” Until they get sick of that and then you have to pull new things out of your magic hat. Social media is always a good way to go. They love talking about Snapchat. If I can get them to talk about Snapchat using English then I’m happy.
What are the most challenging parts of your job and the most rewarding?
Challenging, for sure, is behavioral issues and motivation. It’s a big thing. Even if the class is well behaved then it’s a whole other ball game just to get them to participate. That can be difficult depending on how they feel, how moody they are, and also just the topic itself. They might be totally into it, but then I have the next class and no one can even look at me they’re so bored. That’s something I can’t control and it’s the most challenging part for me.
The most rewarding are the small breakthroughs. When a student asks me what a word is, it means they’re really making an effort to speak English with a native speaker. At that age it can be kind of daunting — especially if they’re first years in high school because they’re even more awkward and don’t want to talk to anybody, let alone in English. And even if the student is wonderful in English, just them realizing something culturally that they didn’t know before — when that happens, I leave feeling good.
What about life in France in general — First, what’s the best part?
I love how easy it is to get around. It astounds me that it is faster to take a train from Nice to Paris, than it is to drive. If I were in the states and I took a train anywhere it would take two days and it would be a nightmare and it would be so expensive and not worth it at all. That blows my mind.
And what do you miss the most?
I’ve lived in Europe for a bit now and I really do like the lifestyle here. The only thing I really miss is convenience — almost all forms of it. And of course there’s peanut butter. Americans think of peanut butter the way Europeans think of Nutella. You’re like, “Why isn’t everywhere? Why isn’t it cheap? And why does it taste terrible here?”
And how would you describe your current level of French?
To this day never say that I am fluent in a language. I say fluid a lot, but I’m always afraid that if I say I’m fluent, then someone is going to rapid fire something at me with crazy tenses and I’ll get called out on not knowing what they’re saying. But I’d say my French is advanced now, for sure. It’s advanced and I speak the French language. There, I’ve said it!
Yay! Congratulations on admitting it. Was there a specific French tense you had trouble learning while in school?
That would probably be subjunctive compound tenses. I thought it had to be a totally different word or conjugation for things like the subjunctive plus-que-parfait or the subjunctive conditionnel passée
I have no idea. You’re totally schooling me right now. I’m taking notes.
Hah! Well, in any case, it’s different for everybody. Some people get those easy-peasy but can’t get relative pronouns to save their life, so it all depends.
Do you have a favorite French word or phrase right now?
I’ve been looking for overalls so my friends and I have been saying the word salopettes a lot.
As for my favorite phrase, it’s probably “J’ai pas.” The first time I had ever heard it was when I came here and I thought they were saying “I don’t have” all the time. Then I realized they were just truncating half of the sentence. So it can mean, “I don’t know the answer,” or “I don’t know what you’re saying,” or “I have no idea.” Once I got that it was like, Well, that’s efficient. I’ll give you that.
Are there things you are still trying to work on in the language?
Personally, I have a hard time fully committing to a language without being able to pronounce things correctly. Currently, with French, it’s my r’s. I don’t know what happened between my study abroad semester and now. But for whatever reason, my r’s are just not where I think they’re supposed to be and because of that sometimes I freeze up and I don’t speak.
What about resources you’d recommend to other French learners?
One thing I learned about from a professor is the Radio France Internationale. It’s sort of like their NPR. They have this great thing called Journal en Français Facile. It’s essentially 10 minutes of what’s going on in the world that day and is pretty easy to understand, but if you are at a much lower level there’s also text available online. I really, really liked that.
Any books, movies or music in French?
My favorite French singer is Yelle. I like her style of music so even if she were singing in English I would enjoy it, but it’s doubly nice that it’s in French.
Do you have plans after TAPIF?
I do! I will be moving to Madrid in the fall to pursue a Master’s in multicultural and bilingual education.
Fantastic, congratulations! What advice would you give people thinking of applying to TAPIF?
Keep a very, very open mind from the moment you hit the send button on your application. None of my friends and I here have the same work experience. Although, I do know at least almost everyone has cried at a bank at some point. But those experiences will also help you in the long run. You’ll look back six months later and understand that it enriched the experience. You just don’t know it at the time and can’t plan it in advance. So, I think my advice would be keep an open mind in almost EVERY aspect.
Perfect, thanks. Okay, last question! What is your favorite thing to eat in France?
This will make all my friends laugh — but have you ever heard of Speculoos?
Nope! What is that?
It’s sort of like Nutella or peanut butter. It’s a spread situation but it also comes in cracker form. I can most closely associate with gingerbread so the cookie kind of tastes like a more intense gingerbread. I forget exactly what it is, and I should know, but it’s very delicious. It’s not French at all I don’t think — but I’ll go with that. I’ll say Speculoos.
Excellent. I’ll keep an eye out for those the next time I’m in a French grocery store. Yum. Thank you so much, Edward!