Skip to main content

TAPIF: An adventure in France

Learning a second language can take you places and give you experiences you never imagined you would have. It is like a door that is there, always ready to be opened. No matter what your professional goals are, speaking more than one language is an opportunity. This is what today’s episode in ROMS podcast is about: how learning French gave Abhigya Chennamsetty an opened door, one that she decided to cross and that gave her one of the most fulfilling and growing experiences she has had so far.


H: Host

A: Abhigya Chennamsetty

H: Learning a second language can take you places and give you experiences you never imagined you would have. It is like a door that is there, always ready to be opened. No matter what your professional goals are, speaking more than one language is an opportunity. This is what today’s episode in ROMS podcast is about: how learning French gave Abhigya Chennamsetty an opened door, one that she decided to cross and that gave her one of the most fulfilling and growing experiences she has had so far. Abhigya was a student in our ROMS department, She graduated in 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental health Science from Gillings as well as a bachelor’s degree in French and Francophone Studies, and a minor in biology.

A: [00:01:59-00:03:21] once I got closer to like my junior senior year with COVID and everything happening, um, by then I had decided on my primary major being in environmental health sciences at Gillings. So it was a public health major. Um, but I continue taking French and thought I was going to double major in biology because I was getting all those credits. But then because of the pandemic that changed up like labs that I needed weren’t being offered and things like that. Um, so I ended up just deciding, you know, I really liked my French classes and especially with online class, the French classes like said, because they were more discussion based, they translated better and I think adapted better to the Zoom format, um, to where there were still engaging. And I think the professors put a lot of effort into making that happen. Um, so I decided to just take more French classes and think it was in talking to Dr. Hache, who was like my adviser for my minor, we realized that if I just took like a few more classes, which I was planning on taking anyways, I could declare a French major. Um, so once I was doing that, I knew I was getting more practice. And also I just was getting to a point of burnout where I knew I wanted to take a gap year after graduating and I didn’t want to do anything related to health care or STEM.

H: Abhigya just wanted a break from her medical studies. but she also knew she didn’t want to just spend a year doing nothing. And when she asked herself: “what can I do?  I don’t want to just be at home, I want to travel,” she realized there was a door that speaking French had for her, and she decided to open it.

A: [00:03:35-00:04:21] that’s when, like, you know, my professors always brought this up and I heard it again and was like, wait a second. Like, that’s something that I can do where I’ll still be engaged, I’ll still be learning and applying something that I really love. Um, and I got to study abroad after my sophomore year and that I kind of treated that as like a culmination of my French learning experience. But I wasn’t really done with it. Like I came back, I still wanted to take more classes. So this felt like, like an opportunity to continue that, to be able to go back and this time, like have the opportunity to travel live on my own and all of that while getting the break that I wanted. Um, so all around it was just like a perfect experience that like, was like it was the perfect opportunity that presented it to my, to me at the right time.


H: but what exactly was that opportunity Abhigya found? It is called TAPIF, which stands for Teaching Assistance Program in French. TAPIS is a program that offers you the opportunity to work in France for 7 months, teaching English to French students of all ages. Abhigya heard about this thanks to professors Pruvost and Heitsch, who, according to her, always made sure that all their students were aware of the many different opportunities that speaking French offered to them.


A: [00:06:05-00:07:27]  You get to be a teaching assistant to help teach English to students in France. Um, so if you’ve ever had in your class someone who is a student that they were learning they were going to become a teacher and they were with your teacher in your room helping you with whatever lesson you were working on, That’s basically who you would be. Um, so you get to teach English from anywhere from elementary school to high school. I think you can list your preference in the application if you would rather work with younger kids or older kids. Um, and based on the level of the students that you’re working with and the comfort of the teachers that you’re with, you might be in the classroom helping with lessons. You might get to take groups of kids out and have like your own classroom to work on lessons you get. You get to do lessons that the teachers have already designed, or you might be more involved in designing your own lesson and you kind of just basically work on if you think back to your own language classes, if you took French, Spanish, German, whatever language you’ve learned. Um, it’s doing the same thing except for English. So you work on vocab. It’s like grammar. You would teach them American culture or whatever culture you’re from. [00:07:27-00:07:37] So I taught my kids a little bit about Indian culture as well because that’s my family background. So I taught them about Indian holidays as well as American.

H: And there were many eye opening experiences for Abhigya while teaching English. One was witnessing how the relationship between this language and its cultures is from a European perspective

[00:07:39-00:08:26] I guess one thing that you kind of don’t think about growing up in America is that English isn’t, you know, unique to America. English comes from Britain as well. And there are other parts of the country, um, parts of the world that speak English. Um, so you’ll notice, or at least at my school, the kids primarily learned about like British English, and that was the culture that they learned about, about Britain. Remember, they were learning about like the double decker red buses. And they had questions for me about that. And I had to be like, well, actually, I’m not from Britain. I’m from America. So you get to teach them a little bit about like geography too. Um, it’s really cool. And like, I know it sounds very scary if you don’t have any teaching experience, but want to like take a step back and say it’s, it’s really, it’s however much you can handle.

H: As she mentions, it can seem hard and scary to go to a different country and start teaching your language if you don’t have any previous experience. But what she learned with this program is that everything is set to make your transition and your work the easiest possible and for you to feel supported and guided.

A: [00:08:26-00:09:01] the teachers are very nice and they do a great job of working with you and where you are at. Um, in terms of your level of comfort with how much you can teach and whether you would rather like be more in the classroom with them. Um, and they are very good at also like I didn’t have any teaching experience going into it, but they kind of really taught me, how do you do that and how do you sit down with kids and how do you make them focus? And like one thing that I struggled with a lot was that I wanted to be their friend and didn’t want to be like the person that was like, No, everyone be quiet. [00:09:01-00:09:24] Like, we need to work. They taught me like, it’s okay. Like, that’s very understandable. But like sometimes you need to put your foot down and be more serious. So things like that, they’re really wonderful at like helping you learn that, helping you find your place in the classroom. And then in terms of like getting paid and all of that, you paid. So it’s not like you just go there and you do all this work and you don’t get paid


H:  Abhigya also has some practical advice for students that may be interested in applying for this kind of program


A: [00:10:07-00:11:13] there’s a lot of different situations that can happen. Sometimes the schools have housing that they offer to assistants. Um, sometimes you kind of have to find your own. I think typically it’s kind of the hardest if you end up in like the most metropolitan areas like Paris. Um, finding housing for anyone in Paris is very difficult. Um, so that’s something that you can factor into when you apply. You can list, I believe, your top three, um, department or Regions. Um, kind of the French equivalent of states that you want to end up in. Um, so that’s one of the things that you can consider when you’re listing your top three. Um, um, yeah. So most assistants, most former assistants will recommend that you come in with some savings. I think the number that most people say is around like $2,000 just to supplement you for like any emergencies that might arise, any, like, unexpected costs. Sometimes assistants don’t fid housing immediately, so they end up having to stay in an Airbnb or in a hotel. And that can be expensive.


H: another thing that she found to be very valuable and enriching was the possibility to travel to other places

A: [00:11:14-00:11:30] if you want to travel a lot, it’s definitely manageable. I was able to travel quite a bit, but it’s just something that like that’s also a different part of the experience that you learn. You learn to budget very well and to like have a lot of self-control and spending money and stuff like that.


H: she described how this experience

 A:  [00:14:51-00:16:36] for me, this was my first like formal job experience. So like with that in mind, it was really amazing. Like everyone in the program is so welcoming and especially everyone at my school was so welcoming. Um, and t hey have a lot of consideration knowing that like we’re coming in, it’s completely new to us. Like we’re in a new country, we’re figuring everything out. We’re moving here for a lot of people for the first time. Um, and like I said, like they taught me everything that I really needed to know for the experience of like, actually teaching.

A: [00:16:36-00:17:38] Um, and they even were very encouraging of me taking the time to, like, travel and, like, do things outside of school because they like me, like doing stuff. Like you’re not necessarily just there for the teaching experience, but you’re there for like the whole experience of being in France, being in Europe. Um, so it was really nice to work with people that understood that. Um, and then on the personal front too, it was just an, like amazing experience. I got to meet like so many wonderful people like through the program, so many assistants. We even had meetups with like Erasmus students that were in France. Like, um, it was all like so cool and so fun. And I’ve made like some friendships that’s that are going to last me a. Um, and I got to travel so much, I got to travel with other assistants and see so much of France. I was able to go to Switzerland and Belgium, Luxembourg and in London I think too. Um, so it was, it was really cool. I got to travel with people, travel by myself,


H: but of course, as with most experiences, this one also had some challenging parts, that, ultimately ended up being opportunities for growth


[00:17:47-00:18:35] There definitely are a lot of challenges and it was very daunting at first. I think the first week that I got there, I was like almost crying every night just because of like how scary it can be to like, move somewhere all by yourself. Like that was calling home and like very strongly considering, like flying back home immediately and just quitting and was like, I can’t do this. But. Like, it gets a lot better very quickly. Um, as each thing falls into place, everything gets easier. And you, the people that you meet, like help you feel more comfortable and like, it taught me a lot about being independent, but also knowing when to reach out for help. So it’s, it’s definitely going to be a challenge at first, but it’s an experience that is completely worth it.


H:  Abhigya also shared with us how her time at the Department of Romance Studies at UNC at Chapel Hill prepared and allowed her to have this wonderful experience


A: [00:24:25-00:25:42] without the ROMS department, like, I wouldn’t have kept up with French after high school. Um, I kind of took my first class just like testing the water of like, if department is good and if I have fun, then like, I’ll keep going. If not, I’m not really going to stress myself out over this. And it ended up being like one of the. Best decisions of my life, right? So if I hadn’t been keeping up with my French in that way. First of all. This wouldn’t have even been accessible to me. And second of all, like I said, like the only reason I knew this program even existed was because one of my professors pointed it out to me and made the effort to, like, keep pointing it out to all of her students. Um, so Dr. Provo and Dr. Huyck, both of them had like mentioned it time and time again to me, and that’s why it was like in my mind. And it was something that like when it was a time for me to like, consider it, it was still there. Um, and then even like literally with applying, they were my recommenders. Um, they gave me the confidence that like, like my French was actually good enough to be able to go do this. And they were the people that like wrote my recommendations that allowed me to like, be accepted to the program. So definitely, like, without them and without the department, without those resources, I never would have even like known to apply.


A: [00:27:04-00:27:57] Like your department basically was like the backbone that supported me throughout this. Like they definitely gave me like, the language skills. And like, the cultural. Awareness. Um, like, I remember so many of the conversations that I like had with my landlady were like, started from like, I learned about this in class, and now that I’m here, I want to ask some. Like an actual French person. Okay. Like, what do you think about laicité? Like, what does that mean to you? Like, it’s very different to me, having grown up in America and American culture. But you grew up here, so what’s your opinion like things like that. Um, it definitely gave me the foundation to be able to do this. Like, not just learning grammar, but learning like culture and learning how things work in other countries like France. And it was kind of like finally, like applying everything that I’d been like accumulating in my brain for like four years


H: and although her professional plans to pursue a career in the health care field ado not include teaching, she thinks that regardless of  your professional goals, this kind of experience will allow you to grow and acquire so many new   that can be applied in any future career


A: [00:34:25-00:35:58] learning to like, assert yourself and like, like. Stand your Ground. Is very important. And it like, has helped me so much. Um, and it. Will continue to like help me going forward with some like whatever job I end. Up in, it doesn’t have to be in teaching. Like all of these skills that you learn are completely transferable to like whatever field you end up in. And then if like zoom out of like the professional sense, that experience of having like moved to a different country and like figuring everything out on my own, like traveling on my own and really living on my own for the first time in my life. Like even in college, we think we’re living on our own, but we’re still like in a bubble of like protection. We live with roommates, we’re in dorms, we’re living like we have dining plans, like dining halls and like, in some way it’s still cushioned than like, going out into the world, like finding your own apartment and completely like, you’re cooking for yourself. You’re, like, booking your own tickets wherever you go. It’s all up to you like. You got your paycheck. However you spend, your €800.Is up to you. If you spend too much on one thing, then you’re waiting until the next paycheck comes in to like. So learning all of those things. It has been like such an invaluable experience. Like I now know like that if I could have if I accomplished that in France, in.A country where the language is completely different from my own, then I can for sure do. That anywhere in America.


H: we thank Abhigya for sharing her journey w ith us and we invite other students from all the different languages in our department to take a look into this and other programs alike and consider this amazing experience for your future. Here at the Department of Romance Studies there will always be faculty willing to help you to seek out interesting opportunities and to support you in achieving your goals. This episode was produced by Paola Cadena, edition  by Caro Register, and music by Mike Forristell. Don’t forget to follow us on Spotify, Apple podcast, Google podcast, or your preferred app, that way you will know when our second episode is released. Adios, Chao, Au revior, adeus and we will see you next time