Experiences as an ELA (Part I)

The deadline has now closed for students applying for English Language Assistantships in France (though anybody interested in applying for Spain has a little longer to apply…) and, as ever, a large number of our Year 2 students and a growing number of finalists have submitted their applications. As they wait for news over the coming weeks and months, it seemed like a good time to post some tales from previous assistants with thanks to Charlotte (the author of this piece), Colm and Ellen (the authors of the next two pieces!) for sharing their experience:

Charlotte spent 8 months living and working as an English Language Assistant in Bordeaux and would ‘100% recommend giving it a go as although it sounds clichéd, it definitely has been the best experience of my life so far. My time in France taught me a great deal, it wasn’t always easy but I have gained so much from it, and I learnt from both the negative and positive experiences that I encountered.

2016 Cavanagh Miroir dEau
Le Miroir d’Eau, Bordeaux

The first few weeks I spent in France were some of the toughest moments I have ever had to experience. This was due to a number of reasons: problems with accommodation, problems with the organisation of the school (which never got easier), organising mobile phones and bank accounts and the language barrier.  I went to France thinking that I could speak the language well, but I was soon to realise that I had a lot to improve on. I had regular experiences of listening to someone talk for 5 minutes and not understanding a single word that they had said! But it got easier over time, the important thing is to be patient as it does get easier.

For me, the highlight of the year abroad was getting the opportunity to live with French people. My language skills vastly improved due to this and I was given the opportunity to experience Bordeaux the “French” way. When I arrived in late September, I thought I had accommodation organised by my school, but when I arrived to a room with no lock on the door, no kitchen, no water and no internet I quickly realised that I would have to find another home. After a painful 3 weeks living alone and having no luck in finding anything, I found a flat share in the city of Bordeaux. It was no palace, but everything was on my doorstep and I got free travel to and from the schools as most of the staff lived on Bordeaux. From the moment I moved in, my experience of living abroad drastically changed for the better. I was able to meet other assistants, meet the friends of my flat mates and truly experience France in the way I had depicted it.

2016 Cavanagh Lycee

If I was to give one word of advice, it would be patience. Learning a language is a long, tiring and sometimes humiliating process but as long as you stick with it, you will only improve. Having patience is also key in France as administration and paperwork takes a very long time to organise- I am still yet to receive my “carte vitale” health card! The 3 schools I worked at were particularly disorganised at times, which became very stressful. I would receive my timetable the Sunday evening, there were weeks where I worked only 5 hours, and others where I would work 14 or more. It is a stressful process moving abroad, but if you persevere you will definitely benefit and learn a great deal.

Although teaching does not seem to be the profession for me, working at the schools was still a great experience as I did enjoy teaching about life in the UK and watching the pupils improve as the year went on. I worked in 3 different schools; each one being completely different from the other, enabled me to work with the pupils and staff in a numerous amount of ways. For example in the lycée pro (the Lycée Professionnel de l’Estuaire Blaye) there was a working restaurant which different year groups ran depending on the day. I often had lunch at the restaurant and ordered my food in English to help them practice their language skills. This simple activity was one of the highlights of working and I built up a good relationship with the school because of this.

Lastly, a few tips that I would give to anyone thinking about going abroad:

1) Patience and perseverance are key

2) If you need help with anything, ASK other assistants and the teachers you work with. There will be someone who is in the same boat as you and there will always be someone there to help.

3) Remember that you may not get placed in a city centre. But the important thing is to make the most of the experience, travel at every opportunity you get.

4) Be prepared for the criteria of your lessons to be: “Talk English to them” and get ready to teach more pupils than you should be teaching!

5) Join the Facebook groups for assistants in your region. You’ll realise that people are in the same situations as yourself and people also organise day trips on the page so you don’t want to miss out!’

2016 Cavanagh Travels

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