Today we speak with Stephanie Ibe, who graduated in the Spring of 2020 and majored in Biological Sciences with a minor in French and an Honors and Pre-med concentration. Stephanie stayed in Le Havre, France for seven months while working as a teaching assistant through the TAPIF Program. Stephanie comes from Franklin Park, NJ in Somerset County. She was involved in MAPS (Minority Association of Premedical Students), Res Life as an RA/ARD, research labs, tutoring, RUPAC (Rowan University Philippine American Coalition), Alpha Epsilon Delta (AED – Premed Honors Society), University Chorus, and mentoring through the Dr. Harley E. Flack program.
What happened after you arrived in France?
After I arrived, I had to go through all these different transportation modes to go from Paris to Le Havre and my phone wasn’t working! I had to navigate the entire thing just by talking to people and from reading signs. I don’t know how I ended up making it to Le Havre. It was raining, too. It was a bit of a shock to just be thrown in and use [only] French right away.
I had a Prof Référente (Referent Teacher) with whom I could communicate through Facebook. She was so helpful. She helped me find my place to stay because the high school that I worked at didn’t have housing available for me. So she asked another high school nearby if I can stay there and it ended up working out. She picked me up from the train station once I arrived. She gave me bed sheets and a week’s worth of groceries. I was lucky to have good support over there.
Was it scary having to talk in French to French people?
I was honestly really scared when I first arrived because it wasn’t the same as “classroom French.” I’ve never studied abroad before, so I never knew what it was like to actually speak French in France. I went to France once when I was in high school, but I always had my teachers there to help us. This time, I was by myself. I had to use my French, especially when I had to explain things to my students. Sometimes they didn’t understand what I was saying in English, so I would have to translate in French.
You get used to it after a while. There’s a lot of slang I need to learn as well as very technical vocabulary. I had to open a bank account in France and I didn’t know any banking vocabulary, so it was a bit difficult. I also observed the biology lab classes in one of the high schools. Even small things, like DNA, were switched. It was ADN.
Your brain automatically switches to your second language after being immersed in it for a while. It’s also easier to learn different languages when you are able to see the connections between languages. When I was there, I tried to practice my Spanish with the Spanish assistants. It’s a lot easier when you’re talking to someone that’s native to that language. They can tell when I am making a mistake and they don’t feel shy to correct me and give me feedback because they are teachers. It’s what they do.
What other countries were your fellow assistants from?
I met assistants from Spain, Germany, England, Northern Ireland, Los Angeles, Colorado, New York, Kenya, Russia and Jordan.
What was your favorite memory (outside of being a teaching assistant)?
Spending all of my time with the assistants because that’s all we really had. Everything was closed after one week of me being there. We didn’t have museums or restaurants to go to. All we had was each other. I was lucky to live right next to the beach, so I had a lot of beach days. It was only a 20-minute walk to the beach. Having that space to get out, explore new places, and take my beach days were fun.
I worked 12 hours a week, 5 days a week, a few hours each weekday. In France, they start school at 8 a.m. and finish at 5:20 p.m. They get two 15-minute breaks as well as an hour and 20 minutes for a lunch break. They can do whatever they want during their break, like walk around town and eat anywhere. A lot of my students would go home and eat lunch. They also take the public bus to school, not a singular school bus.
What was your favorite meal in France?
I ate a lot of vegan food because most of [the assistants] were either vegan or vegetarian. I really liked it because I never knew you could do so much with such little ingredients because the vegan diet is so restricted. They can’t eat any meat or dairy, or even honey. But, you can do so much with spice. We would always have potluck dinners. Also, the food at my high school was so fancy because [the students] are training to be proper chefs. They would practice making fancy French desserts and sophisticated dishes. French school meals are also very balanced and affordable.
What was the most interesting thing you learned about France?
I guess, how welcoming everyone was! I watched Emily in Paris right before I left and I had this idea in my head. “I’m going to be all by myself and they’re going to shoo me away because I’m American.” But no, everyone was so welcoming! When you’re walking down the street, everyone says “Hello, how are you?” Even though you’re complete strangers. When I first got back, I wanted to have a conversation with my cashier like in France.
What was your favorite souvenir?
My favorite souvenir was a ukulele. I had to get rid of a lot of clothes and a pair of shoes to fit the ukulele! I only came with one suitcase, one carry-on, and one backpack. I ended up leaving a lot of shirts. I traded with other assistants. For example, I gave some of my Rowan shirts. I traded them for a Spanish white sweatshirt from Granada as well as a Spanish jean jacket. I also bought real lavender. It is really cool because it keeps its scent for a really long time. It made my luggage smell amazing!
Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about your time in France?
The overall experience made me think about how it felt like to be a foreigner in another country, which is something that a lot of us have not experienced. It made me really think about how it might have felt for my mom who came from the Philippines to the U.S.
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