Bon Voyage!

by Catalina Myers  |   

UAA double bachelor Journalism and Public Communications and French Language alumna, Maya Narang is fulfilling a childhood dream of living abroad in France, but the path to get there was fraught with bumps in the road along the way. (Photo by James Evans / University of Alaska Anchorage)

For as long as Maya Narang, double bachelor's in Journalism and Public Communications and French, '19 can remember, she's loved all things French. The language, the culture, the people and of course, the food. So when the well-traveled Narang had the opportunity to apply for the Teaching Assistantship Program in France this fall through spring 2020, she put her post-grad life on hold to pursue a lifelong dream.

But as life would have it, nothing quite went according to Narang's well-laid plans.

C'est la vie

"I applied to this program last January and then I was just stuck waiting," said Narang, who at the time, when she applied, had no idea just how long she would wait to find out she'd been admitted. "We were supposed to have an interview in March and then hear back in early April on placement, but they decided to move the deadline to let more people in, and then there was never an interview and all the things that I thought were going to happen never happened."

In late April, Narang was told she'd been waitlisted. She was disappointed, but still hopeful she wasn't an automatic rejection. She was told to hang tight until May and then a staff member from the program would reach out and notify her of where she was in line for the assistantship. 

"In May I was still on the waiting list and in June I finally heard from them and was told that I was somewhere between one and 100 on the waiting list," Narang said. "Of the 100 or so people that they'd allow in the program, there were only about 50 spots left and July 1 was the cut off."

Needless to say, Narang started to panic as she was in a bit of a conundrum. She had applied to Channel 2 News for a job, was living at home with her parents and felt like she'd been in this awkward limbo, unable to make plans on starting her career. She'd already turned down several job offers and for her, it was starting to come down to the wire: start her career or wait it out. She was just about to throw in the towel when she received an email from the program urgently requesting that she let them know whether or not she was committing to the assistantship in the fall.

"I needed to reply in 24 hours," she said, explaining that the program had been emailing her, waiting for her response and she had never received the emails. She also needed to submit her paperwork via a link that was not included in the urgent email, and it was about this time that sheer panic took over. "I didn't have any information and I emailed them back immediately and said that I wanted to go and hoped they'd still accept me."

Luckily for Narang, in those last few days of June and before the impending July 1 deadline, the stars aligned, emails went through and Narang was accepted and cleared for the teaching assistantship. She learned she'd been placed in the upper Normandy region to teach at one of the Rouen Academy schools.

Facebook group help 

Narang said she thought it was going to be smooth sailing from there, but instead it was a mad dash to file the necessary paperwork to work overseas. She needed to immediately file with the French Consulate to make sure all of her paperwork for travel, her work visa, passport and other living abroad necessities were in order. 

The nearest French consulate to Alaska was in San Francisco. Narang had to make a special trip to the Bay Area. She said she was hoping she could expedite the visa process, similar to how other paperwork and records like passports can be fast-tracked.

"I asked, and the answer was straight up 'No,'" Narang said. "According to the website, it can take four to eight weeks, but I was told it averages just about four." It was close and she'd already bought a ticket earlier in the summer "just in case," and by some miracle, her paperwork came in just in time. Narang said despite the process being somewhat convoluted and running into hiccups with communication and filing papers, once the ball got rolling, she was pretty excited to pack her things and live abroad. 

She joined the teaching assistantship Facebook group, a page dedicated to this year's cohort of students traveling abroad on scholarship and teaching assistantship programs to help manage the stress and answer FAQs.

"There's a lot of Facebook groups for everybody freaking out," Narang said laughing. "There's a big group of all of us going to France from America, and in fact in this Facebook group, there's people from the Canadian sector and people going to teach Spanish - I'm not sure what program they're going through - but we're all in the same boat together kind of struggling with things." 

From there, Narang said the 1,500 or so students traveling to France for teaching assistantships branched off, creating smaller groups for the various regions they were traveling to, which she said was most helpful to her because that provided the most information about her program.

All's well that ends well

Despite all the bumps along the way, Narang managed to get most of it sorted out and began her eight-month teaching assistantship in her favorite country. She'll be teaching at a technical high school in Évreux, a town of 50,000 people in upper Normandy. 

"It's about an hour by bus from Paris and an hour from Rouen, it's actually in a pretty good spot," said Narang. As a museum and history buff, she's excited to live in, travel and explore Normandy. "It looks really cute and the school seems really nice. The teacher who is my point of contact has been awesome and emailing me regularly."

This will not be Narang's first trip to Europe; she did a travel abroad program in Scotland in 2010 and then spent five days in Paris right before Christmas, which she said was amazing. But she's excited to see the France that is not Paris because she thinks it will be a lot different than how the "City of Lights" is portrayed in the media and on social platforms.

"I'm really excited to actually be immersed in French culture," explained Narang, who is both thrilled and terrified to put her French language skills to the test. "I'm excited to really learn how to speak and be comfortable speaking in the language." She said that at UAA - and that at most universities - that once you get past the basics, the focus shifts from conversational language to more difficult endeavors like studying and analyzing literature. So for Narang, being immersed in the language will help zero in on her conversational skills.

"I really wanted to gain fluency, and that was a huge part of why I wanted to do this program," Narang said. "I also really love to travel and I like going and seeing new places and this was a great opportunity to do that."

Written by Catalina Myers, UAA Office of University Advancement 

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