Sara Marc has been on quite the emotional rollercoaster.
Marc, an August 2022 University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate, was recently accepted into the Teaching Assistant Program in France, better known as TAPIF—an initiative coordinated through the Cultural Services division of the French Embassy in the United States.
Just days after learning that news, she found out she had also been awarded a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship (ETA) to France after previously being told she was an alternate selection.
Electing which offer to take wasn’t simple.
“It was a tough decision; I had two different placements and I had to decide,” Marc said. “Both options are prestigious and I was going to have the same experience working as a teaching assistant, but I decided to go where I wanted to be.”
This fall, she is headed to Bordeaux, France, to be a teaching assistant and U.S. cultural ambassador as part of the TAPIF program. She has been placed in the Académie de Bordeaux at the secondary school level (middle and/or high school).
While Marc gets to list Fulbright on her resume, the opportunities TAPIF has to offer, including “help with your master’s and programs where you can go back to France,” were too attractive to pass up. “They even have a whole network of people you can talk to who have been through this experience,” she said.
According to the program’s website, there are more than 30,000 TAPIF alumni across the U.S.
A 2018 Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences graduate, Marc majored in French at UTC—receiving a bachelor’s degree in modern and classical languages and literatures with minors in education and political science. Her time as a UTC student included a study abroad semester in Lyon, France, in 2021 and being selected as a Gilman Scholar to France—a scholarship she had to decline due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Marc is a first-generation college graduate and second-generation immigrant. Her parents, Lucner Marc and Pauline Mathurin, were born in Haiti and came to the U.S. in the 1990s.
Being the first in her family to graduate college was a big deal, “especially for my mom because she is a stickler for education,” Marc said. “She didn’t get that opportunity to finish her education. She had to raise kids. She was learning a different language and had to get a job. She was supporting family back home. Because of her, I got to graduate college.”
While both of her parents speak French—one of Haiti’s national languages—Marc said it wasn’t spoken much around her growing up because her parents were working on their English.
It was in the classroom where she became fluent in the French language.
“I have been taking it since I was in kindergarten. I got lucky that I went to a school that offered it that early,” Marc said.
“The ultimate goal—and the whole purpose that I figured out throughout my four years at UTC—is that I want to implement foreign language in all schools as early as kindergarten because I got that opportunity. I went to school with so many students and people who came in later in middle school—and even high school—who never had a chance to study a foreign language. That was so crazy to me because I was taking it for so long.”
Marc said her long-term goals include earning a master’s degree and working as a French teacher. The TAPIF opportunity will allow her to bring back curriculum education ideas for introducing foreign languages in all schools as early as kindergarten.
“Teaching abroad is going to help me learn a little bit more about the foreign language curriculum,” she said, “and how teaching English to early kids and younger kids, how it works and how I could bring that back to the United States.”
She said she plans to lean on and build upon the experiences she learned during her study abroad excursion to Lyon in 2021.
“My first experience going to France was my first time out of the country,” Marc said, “and I got to learn about how they live their lives and how to live the life of someone who is French. I got to experience life using the metro and not being dependent so much on cars.
“It was my first time using all of the education that I learned all of my life and implementing it in the country that I’ve been learning the language for and the history about.”
Immersing herself in a different culture didn’t come without missteps.
“I was having trouble finding an umbrella,” she recalled. “I was asking for an umbrella, but because my accent was so different, they were like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I had to be patient, let go of my ego, and be like, ‘I’m not as good as I thought I was. I can be better and this is what I’m here for.’ That’s what a lot of it taught me.”
Dr. Karen Casey Casebier, associate professor of French, was Marc’s UTC French instructor for all four years.
“I am so happy for her and proud of her accomplishments. This will open many, many doors,” Casebier said. “In terms of her career, many employers are looking for something on a student’s resume that will stand out. She will be able to say not only that she has studied abroad but that she has worked abroad.
“Not many people have working in a foreign country on their resume.”
Casebier emphasized the development Marc experienced during her study abroad trip to France.
“She came back completely changed as a student,” Casebier said. “After spending that semester in Lyon, she spoke so well. I mean, she really upped her French game. When she left, she spoke French well for an American student, but when she came back, she had jumped ahead at least a level and a half.”
Marc credited Casebier for the ability to write the 500-word essay in French that was part of the TAPIF application.
“She gets you writing essays,” Marc said, “and my last senior paper was about 12 pages in French on a medieval story. She got me so accustomed to writing in French that 300 to 500 words was nothing.”
Marc became the third recent UTC student to earn Fulbright recognition during the 2022-2023 award cycle—joining Jared Steiman, a 2020 graduate who will be teaching in Mexico, and May 2022 graduate Oleander Reagan-Artemis, who will be teaching in Romania.
She expressed gratitude to Steiman for helping her tell her story in her applications.
“He was honestly an angel,” Marc said. “He’s a great storyteller, and he knows how to take the words you say and make them beautiful. I don’t know if I would have made it this far without him. I give him so much thanks for helping me maneuver my words and make them powerful.”
“I’m super proud of her more than anything. I know how hard she’s worked to get this,” Steiman said. “We were there (in the Guerry Center) until 5 a.m. when she finally submitted her application. It was a lot of back and forth of her reading me things she was writing, just a lot of hitting the emotional note it takes to make this application successful.
“To see her get it and be able to celebrate parallel to her celebration is really cool.”
Photos courtesy of Sara Marc
Sara Marc traveled to Lyon, France, for a study abroad opportunity as a UTC undergraduate.