French teacher travels world, shapes personality


Chelsea Shaffer

French teacher Chelsea Shaffer takes a picture with her French students at Université de Pau in 2012. Shaffer made many trips to France and lived in Pau, Rouen and Argentan.

Nadeen Al-Ostaz, Staff Writer

French teacher Chelsea Shaffer comes from a family that has travelled all over the world, and she decided to do the same herself.

Shaffer has lived in France, Austria, Colorado, Arizona and California while also visiting other countries and states, but she started her world journey in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where she was born.

“I mostly remember our house. We lived in an expat community, so it was like a gated neighborhood,” Shaffer said. “There was the neighborhood swimming pool. I remember walking to the swimming pool all the time to go hangout with my parents’ friends.”

Her parents moved to Saudi Arabia one month after getting married. They moved there because her father worked for a technology business, and one of the partners of the company was located in Saudi Arabia. The original plan was to live there for one year, but they lived there for five. Shaffer moved when she was 3 years old.

“The Gulf War started so [Shaffer’s mother] would tell stories about [how] she was 6-months pregnant, and my dad was at work so she couldn’t leave the house but there was like bombs going off over the city. Power was out,” Shaffer said. “I think she got a little bit fed up of not having any family there and having two young babies. So, she wanted to be closer to her parents and my dad’s parents, so we left.”

Her next stop was Phoenix, Arizona where her dad owned a house until he got married to Shaffer’s mother. She lived in Arizona until she was 7 years old. San Diego, California became the new place that Shaffer called home.

“My dad, at this time, was working for Hitachi Data Systems. They had actually transferred him to San Diego, California while we were still living in Phoenix, so he was commuting between California and Arizona,” Shaffer said. “He had this little bachelor’s apartment, and he’d work in San Diego, on the weekends, he’d come home to Arizona. It just didn’t work well, and so one day he came back home to Arizona and told my mom he’d bought a house. Then we’d moved to San Diego.”

Shaffer, who first visited France when she was 10 years old, began speaking the French language at the age of 15.

“I went to school [in California] with kids who commuted from Mexico. I was so far south in California it was like everybody I knew took Spanish, and I wanted to be quirky and different from everybody else, so I took French,” Shaffer said. “Plus I really loved it and thought it was a pretty language.”

She double-majored in journalism and French. Shaffer studied abroad where she heard about a program called the Teaching Assistantship Program in France (TAPIF), which allows for college graduates to be teaching assistants in French high schools.

“I applied my senior year of college and [started] that fall after I graduated,” Shaffer said. “So I went there, did my first year and met my boyfriend Charlie [Winnick]—he was also a teaching assistant at the time. He still had one year left of university to finish in Manchester in England so he went back, and I went back to Colorado with my parents for another year. I did a three month volunteer teacher training program in Austria January of 2015. I went to Austria for three months to teach English in Austrian middle schools.”

Shaffer lived in France before moving to Oxford to teach French while her boyfriend worked on his Masters degree in French at Ole Miss. Oxford has been an adjustment for Shaffer because students in France were more quiet and timid unlike students in the United States.

“If I could say one thing to the student body of Oxford High School is study abroad,” Shaffer said. “Studying abroad genuinely changed my life. Every single decision I’ve made as an adult has come from studying abroad. You just never know what’s going to happen. You should do it.”

Shaffer says that traveling has really shaped who she is and urges students to study abroad.

“I think her traveling has given her the bravery and courage that she has. In new places she always wants to try to immerse herself in the new cultures,” Winnick said. “This desire to learn about new cultures has forced her to be open to any experience without fear. I believe this has helped her become very good with people as she has attempted to learn about new cultures and its people when she has visited their countries or cities. This has helped her empathize with people and make people feel at ease.”