Imagine a naive, midwestern blondie, dumped by her college boyfriend, and determined to get a new lease on life by spending a year teaching English in France. She gets accepted to the TAPIF program and takes off for a year abroad in small town Loudon (pop. 7,000) hoping that this one year would help her figure out what to do with her life post break up.
Fast forward 9 years later and that same girl never left France for longer than 3 months in a row. She finished the TAPIF Program, went on to do a masters program, completed 3 different internships, applied for 10 different visas, got her first real job, then her second real job, made life long friends, met her soccer crazed husband, bought a tiny apartment in central Paris and is expecting her first child any day. It’s literally CRAY CRAY how life’s twists and turns bring you so far and even crazier that part of my story started thanks to that one year in the TAPIF program.
I get a lot of questions about what I would tell the next group of assistants getting ready to dive blind into the Teaching Assistant Program in France. So I have finally delivered on all those requests! Here are my “Top 10 Do’s and Don’ts” below. If you want another 5 BONUS tips, download the fancy schmancy one pager here!
1. DO CONSIDER HIGH SCHOOL VS PRIMARY SCHOOL
Teaching high school and middle school classes is VERY different than teaching those youngins in primary school. There are advantages and disadvantages to both ages. If you’re shy about speaking French or less confident about how great of an actual teacher you will be leading a class, consider older students. In my experience, there was little to no lesson prep, you’re not even supposed to speak any French with the students to force them to discuss in English and it’s their regular English professor who tells you what to do with them. Easy Breezy. However, I won’t lie that most of the class had no interest in being there and participation was at an all time low. But primary students…they love when you come! You plan the whole lesson, you sing, play, and interact with them in both French and English. It’s more work during and before, but you might get a lot more satisfaction out of doing it with willing students!
2. DON’T THINK BIG CITIES ARE THE ONLY PLACE TO APPLY
Most assistants are dying to work in big cities like Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon or one of the DOM-TOMS, but don’t just consider the big cities and sunny beaches! When you apply, TAPIF forces you to choose between some lesser known areas and you’ve got a pretty large chance of getting a town you can’t even point to on a map. HAVE NO FEAR! There are so many advantages to small town life in France for seven months. Think cheaper rent, improving your French faster, integrating more, etc.. Seven months flies by and if you want to stay in France after the program, chances are your next opportunity will be in a big city anyways, so enjoy country life while it lasts!
3. DO CONSIDER COMMUTING TO SCHOOL
If you get placed in a town where you are the only assistant and the town bar closes at a late 10 pm, you may want to rethink where you are living if that’s not your vibe. No worries though. You can totally commute to your school like I did. Listen up, this is a job. It’s not a “study abroad, coddle me the entire way and force me to live somewhere I don’t want to” trip. Figure out how you can get from a larger town in the area, to your work and find an apartment there. You’ll be surprised how many teachers in your school are doing that daily commute too and you can probably just end up hitching a ride with them.
4. DO TRY TO GROUP YOUR SCHOOL HOURS TOGETHER
It’s not always possible to get your schools to group your hours on the same day, especially since most people are working at two or three different schools during the week and it’s hard to get all of those people organized around a common schedule. But this is not the time to be shy. Don’t hesitate to ask if it’s possible! Especially if you decided to go with the commute route and you’ve got the back and forth to think about. No one wants to do an hour bus ride on a Monday morning at 7 am for a one hour class. You might be surprised how flexible the teachers can be if you explain your situation. I managed to have classes on tuesday, wednesday and thursday and had 4 day weekends to travel and babysit on the side. Hello #freetime!
5. DO BE REALISTIC ABOUT YOUR SALARY
790 euros is pretty sweet deal for a 12 hour work week. You’re not going to be living a life of insane luxury, but if you’re in a smaller town, you can absolutely survive off of your salary comfortably. You’ll need some savings up front to get you by until your first pay check comes through, but I easily lived off of my salary the entire time I was there. Don’t hesitate though to take advantage of some of the benefits for students in France. See if you qualify for the CAF, check out “FREE” for your telephone, get a 12-27 card to get cheap train tickets etc… The French love giving young students discounted prices on everything. It’s amazeballs, so make sure to always keep an eye out for “junior prices”.
6. DO KEEP ALL YOUR PAPERWORK
The French administration is notorious for asking you to produce paperwork you never thought you would need again. And unfortunately, they are also notorious for being able to produce copies of anything if you didn’t save it yourself. Even if you think, or you 100% know, you will only live in France for one year, save EVERYTHING! I mean everythingggggg…. from your bank statements, to your pay stubs, the CAF paperwork, your telephone bills, your apartment contract etc… I promise you will never regret this. You will however regret what you threw away quicker than you can say “bonjour.”
7. DON’T IGNORE THE OTHER ASSISTANTS
It’s normal to want to make French friends ASAP and integrate as soon as you can, but don’t do this at the price of ignoring the other assistants. Those other anglophones will be the support system you never thought you needed. They will be the free therapist you crave when things aren’t going the way that you wanted and you need to talk to anyone who can relate. Plus, the French aren’t exactly known to be the friendliest people with strangers. It might take you some time to make local friends, so lean on those other assistants to help you get settled and keep you sane in the harder moments.
8. DON’T WAIT TOO LONG TO ORGANIZE YOUR TRAVEL
You get two weeks off every two months in the TAPIF program. Have you ever heard of so much paid vacation in your life? It’s absolutely whack, but completely true, so take advantage of every single day to explore France, Europe or even the world! But don’t wait too long to start organizing your trips. Everyone and their mother travels during that time since the students are out of school, so the tickets anywhere get ridiculously pricey!#planaheadoftime
9. DON’T WAIT TO STRATEGIZE FOR THE 2ND YEAR
It’s important if you want to apply to stay a second year that the school directors you work for and the director who runs the Assistant’s Program in your academy thinks you’re a rockstar. Even if you aren’t sure you want to stay another year, try to get to know them early on. Show up on time, with a good attitude and try to network with the other teachers. It will really help your application for the 2nd year if you change your mind!
10. DO HAVE FUN
AND HAVE FUN! This could easily be the absolute best year of your life (so far). Living abroad, working a little, getting paid a lot, traveling all the time, making new friends, learning French etc… the adventure list is never ending. So take advantage, live in the present and enjoy the program!
If you want another 5 tips, download the fancy schmancy one pager here! If you have any other questions that I didn’t answer, write in the comments below! I would love to hear any comments if other alumni TAPIF assistants think I missed something crucial!