Hindsight is 20/20: Navigating placement for future TAPIF assistants

As a TAPIF assistant, your placement letter will come at the very soonest a month and a half to two months after you get accepted into the program. However, those whom receive their placement letters at the beginning of June are the lucky ones. In fact most don’t receive theirs until July and even some still don’t receive their placement letters until August, much like myself. I received my placement letter August 1st, four days before the date we were all suppose to have them. So, it really could be last minute, especially because most of France, especially schools, are on vacation in July and August. So, that complicates things just a bit.

If you are one of the unlucky ones who doesn’t have their placement even after the date you are supposed to have gotten it, contact the person in charge of TAPIF assistants immediately. Unfortunately, that did happen to a few assistants, but hopefully that won’t be the case for you.

Now, your placement letter, unlike your acceptance letter, will come by mail to your home in your home country. So, watch out for it. Also, please note that you should be flexible with your expectations of your placement. If you got into the Académie that you wanted, fantastic! However, you cannot hope too much to be placed in the city in which you want. For example, I did receive the Académie that I wanted, Académie de Nantes. However, I was placed in a smaller city (Laval) than I wanted (Angers or Nantes). Don’t be too disappointed though if you are not placed in the city in which you want. You could be pleasantly surprised much like I was with Laval. As I’m nearing my time here, I can say that I appreciate Laval very much and that I had an absolutely wonderful time here.

Anyways, now here’s what your letter should contain:

  • Your arrêté de nomination, aka your contract. Guard this with your life! You need this for basically everything: visa, OFII, potentially housing, CAF, le sécu, etc. etc. Make copies and then make more copies. I think I left for France with at least 6 copies, if not more, just in case.
  • A letter containing the city and the school(s) in which you have been placed. Now, assistants can be placed in up to 3 schools. I was placed in two secondary schools, one collège and one lycée.
  • Another letter giving you the contact information for your school(s) and your référent. Your référent will be someone from your main school, the school in which you will be working a higher percentage, that is set aside for you to help you with any questions or problems you have preparing for, coming to, and living in France. Basically, if you have any questions at all about anything, you should email your référent. For example, I was placed in Collège Jules Renard 33%, which means that I work 4 hours a week there, and I was placed in Lycée Douanier Rousseau 67%, which means that I work 8 hours there. So, my référent is a teacher at the lycée in which I work.
  • Another letter saying that you recognize and accept the position that you have been offered that you have to sign, to date, and to physically mail back to your Académie in order to say that you are indeed accepting the position. It will have the exact address to which you need to send it.

After you have jumped up and down for a few minutes with complete and utter bliss and excitement, it’s time to get cracking. Getting your placement and contract opens up so many doors of things that you need to accomplish before you get to France.

  1. Email both your schools and your référent. Usually your référent works at one of your schools (unless you are in primary), so you don’t have to email the secretary at that school most likely. Introduce yourself. Tell them a little bit about yourself. Ask them what you should expect while working in the school such as school size, class size, what the students are like, if they’ve ever had an assistant before, etc. etc. When you email your référent asking the same things, first and foremost ask about if the school has lodging for assistants. If not, ask if your référent has any suggestions on where to look for housing. Then, use your référent as a source for other things, like which bank to open an account with (which ones are available), same thing with cell phone plans, if there was an assistant last year and if you can get into contact with him/her (talking to the former assistant can be a great resource for learning more about the school, the students, the teachers, and potential lesson plan ideas, etc. etc.), and any other questions you might think of. They are there to help you! Don’t be shy! It’s also helpful to email your school(s) so that you know what day they will want you to come in to discuss your schedule, complete the required paperwork, meet other teachers, and to do observations in the classes in which you will be teaching.
  2. Scheduling a visa appointment at the French consulate for your state. As I am from Indiana, the nearest consulate was in Chicago. You can go online at this link if you are from the United States to figure out which consulate you need to go to. Just simply click on your state here. I advise doing this as early as humanly possible because as it is also the season for study abroad students to apply for their visas, spots fill up quick. I would even go as far as to schedule it for a few days or a week after the date you are supposed to have received your placement and your contract even if you haven’t received your contract yet because you just never know (that’s what I did, and it worked out just fine). For the visa appointment you need to allow at least 2 weeks for you to get your visa. It could still take longer than that.
  3. Start getting into contact with the other assistants placed in your city, both primary and secondary. This will help you to create a support system for your specific city and network so that you aren’t completely on your own once you get there. This way, you already have some friends made so that the initial shock of being in a foreign country isn’t too rough. Plus it can help when looking for housing. Fellow assistants are a great source for potential roommates. They are also great partners in crime when navigating all the stuff you have to do to get settled. Again, you’re not alone!
  4. Look for housing immediately. Finding housing could be easy, or it could be really difficult. You also can’t be too sure of how long it will take. If you are interested in knowing some ways that you can go about looking for housing, check out my post about it here. Google is definitely your friend.
  5. Continue saving up money. As I said in my Acceptance post, you will have to live off your own personal savings for at least the first month while you are living in France, quite possibly the first two months as well. So, you really need to save each and every little penny that you earn.
  6. Start putting together a packing list. You will most likely be leaving between a month and a half to two months after you get your contract. It’s time to start thinking about what you are going to bring with you for your 7 month long adventure. Check out my post that gives you some ideas about what you should and should not pack.
  7. If you haven’t done so by now, book your flight. The sweet spot for a decent price for flights is around 3 months before your departure date, and the cheapest day to buy flights is Tuesday afternoons. I’m not sure why, but believe me. It’s true. As for whether or not you should go ahead and book round trip, that’s up to personal choice. It is true that it will end up being cheaper to do a round trip in the long run. However, that’s only helpful if you are extremely certain of the day of your return. So, I ended up booking the two separately, one in June (yes, I was quite enthusiastic!), and my other ones in December for going home (because I knew by then what day I was coming home) because I wasn’t sure what day I was going to want to come home when I left for France. You also can’t be sure of when your visa will expire. My visa expires May 20th, but I have heard of some assistants’ visas expiring in June, July, and even August.
  8. Start getting together all of your personal documents if you haven’t already and make copies. Like your birth certificate, your passport, your visa (when you get it), your arrêté de nomination, your placement letters, copy of your taxes from the previous two years, your vaccination records, etc. etc. I think you get the gist.
  9. Lastly, start doing research on the city in which you were placed. What’s the culture like? What’s the weather like? How big is the population? What are some things to do there? What’s the local cuisine like? etc. etc. It’s good to know what you will be living in for the next 7 months of your life.

I understand how overwhelming this process can be, as I’m sure many other assistants could say. However, it will all work out. Just remember that thousands of assistants do this every year and come out on the other side just fine and feeling extremely accomplished. I hope you do as well! Good luck!

Hindsight is 20/20: Navigating acceptance for future TAPIF assistants

So, you applied to work as an assistant in the Teaching Assistant Program in France. Thumbs up to you for being brave and considering conquering the adult world in another country! If you are reading this and you haven’t received news yet of whether or not you have been accepted to TAPIF,

  • if it’s before April, just have patience, it’s coming!
  • if it is April and you are feeling antsy, just remember that not all assistants will receive their acceptance email at the same time. So, just try your best to take deep breaths and continue having patience!
  • if it’s after April and you still haven’t heard any news, I would start contacting someone. All assistants should find out if they were accepted, weren’t accepted, or were placed on the waiting list by now. I would advise emailing the person that is in charge of the TAPIF applicants. When I had applied, it was Natalie Cox. However, I can’t be sure it’s the same person now.

Now, that that’s all sorted, if you have been accepted congratulations! Working as a TAPIF assistant is going to be some of the most difficult and the most amazing 7 or 8 months of your life! If you were put on the waiting list, there’s still hope! Most people that were put on the waiting list when I applied found out if they had a spot either in July or August. So, don’t give up quite yet!

For those whom have been accepted, unfortunately, you will only know whether you were placed in secondary or primary and in which Académie you have been placed. Unfortunately, you have to wait at the very least  a month and a half and at the most three months until you find out your placement. So, the best advice I can give you is to just have more patience. Many assistants started receiving their placements as early as the 2nd of June, however, I didn’t receive mine until the beginning of August, 4 days before the day we were supposed to have received them. There were also many in between. So, if you see other assistants that have gotten their placements, don’t assume you will get yours soon after. It really is all over the place. Once you’ve been accepted though, I advise the following:

1. Start doing research on your Académie and on France in general

It’s important to start becoming familiar with where you will be living, even if you don’t know the exact location. You can familiarize yourself with how your schools function in your Académie, helping you to know a little bit more what to expect. I didn’t know much about French schools before I came to work in them. Start learning about the French system: how it works, what sort of subjects the students learn about, how is it different from the school system in your home country, etc. Not only will this help you to adjust more quickly knowing what is to come, but if you are placed in a high school, knowing the differences can help you plan a lesson on what being a student is like in your home country. I did a lesson teaching my students about what it was like to be an American high school student and then had them compare and contrast it with what it’s like in French high schools. They really loved it! They were fascinated to learn about the differences!

Additionally, if you’ve never been to France before or have never lived there, it’s a great time to do some research on what cultural challenges you might expect to have.

2. Start saving money! 

Moving to another country is expensive. You have to pay to book flights, possibly a train, for deposit, for rent, for a cell phone plan, possibly a cell phone, opening a bank account, wifi, food, and for traveling your first couple of weeks of vacation because you won’t receive your first salary until the end of October! And even then, that’s only if you get your paperwork for the advanced paycheck in on time. So, start saving every penny you can because you will have to live solely off your savings for at least the first month that you are living in France.

3. Find and update (if needed) all of your documentation! 

Do you have a passport? Yes? Great! Find it and make sure that it is valid for at least 6 months after you plan to return from France. Both the American and the French governments require this.

If you don’t have a passport, you need to apply for one right now! You can never be sure how long it will take to receive your passport. It could be one week. It could be up to 8 weeks, so you need to be speedy quick about applying. It’s going to be highly important down the road because you’ll need it just to leave the country and to get your visa for your teaching assistantship.

You’ll need to locate your birth certificate, your vaccination records, and your tax information from the last two years. You will need all of these things for later down the road! Trust me!

4. Consider starting a blog about your travels! 

I started this blog here to first share my experiences with my friends and my family back home while I was abroad. Being a writer and loving to share my stories, a blog was the best way that I knew how to communicate to everyone back home about what I was up to. Plus, it’s a great way for you to document your travels to look back on later.

5. Get in touch with other teaching assistants! 

Completely lost, confused, stressed, and overwhelmed by all of the things you have to get accomplished to make your dream of teaching in France come true? You’re not alone! There are around 4,000 assistants from all countries who will assist in teaching all sorts of language in mainland France et les DOM-TOMs! If you have a question, either check out some of the other posts I’ll be writing about navigating the logistics of TAPIF or ask another assistant. I’m sure someone will know.

How to go about this? The best way I know of is Facebook. Search for an assistants page. Can’t find one? Create one yourself! I am a part of three in total: one for all assistants, one for assistants a part of my specific Académie, and one for the city in which I was placed. Plus, I’m also in one for fellow assistants interested in travel. So many choices!

 

So, congratulations on your acceptance! You’re going to have a fantastic time. I wish you good luck as you start your new crazy and exciting adventure!

Hindsight is 20/20: A roadmap for future TAPIF assistants or other expats looking for some help navigating France

If you are reading this, I’m sure you are a future TAPIFer or another expat looking for some advice on how to navigate life in France. I know that when I first began my journey as a TAPIF assistant, I scoured the internet for advice on how to manage the impossibly long list of things that I needed to accomplish before, during, and leaving as an expatriate in France. The beginning of the process was immensely stressful. Though I had studied abroad in France, working through TAPIF was my first time actually living, you know, as an adult and such, in a foreign country.

So, I wanted to share some of the insight that I gained while living in France to pass along to future French expatriates, knowing that I would’ve loved to have someone tell me like it is. So, I’ve created a series of posts, titled Hindsight is 20/20, to help you with all of the different aspects of moving to and living in France. Just remember that I’m not an expert and am just simply passing along what I learned along the way. I hope these are helpful, and I wish you good luck!

1.Initial preparations

2. Housing

3. Opening a bank account

4. Choosing a phone plan

5. Legal Paperwork

6. In the classroom

7. Daily Life

8. Traveling – go check out my section on traveling!

9. On leaving France

 

 

 

A gorgeous end to my Iberian Peninsula adventures: Madrid

Though it’s been a long time coming, I’m finally getting around to talking about my last stop in my Iberian Peninsula adventure. I apologize for it’s lateness. I’ve been teaching, preparing for my departure from France in about 5 weeks, and for my next adventure.

Anyways, one must not pass through Spain without passing through it’s capital. Madrid is truly the capital of Spain. You can tell. If I had to describe it, Madrid is like the Spanish New York, business men and women everyone, lots of culture, but also lots, I mean LOTS of tourists. Everywhere we walked it seemed as though we were just a part of the big sea of humans.

Unfortunately the first day full day we were in Madrid, it was cold and rainy. I did not properly prepare for such weather. The struggle was quite real by the end of our two weeks. I was almost ready to skip Madrid altogether, especially when I saw how cold and rainy it was. However, I’m thankful that we didn’t.

Despite the weather, my friend, Sara, and I took a free walking tour. Now, I had never taken a free walking tour before because I usually try to avoid big groups of tourists together at the same time (I don’t really like to stick out). However, as it was something FREE to do and as our wallets were quite thin by the time we got to Madrid, I thought why not?

The fantastic thing about free walking tours is that they are absolutely free. Though tips are generally expected and actually rather polite, you still are not absolutely required to tip. Also, they are a great way to see different parts of the city and to learn about the city. I really enjoyed it not only for all of the history of Spain that I learned about but also because our tour guide was quite hilarious. She loved to tell fun little anecdotes complete with impressions and all.

During our walking tour, we learned about the Royal Palace and all of it’s glory and it’s relationship with the cathedral, which is literally right across from it. Now, a little bit of history. The Royal family and the Royal Palace were so ”glorious” at the time that the palace was built that the Royal family forbid the cathedral from looking more beautiful than the palace, because the King didn’t want the Church competing with the Royal family. How crazy is that? So, as a result, the Catholic Church in the capital city of Spain isn’t as beautiful of some of the others throughout all of Spain. I would say it’s still beautiful, but it doesn’t appear to be the cathedral of the capital city of Spain. However, just because the front of the church doesn’t particularly stand out (for it is the side that faces the Royal Palace), that doesn’t mean that the back half can’t be beautiful in it’s own right. Also, if you are looking for something to do, it is open and FREE to go into the cathedral during open hours.

Left: Front of the cathedral Right: Back of the cathedral

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glimpse of the Royal palace from the gardens

If you are interested in more ridiculous stories about Madrid’s history, I suggest walking on over to Plaza Mayor. Now, I suggest not eating from any of the restaurants in this square. They are all extremely touristic and highly over priced (and apparently not of good quality according to our tour guide). It’s also a hot spot for people to sell you random overpriced tourist junk. Don’t give in to the trap!

This square as it exists now is actually the fourth one to have been built. The original was built in the 16th century during the reign of King Phillip III. After the first square was built, in order to figure out the cause of/prevent the spread of an illness epidemic, a city ordinance was put in place where no one, absolutely no one, not even children, were allowed to drink water. So, the alternative? Wine and lots of it. So, everyone, even children, were bumbling around drunk, and what do you get when you have that mixed with fires in chimneys during the winter time? Fires, that’s what. So, all according to our tour guide, there were not one, not two, but three fires, three winters in a row! That’s some intense stuff. Wow!

So, the square as you can see it today is the fourth square to have been built. I think thankfully by then they got some sense, stopped building the square and its buildings out of wood, and finally the epidemic passed. Crazy times, they were. I can only imagine.

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Plaza Mayor: King Phillip III

While you’re in the area, head on over to Puerta del Sol, Spanish for ”Gate of the Sun,” the busiest square in all of Madrid. This place is crawling with people, making it a fantastic place to grab a cup of coffee under the sun and just people watch. Now, the coffee at these restaurants will be a little pricier than other places because of it’s central location but still a decent price. You can see all types of people here: students, business men and woman, tourists, you name it.

Also, another a piece of advice. Guard your belongings with your life! This place is a tourist hot spot and is known for pickpockets. You can still enjoy your surroundings, just be cautious while doing so.

The history in this square is rich. In this square once existed the main gate into the city during Medieval Times, and the gate faced the South, leaving it wide open for constant sun exposure throughout the day, hence it’s name.

This square is also the resting place of the bear and the tree statue, the symbol for the city of Madrid. According to the legend of the city, when it was founded, the area in which it was built was flooded with bears. Thus, from then on it became the emblem of the city. According to our tour guide, the bear is also supposed to be female, just a fun little fact.

It also contains the famous clock known for the traditional eating of the Twelve Grapes to ring in the new year. The tradition: the bell rings 12 times in 12 seconds as it strikes midnight. During these rings, everyone eats one grape for each second, the purpose being that if a person is able to eat all twelve grapes then that person will have a really good new year.

As you can see, quirkiness does not lack in the city of Madrid, and it continues. If you head northwest of the Royal Palace, you’ll eventually come across the Egyptian ruins, the Debod Temple, in West Park. These ruins were a gift to Spain for helping Egypt save the temples of Abu Simbel from a threat of destruction while the building of a big dam. The temple was deconstructed and then reconstructed in Madrid to where it is on display for public viewing for FREE.

I used to be obsessed with ancient Egyptian history when I was younger, so it was definitely on my list of sights to see. Though it was quite small, and though there was not much to learn about, it was still quite fascinating to see and to learn about. Who knew that I could take a quick trip to Egypt in the middle of Spain?

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While your there, I suggest not skipping out on going to the Buen Retiro Park. Being quite a massive park, you can spend much time here just roaming around the different parts of it, enjoying the plants, the animals, the sun, and even the man-made pond!

Sara and I walked to this park on our second day, when the weather was absolutely gorgeous, so we spent about a good 45 minutes to an hour just basking in the sunlight while enjoying the view of people paddling boats around in this man-made pond. Renting a boat does indeed cost money, but who needs it when you can just sit, enjoy the sun, and people watch?

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And on your way to the park, why not check out the Palacio de las Comunicaciones, aka Madrid city hall. Though most governmental buildings can be quite boring to tour (unless you are very interested in learning about it), this city hall is FREE to go inside, if for nothing else than for a free toilet (guilty. you know, you have to take advantage of it when you can in Europe.) Plus, the outside is a beautiful display of unique architecture, and while I was there, the message displayed is something I can definitely get behind.

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Unfortunately, due to our lack of funds and our extreme fatigue from having been traveling for two weeks straight, we weren’t as vigilant about seeing as many attractions as in the other cities we had passed through. However, here are some that you might want to consider stopping by:

  • Plaza Espana 
  • Gran Via Avenue – lots of beautiful buildings and many stores if you are looking to do some shopping
  • Royal Theater 
  • Victory Arch
  • etc. etc. Here is a fantastic link that shows you all of the possible things to see and do in Madrid: http://www.madridtourist.info/index.html

While in Spain though, may I suggest just letting yourself roam a bit, get some tapas and some sangria, see what this beautiful country has to offer.

You have to know that we spent our last couple of hours indulging in a nice cup of Spanish coffee and teaching a Spanish man the word ”straw” in English. You never know what you’re going to experience when you start living that traveler’s life. Here’s to more adventures to come, and to this beautiful picture of the Pyrenees as we crossed from Spain over to France on our way home.

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Bisous et à plus mes amis….