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!

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