I don’t know about you, but working through TAPIF was the first time that I was planning on being away from home for longer than 4 months. I had studied abroad for 4 months a few years before, but moving to work, to live in an apartment, to be earning my own money, and for 7 months was a whole new ball game. So, at first, I was completely unsure on what I should pack. I looked over different blog posts from past assistants and found different articles online, and the best advice I can give you is to think about the following:
1.What the weather is like in your placement city and region: You need to know what the weather is going to be like the entire time that you are going to be teaching. Will it rain most of the time? Will it snow at all? Is it windy? Can it get hot?
For example, I live in Pays de la Loire. It rains about 80% of the time. Northwestern France winter is cold and rainy. So, I brought mostly sweaters, an umbrella, a coat, long socks, boots, etc.
2. Think about where you want to travel: Do you want to travel to warmer climates? Do you want to travel to cold climates? I will tell you that basically all of Europe is cold and rainy in the winter. So, plan to prepare for that if you plan on traveling throughout Europe during your breaks. You’ll want to, believe me. 8 weeks paid vacation! As the French say, profitez bien!
Something else that you should consider if you are going to travel is getting some travel basics that will help you during your travels. I suggest buying (if you don’t already have it) and bringing the following:
Travel blanket – Because you just never know when you are going to have to sleep in an airport, on a train, on a bus, etc. etc.
Travel pillow – mine is really nice because it’s a blow up one, so I can let the air out of it while I’m not using it and store it in my travel backpack without it taking up much space.
Travel towel – I use a Shandali one. It’s not too big, but the material (microfiber) is made to soak up large quantities of water. Additionally, it dries quite quickly.
RFID wallet or RFID credit card sleeves – large European cities, much like Madrid, are known for pickpockets, and with technology these days, you have to know that electronic pickpocketing is not only a thing that exists but is alive and well. I found an article online that explains what an RFID wallet is and the different types that you can choose to invest in.
Hiking backpack – instead of using just an everyday backpack, I decided to invest in the money to get a hiking backpack so that I could travel with just one bag, instead of a backpack and a rolling suitcase. Not only is it fantastic because it frees up my hands while I’m traveling, but hiking backpacks are built to support a lot of weight, which is ultimately better for your back, your shoulders, and your feet while you are traveling. I invested in a Kelty Redwing 44. I love it because it has plenty of support, and it’s not too big. Being a petite person, it was important to me that my bag wasn’t bigger than me. I suggest doing some research though, to find out what works best for you. Also, I suggest keeping in mind the carry-on size requirements for budget airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair. You never know when you might get an amazing deal on a flight. You don’t want to have to pay to check your bag.
travel bottles for toiletries – I brought some of these over from the United States, which saved me during my travels. Apparently travel bottles for toiletries are not a thing that exist in France. At least, I have not been able to find them anywhere. They are a great space saver and help you to stay within the liquid guidelines on flights.
travel converters – Most people know that electric outlets in Europe are completely different than in North America. If you didn’t know that, now you do! I want to distinguish the importance of the difference between a converter and an adapter. An adapter just simply makes it so that you can plug your electronics into the outlet that is different. A converter converts the wattage of your electronics to the limits of the outlet. This is highly important because you could end up destroying your electronics if their wattage is too strong for the outlet or vice versa! I say skip the adapters altogether and only invest in converters because you just never know, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. I invested in two Maxah MX-UC1 Surge Protector All in One Universal converter that you can buy on Amazon. Not only is this a converter and not an adapter, but it has plugs for the US, Europe, the UK, and even Austrailia/New Zealand. This makes it really easy so that you don’t have to buy two different converters if you plan on traveling throughout Europe and in the UK (why UK differs from the rest of Europe, I have no idea). Plus, it’s fairly inexpensive as far as converters go.
3. Working in French schools: Though teachers in the schools do dress so that they look nice, they dress very casually as well. Thinking of bringing a pant suit for work? Skip it. Thinking of bringing all of your nice dress pants? Not worth it. Teachers in French schools usually wear a nice pair of jeans and a nice blouse, cardigan, or button down. They really are pretty chill. I literally wear jeans almost every day that I work because it’s super comfortable and because it’s acceptable to wear them. I would advise bringing at least one blazer because it does allow you to dress up a bit if need be but also because the French wear blazers often. You’ll fit right in. I’ll also occasionally wear my maxi dress or my black skirt with tights and a nice top.
4. Working as an English assistant: At the start of your contract, you will probably be asked multiple times to prepare something about yourself, your home country, your home culture, your family, etc. However, wanting to bring pictures of all of your friends and family for class? Put them all on your computer or a USB. It saves some space, and it ensures that you won’t ever lose them. You might want to bring some bills and coins just to show them, but don’t bring a lot.
Don’t bring any text books, yearbooks, etc. It’s not worth the space that they will take up. Plus, if you are ever giving a lesson on life in the United States, you can always, always find examples online of yearbooks, restaurant menus, daily life as an American teenager, etc. etc. You don’t need to take up that space with stuff from home. You most likely will never use it or will only use it once.
As for notebooks, pens, pencils, scissors, tape, post-its, folders, etc.? You can buy those in France. You don’t need to take up space in your bags. I would advise bringing at least a handful of pens and pencils just in case you need to sign something or need to write down important info as well as one or two folders to keep all of your important documents in. Leave everything else at home.
It would be worth it to bring a bag, such as a large purse or a messenger bag, that you can use to carry your folders, notebooks, pens, and pencils for work it if you already have one. I bought one in France for rather cheap that has worked out great.
5. Toiletries: It is worth it to bring toiletries for at least the first two months, because like I said in my placement post, you won’t get paid until the end of October at the earliest. So, you might not want to spend the money investing in toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, razors, cotton swabs, etc. once you get here. It’s also good in the case that you have specific brands that you prefer to use. If that’s the case, then I suggest doing research to see if those brands are available in France. Also, ladies, conditioner is not as common in France. You can find it, but it’s not exactly the same quality as in the United States. So, if you are very particular about your conditioner, I suggest bringing enough for the whole 7 months.
I wouldn’t advise bringing toilet paper though. It’s so cheap that you can get a pack of 8 rolls for about 2€, which can last you between a month to two months at the least.
6. Entertainment: You will only be working 12 hours a week, so you are going to need some things to fill your time. Though I used my spare time to pick up some new hobbies, such as studying German on the side, or working more on other hobbies, such as writing more and working on improving my writing, you will want things to keep you occupied.
Bring books but not too many. You will probably want books to keep you occupied, however, you shouldn’t weigh down your bags with your entire collection. I ended up bringing only 5 books because I knew that I would end up buying books while I was in Europe. I would even go as far as to say not bring any. Library cards are usually free if you can show proof of residence, which you should be able to once you get your attestation d’habitation. Also, paperback classics are dirt cheap in France. So, I would use your time abroad to read up on some French classics and to improve your French reading skills.
Don’t bring DVDs or CDS. It’s not worth it. They take up too much space. Instead, put them on your computer or an external hard drive (which I do recommend investing in before you leave if you don’t have one already to back up files and as a place to store all of your photos and important documents), or invest in Netflix. Contrary to 3 years ago when I was studying abroad in Nantes, Netflix is now available in France. It won’t have all of the same movies or TV shows as back home, but they will have many French films, which is great for improving your French listening skills. They also have major TV shows like Pretty Little Liars, How I Met Your Mother, Downtown Abbey, etc. Plus, it’s only $8 a month.
For the artistic type, it would be worth it to bring one sketchbook, a set of sketching tools, etc. However, don’t bring your entire collection. If you get really desperate and want art supplies, you can get them at the supermarkets here in France or some of the art supply stores that exist, just like at home.
Computer – yes, absolutely yes bring your computer. Not only will you want it for Netflix or keeping in contact with friends and family back home through Facebook, Skype, email, and blogging, but you will use it for lesson planning. Your schools will most likely have computers, but having your own allows you to lesson plan in the comfort of your own home, even in your pajamas if you wish. Plus, it doesn’t put time limits on your lesson planning. It gives you the opportunity to lesson plan at midnight if you forgot about a certain lesson or have a last minute change in ideas.
Phone – If you have a phone that takes sim cards and can be unblocked, then it is completely worth it to bring it. I brought my iPhone 5c from the United States and made sure that my cell phone company unblocked it so that I could use it here in France. This saved me the stress (and the money) of having to buy another phone.
Tablet – a good idea but not a definite. Tablets can be great for using to read in place of bringing physical books, and they are small, which makes them great for taking them on your travels. I don’t have a tablet. I, instead, invested in an 11-inch, lightweight laptop that travels really easily. So, really this is up to personal preference.
External hard drive – absolutely. You need to back up everything because you never know what can happen!
8. Exercising: Bring your tennis shoes and a handful of items of workout clothing. I brought my tennis shoes, my yoga pants, three pairs of running shorts, and two running shirts. I do yoga often, however, I did not bring my yoga mat. It wasn’t worth it. It takes up too much space. Though I did not choose to invest in a yoga mat while here in France because I just use my rugs in my apartment, you can find them for rather cheap at sports stores.
9. Beauty and health: If you have prescription medication that you have to take, I advise seeing if you can get a 9 month advancement on your prescription. If you explain your situation, usually you can. This will save you time, headache, and some money on trying to get your prescriptions filled in France. I have to take medicine for hypothyroidism, and it saved me so much stress being able to get a 9-month advancement. My insurance only covered the first three months, but it was worth it to fork out all the money up front rather than trying to figure out the system in France, especially because my prescription requires seeing a specialist doctor.
You might want to also consider bringing Advil/ibuprofen because even though you can find these in France, they are much more expensive and come in smaller quantities in each package. Plus, what is available over the counter back home might not necessarily be available over the counter in France. France is very specific with many regulations when it comes to medications.
As for beauty, this is personal choice. You can get most products (makeup, nail polish, hair products, etc.) that you use back home in France, but cosmetics are generally more expensive in France. So, that’s really up to you. Save space and spend slightly more money, or buy a full 7 month’s worth and take up some space.
10. Important documents:
Passport + at least 5 copies
Visa + at least 5 copies
OFII documents + at least a couple of copies
Passport style photos – at least 5 if not more. You will use these for everything, OFII, carte jeune, le sécu, etc. and it’s nice to have one in case you need to replace your passport
Arrêté de nomination + at least 5 copies
Placement documents + copies
Vaccination records + copy
Flight itineraries + copies
Train ticket + copy
Boarding passes + copies
Taxes from two previous years + copies
debit and credit cards + copies (you never know when you might lose them or have them stolen and need to remember the numbers on your cards to cancel them)
Driver’s license + copy – just for an extra ID just in case
health insurance card from back home + copy
Birth certificate + at least 5 copies – I suggest paying money to order another birth certificate because that way you have two original copies, one to bring with you to France and one to leave with your parents.
social security card copy – I brought a copy of this just in case for any reason whatsoever, but I left the original copy with my mom
11. Things NOT to bring:
Hair dryer – hair dryers take up too much space, and you can buy one for rather cheap in France. I bought a small one from Carrefour for 10€. For straighteners and curling irons, that depends on the size, as those tend to be more expensive than hair dryers, it might be worth it to bring them if they are small.
dishes – Just don’t it. Too heavy. Too much space. Too breakable. You can find dishes for rather cheap at any number of supermarkets in France.
Towels – Not worth it. I advise bringing one travel towel and one wash cloth. However, don’t bring all of your towels. You can buy towel sets for under 10€.
Office supplies – like I said, these take up too much space and you can find them in France.
Items for lesson plans – like I said, the internet is your friend, and you can put things on your computer/external hard drive/USB
So, when packing thinking about these 11 different things will definitely significantly reduce the amount of stress and uncertainty when it comes to packing for your life abroad. I ended up bringing one large suitcase, one small suitcase, my hiking backpack, and one purse, and it all worked out perfectly. I also advise leaving some space for once you go home because you will absolutely buy things in France that you will want to take home. I hope this helps, and I wish you good luck in your packing endeavors!