For this instalment of our weekly My French Career series, we spoke to Amina Benman, from Indiana, USA. After graduating from an American university, she enrolled in a little-known teaching assistant programme run by France’s ministry of education, loved it, and now plans to stay in France to study linguistics and work here.
How did you end up teaching in France in the first place?
“Well I studied French and English in New York, but studied abroad in Lille, in 2010. While I was there I heard about the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) from an American friend who was doing it then.
“After I graduated I just wanted to do something combining French and English. and I really wanted to return to France, so I applied to TAPIF and I got accepted.”
What is TAPIF?
TAPIF is a programme run by the French ministry for education that gives foreigners a temporary visa to work as English teaching assistants in schools around France and in the French overseas territories, for the duration of a normal school year.
What did you do in the programme?
“I worked in two secondary schools in Bischwiller, near Strasbourg. You can get placed in a primary school, but most of the time it’s a secondary school. I developed my own lesson plans for the students, and taught them English, especially through talking about American culture, holidays or special traditions,” says Benman.
“I also worked alongside a teacher, as well as with small groups of students who were preparing to take the Bac [France’s national exams at the end of secondary school and before university]. It was all very manageable,” she adds.
What are the requirements?
Firstly, you have to be citizen of the country you’re applying through.
Benman applied through the French embassy in the US, but the visa is also available to citizens of the United Kingdom, Ireland, Canada, India, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Bahamas, according to France’s International Centre for Pedagogical Studies.
Secondly, you must be between 20 and 30 years of age, although that upper limit is 35 in certain countries, including the United States.
Thirdly, you must have what’s known as a B1 level of French. “That’s basically one or two years of French. It means you can go into a store and order what you want. I had friends who were not studying French, and they were fine,” says Benman.
For any other requirements, which can vary by country, consult this website.
How do you apply?
From her experience of the American path into TAPIF, Benman says the process involves a general application – university grades, a CV, and a short essay explaining why you want to come to France.
A recommendation from a college professor is also required – “preferably a French professor, but it can be anyone,” says Benman.
To prove you have a B1 aptitude for the French language, you must take a test at your local Alliance Française, or get a letter from a French professor verifying your language skills.
Applicants don’t have the final say over where they live and work, but according to Benman, “You choose three regions that interest you, and they place you in one of those three.”
The whole thing should take about two months, says Benman. “The application deadline is the end of January, and I got accepted in April. In July, you get assigned to your school and receive your work contract. Once you have that you can apply for your visa.”
What are the benefits of the programme?
Firstly, “It’s a great foot in the door for someone who’s thinking about moving to France, or just wants to experience living in France for a year,” says Benman.
This is especially true for non-EU citizens, who can often have difficulty finding a work visa, but are no longer at liberty to study in France.
Secondly, it gives you the chance to network, meet people, and apply for jobs or further education in France for when you come out of the program in April.
And if you do go on to work or study afterwards, having a temporary visa means you don’t have to go back to your home country and re-apply. “It definitely makes the visa process a whole lot smoother,” says Benman.
Thirdly, being a teaching assistant gives you a lot of free time. “You only work about 12-15 hours a week, so it’s a great way to be able to go out, explore your career options and decide your next move without a lot of pressure,” says Benman.
What about some disadvantages?
The money isn’t particularly great, and it’s a fixed stipend. Only working 12 hours every week does give you plenty of spare time, but in Benman’s case, the €750 she received through the programme every month was just enough to survive on.
“It’s a good student budget, but I definitely brought some savings with me, which you would need if you want to do some travelling. It’s not going into the workplace, and it’s not earning a salary,” she says.
Secondly, applicants don’t have control over where they are placed. Although Benman notes that many do get to live and work in their first or second choices, many are also assigned to small rural villages, and face either living there or commuting to school from nearby cities.
So if you’re heart is set on living in Paris, and Paris only, consider the risk involved in TAPIF.