Whether you want adventure, to delight in the country’s famed cheese portfolio or (if you’re American like me) seek refuge in a foreign country during this particularly volatile socio-political moment, here's how you can make your dreams into concrete plans.
There are numerous paths that young people can take to move to France, including becoming an au pair or applying to a French university, but the one I opted for was working as an English teaching assistant through a program called Teach Assistant Program In France (TAPIF).
TAPIF is available under a number of different names, depending on your home country, and gives applicants the opportunity to teach in France for about eight months – the perfect amount of time to test drive a life in France and decide if you’d like to stay longer.
For assistants from some countries, you can even renew for a second year of teaching – I began my first year of teaching in Fall 2019, and have just started my second year with the programme.
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Here's what I have learned while here
Most importantly, I suggest knowing at least a smidgen of French, and (ideally) a lot about yourself before applying to TAPIF before the annual January 15th deadline.
While as a teaching assistant you will most likely be teaching entirely in English, but in order to have any semblance of a social life, you’ll need a base level of fluency in the native language.
I studied abroad in France during high school and minored in the language at university, and have thus been able to integrate myself fairly easily into local sports teams and the dating scene.
A fellow assistant who has studied French for four years transitioned to life in France with relative ease, but a close friend dropped out because she only had about a year of language study under her belt.
Ask yourself: what do you want from these eight months?
There’s no wrong answer to this question, but depending on what your response is, there is a right approach to your time with TAPIF.
If you want to become a teacher, you’ll want to build a strong relationship with your host school and the TAPIF staff to secure references for your resume (or even a job post-programme).
If your main goal is to integrate yourself into French life, you’ll want to focus on curating a illustrious social life by joining local clubs, rooming with locals or becoming a regular at your neighborhood bar.
A fellow assistant and former roommate of mine knew coming into TAPIF that she wanted to use the experience as a stepping stone to a French graduate degree, so she began applying to universities within the first month of the programme. She just began her first year of graduate school this fall.
Once you know what you want from your year in France, it’ll be easier to fill out your TAPIF application – these preferences will inform your personal statement of motivation as well as your regional and educational level preferences.
When applying to TAPIF, you have the chance to rank the three academies where you would prefer to work, as well as the level you would like to teach (primary or secondary).
First-year assistants aren’t guaranteed to be assigned to their top choices, so you’ll need to approach this ranking with an open mind and a touch of strategy (don’t, for example, rank the Paris region as your top choice just to copy Emily in Paris – you’re unlikely to receive such a widely coveted assignment).
Pack your ranks with academies that your research suggests are good options for you and psych yourself up about the unique opportunities each has to offer you. Are you preparing for a career in elementary education, and are therefore unwilling to teach high schoolers? Do you need to work in a small town with a slower pace of life to maintain your mental health? Decide what, if any, assignments you must commit to declining for your own good.
No matter your background, you’ll need to prepare yourself mentally and physically for the challenging bureaucratic hurdles of France, particularly if, like me, you come from a non EU country.
TAPIF will help you secure your long stay work visa (visa long séjour valant titre de séjour in French, or VLS-TS for short) by guiding you and your host school through the visa application process, but the paperwork doesn’t end there.
Upon your arrival in France, you will need to validate your visa through your regional Office Français de l’Immigration et de l'Intégration (OFII). You will also need to apply for a carte vitale (which will allow you to get health care), open a bank account and secure a lease, among other things. All of these processes will require a staggering amount of paperwork.
The best preparation for these processes is to print out multiple (I’m talking five or more) copies of key paperwork such as your passport, visa, birth certificate, most recent tax return, work contract, recent pay stubs and any important personal medical documents.
To secure a lease on somewhere to live, you’ll also need many of the same documents from a parent. Keeping a wealth of paper copies on hand will make your journey through the French bureaucratic system infinitely less frustrating, but the most useful tool you can have on your side is patience and a healthy dose of understanding that the system is different from that of your home country.
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Emotionally, only you can know what you’ll need to help you adjust to French life.
Personally, I prefer to immediately immerse myself in the language and community without the safety net of an expat network to fall back on, so I quickly realised that organised social groups would be vital to my integration into French culture. Joining a roller derby team has done wonders for my emotional well-being, but whatever works for you.
Depending on whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, you might prefer rooming with a crowd of other assistants or renting a studio space of your own.
Ultimately, your adjustment will also depend largely on the community into which you’re placed and your personal outlook on what could be the first year of your future life in France.
Bella Dally-Steele is based in Bordeaux and has just begun her second year with the TAPIF programme.