Wednesday, 23 January 2013

What it's like to be an English teaching assistant in France

I know a lot of you want to know what it's like to actually be an English teaching assistant in France, so here's the inside scoop!

TEACHING
First of all, you only work 12 hours a week, so for me this means going into work on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I was really lucky that I got a great work schedule most aren't this lucky. An average day for me is to go into school and take half the class for 30 minutes and the other half for 30 minutes into a separate classroom where I'll do a lesson or activity with them. At my first school the teachers give me a topic they would like me to prepare something on and I do that in my own free time. At my other school, the teachers give me free reign. I can do whatever I like with them as long as I get them speaking English. 

I guess one thing I'll add quickly here is that teaching is a lot of improvisation and thinking on your feet.  What might work with one half of the group might totally fail with the other half. Sometimes, you find that you've prepared too much or not enough. I know the unpredictability might sound scary, but you'll get used to it and I think it's a great skill to have.

MONEY
In my experience, the salary is definitely enough to live on (though I'm unsure about Paris). The salary is undoubtedly harder to stretch if you live in a big city where you spend more on rent and commuting (if you work in towns outside the city). I know the idea of living anywhere but the city is unappealing to some of you, but it turned out better for me than I ever could've thought. Before I left Australia, I was 100% sure I wanted to live in Lille, despite my schools being at least one and half hours away. I was willing to sacrifice time and money to live in the city because I thought that it would really suck to live in a small town. I would be bored and isolated and have no friends, but nothing is further from the truth.

I share my town with 5 other assistants who are lovely and amazing. Hanging out is easy and there's at least a few bars around that we can go to. There isn't a massive amount of choice in places to go or shop, but Lille is only an hour away. We can go and do all the shopping and clubbing we want. I know everyone has their own lifestyle but unless you know you'll be going out a lot during the week and taking full advantage of living in the city, then a small town really isn't all that bad. I know some of you won't have that option because you'll be placed in the city itself, but if you aren't don't fret! I think if I lived in Lille instead of Cambrai, I would be spending on average 100-150 euros more a month in rent and transport costs, just to give you all a rough idea.

Depending on your priorities, if you're good with your money you should be able to do at least a little traveling. Those with lower to no living expenses should be able to live more than comfortably and should find it pretty easy to travel when they want. In terms of how much money you should bring with you, I would say bring a month's worth of salary (around €793) because you won't get paid until the end of October. Depending on your housing situation going in, bring more or less.

HOUSING
Housing will probably be the trickiest thing you deal with. TAPIF does not provide housing as part of the program. Some people are lucky and get housing provided for them by their schools where they pay little to no rent. Others get some help from their contact teacher who asks around or has some experience in helping that year's assistant find somewhere to live. And others get absolutely no help. If you're option 2 or 3, you'll most likely be spending €350-400 euros a month on rent. 'APL' exists where people who don't earn much get their housing subsidised (as assistants we're in this boat). Most people refer to it as CAF because that's the name of the organisation that you apply through to get APL. The problem is that it's not easy to get and I wouldn't rely on it to get by, because you never know when it will come.

In most cities, finding a place to live in middle to late October is difficult, especially when its a got a big student population. The students get there before the assistants do and take a lot of the cheap/good housing and then you're also competing with other assistants. Landlords are also weary of renting to assistants and sometimes have strict requests like wanting a guarantor, wanting a bond etc. If you're in this camp make sure to bring more money with you before you come. It's always better to have some left over than not enough. A lot of the time it's luck and finding that landlord who's more easy going.

LIVING FAR FROM HOME
How hard is it? The first two months or so are both the easiest and the hardest. It's hard because you're finding somewhere to live, filling out mountains of paperwork and in a new country with a different language, but also easy because everything is new and exciting to you. You'll be distracted by a new job, making new friends and everything else, that thinking about and missing home isn't so bad. It starts to get hard the closer you get to the holiday season: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. You've been in France long enough by this point that you've settled in. You've got a routine down, got friends that your regularly hang out with and teaching has becoming second nature. Now, all there is to think about is the fact that you're not at home. But, if you can make it through December, you've got it made. Once you pass that hurdle, it's the New Year and then you've only got a few months left before going home.

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I know there's a lot to read here, but I thought you would all find it useful and helpful. I know I would've liked to have read something like this before I came to France and started the program. If there's anything you think is missing, leave it in the comments below and I'll be sure to reply or even include it in a future post!

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