So you want to teach in France? Perhaps you just got accepted into the Teaching Assistants Program in France (TAPIF, for short) and are nothing but a bundle of nerves, whether from excitement or nervousness (perhaps both). And whether or not you’ve received your work contract or even booked your VISA appointment, I am here to give you tips on “how to TAPIF” (yes, it’s a verb now!) to make your transition into France as smooth as possible.
Disclaimer: I am by no means affiliated with TAPIF, nor was I endorsed to write this post for them. All what I will say in the rest of the post are taken from my personal experiences and may or may not be accurate in their information, as I’m sure that things have changed in the past year. That said, I will do my best to give you the best information as I can, so bear with me!
Anyway, let’s tip away, shall we?
1. Get your arrêté de nomination. First things first, you will need to receive your arrêté in the mail before anything can be done. And yes, it has to arrive via snail mail, hard copy and all; the email print-out version will not be accepted. This piece of paper is probably the most important document you will need, as it not only is your work contract, but also your right to stay in France for more than three months without getting kicked out. Really depends on your academy, but waiting to receive it can take an *agonizingly* long time. Some assistants receive theirs as early as June while others don’t get theirs until August. Until you get your arrêté in the mailbox, you really don’t know when you can schedule a VISA appointment, which makes things all the more frustrating. I would say, though, regardless of already having the contract or not, try booking your VISA appointment between late July and late August, and hope that it arrives in time. During my first year as an assistante, I booked my appointment in late July, and my arrêté didn’t arrive until just three days before I was set to go. Close call, but call me lucky!
*IMPORTANT* Once you receive your arrêté, it needs to be stamped, often at the bottom of the page. If it isn’t, then it’s not considered “official,” and that will pose problems when processing paperwork at the VISA appointment and elsewhere. Stamps may vary from a round, hand-stamp to a rectangular one with a huge “DI.R.E.C.T.E.” on it, the later which I got on mine:
2. Book your VISA appointment. As I previously mentioned, I would encourage you to book ahead of time, since many French consulates (especially mine in Los Angeles) are especially booked over the summer, due to the huge influx of other assistants, lecteurs d’anglais, study-abroad students, and other people who want to get a VISA for France. Even if your arrêté doesn’t arrive on time, you can always reschedule the appointment at no cost. I had my appointment in late July for my first-year contract, although most people I knew scheduled theirs for August, at latest, early September. That said, book early!
3. Make copies (and more copies). This is not a joke; the French love paperwork, and insist that you have three or more copies of the same document. Don’t ask me why…they just do. So even if it says on the consulate’s website that you only need one copy of your passport photo, scan and print at least another one (heck, just go with five! You can never have too much of the same thing!). For a list of what you need to bring to the appointment (specifically for the LOS ANGELES branch), here’s the link: http://www.consulfrance-losangeles.org/spip.php?article806.
Once you’ve made all of your copies, keep them organized in a folder, preferably with dividers, as you’ll need some of them again when it comes to the OFII appointments once you’re in France (the paperwork ain’t over just yet!). Otherwise, you’re set! Show up to your VISA appointment on time, hand over all of the documents that the workers ask from you, get your VISA photo taken, and you’re set! The workers will process everything, and mail your passport (with your newly-minted VISA sticker inside) back to you within two weeks. Mine was fast, since I received mine within five business days.
4. Book your flight. I bought a round-trip back in April once I found out that I was accepted into the program. For those of you considering when to go, I would caution against purchasing tickets so early (even if they’ll be cheaper), just because you really don’t know when you want to arrive in and leave France. Also depends how long your VISA allows you to stay after the program ends. I sort of short-ended myself, as I had my VISA expire in early May; other assistants didn’t leave until late May, even as late as July. But at the same time, things worked out as my flight back to Los Angeles was, coincidentally, booked for the same day that my VISA was to expire, and I still had a week after my program to go off gallivanting in beautiful, warm Italy! That said, I would suggest booking your flight as soon as you finish processing your VISA.
I would say schedule to arrive in France at least a week before the contract officially starts, so that you have time to find housing, set up a bank account, and overall get settled in. For me, I arrived three weeks early, spending the first week in Paris vacationing with my family before moving to Normandy. As for different flight companies, I went with Air France which, while not inexpensive, was nevertheless comfortable with good service. Especially when it was going to be a long, twelve-hour ride, might as well be taken cared of, right? I knew many assistants who went with other options, including Icelandair, which of course has a stopover in Iceland (where some even went out to visit the country!). Whatever you choose, you’ll make it to France.
5. Find housing/set up bank account/cell phone contract/etc. While it is possible to figure out these things while still in the U.S., it is definitely much better to wait until you arrive in France to do so, as things will be less complicated to implement. I will most likely be making separate posts about each point, but generally speaking, reach out to your prof référant(s), the person(s) who are in charge of you for the schools in which you’ll be working; usually, they are the head of the English faculty. More likely than not, they will help you sort everything out, perhaps even installing everything for you! I was very fortunate during my first year to have been provided housing by my school, but I set up my bank account and cell phone contract on my own (not that my colleagues couldn’t help me, but I didn’t know that they could have helped! Long story short, we didn’t communicate in detail, but things turned out all right in the end).
Not everyone will have the same experiences with house-hunting or setting up their accounts. Some will be practically catered to, while others will struggle for months (yes, months!) just to find a stable home. I knew assistants who moved around once or twice because they weren’t happy with their places, whether due to exorbitant rent, crappy living conditions, or disagreements among flatmates and/or landlords. Be prepared to adapt quickly to change once you arrive, for you’ll be in a different country with different set of rules.
6. Attend your teacher training periods. From when your contract begins in October to December, you are required to attend four meetings to get some insight into teaching and also for administrative news (concerning paperwork processing and all). Many assistants have had little to zero teaching experience, and so these formations/stages are a way to help you learn and brainstorm ideas for classroom lessons. They are all-day affairs (9h30 to 16h30), and you’ll need to figure out how to get there on your own (especially if you’re placed way out from the city. Many people take the train or get rides from their colleagues, as some of them have teacher’s training in the same location on the same day). The meetings are mandatory, so do attend– plus, you get to meet other assistants, and get drinks afterwards!
7. Go to your OFII appointment. During your second teacher’s training session (at least, in Rouen where I was based), you will be assigned an OFII appointment in order to complete your VISA/immigration process. Make sure you’ve saved all of your documents from the VISA appointment (especially the OFII form), and bring them to the place you’re scheduled for. There’s a two-part process: one requiring a doctor’s examination and the other processing paperwork where you’ll officially “get approved” to stay in France for the next seven or so months. Once all of that is done, you don’t have to worry anymore (well, aside from getting your “sécu,” aka Social Security card, but expect to get it in January, if at all. Some assistants never even get it), and just go on with the program.
*NOTE* Depending on your academy, your OFII appointment may take a while to happen. I was fortunate that l’académie de Rouen was quick to process everything, and we were all done in early October. I have heard of assistants in Strasbourg, even Lyon, who don’t get around to it until December or January– already halfway through the program! Really, it varies by a lot.
8. Start teaching! Now that most of the important things have been taken cared of, you can focus on the program’s main objective: teaching! Typically, you are to observe classes during the first two weeks of your contract before you start teaching, so use that time wisely to get a feel for the classroom setting, as well as familiarize yourself with the school, administration, and staff room (where much of your time will be spent between classes). Introduce yourself to the secretary (who will be taking care of all your documents for school and teacher’s training), be nice and friendly with your colleagues, and respect your students (and have them respect you, too). Do make an effort to plan your lessons well, as you are there to teach and make a difference in their education, even if for a short period of time.
I am certain that I’ve missed a lot of things in this post, but I hope that I’ve covered the major aspects of the program. I definitely plan to write more posts about what I *briefly* mentioned (i.e. housing, bank account, teaching) in later posts, as I will be going into more depth with them. More to come soon!