The Pros & Cons of Doing TAPIF

Bonjour, future assistant(e)s!

With less than two months until the start of your work contract teaching in France, it’s no doubt that you’re counting down the days until you touch down on French soil. You’re gearing up for the next six to seven months abroad, as you can almost taste the excitement of living in the land of your high-school French class dreams. There’s so much anticipation: you’ve probably started envisioning just how it’ll be, let alone created a blog to document your soon-to-be amazing and crazy adventures (don’t deny it– I’m the same as you!).

Having been an English assistante for two years (in the Normandy region– represent!), I’ve gone through different experiences teaching and living in France, as well as traveling throughout Europe. I will admit that, like many of you first-time assistant(e)s, I had idealistic notions of what to expect while teaching abroad. Just like many of you, I’d also studied abroad in university and had a blast, which motivated me to find a reason to return to France after graduation. This isn’t to say that the TAPIF experience is not a good one, but I will be honest and say that it won’t be what you’ll expect, let alone perfect.

That said, I’ve decided to share some of the pros and cons that I’ve found while doing TAPIF. Granted, no person’s experience will be the same as others, but these are general points which I’ve acquired from my peer assistant(e)s’ experiences, as well as my own. I hope they offer some sort of guidance to fall upon as you navigate through this year of teaching and living la vie française.

Without further ado, here they are!

Pros of Doing TAPIF:

1. You will have lots of free time. 

Seriously, c’mon…with a 12-hour work week and two-week vacances every six weeks, what’s there to complain about?! Plus, depending on your schedule, you might only need to work two to three days a week, which offers the perfect opportunity to take three to four-day weekend trips out of town. That, or take the time to veg out in your flat, drink wine, and do absolutely nothing, which is sometimes the best thing to do.

From experience, I’ll tell you that the “standard” 12-hour work week is a *very flexible* condition that might not apply to every assistant(e). In fact, don’t ever expect to work exactly 12 hours each week– I’ve had at times as low as five hours, and I never had to teach over 12 hours…ever. Perhaps you might find the amount of free time excessive, even a waste of time, but I saw it as an opportunity to fully enjoy it, especially being fresh out of college during my first year teaching. You can pick up hobbies, travel, even pursue online courses, which I did (not as fun, but still productive!).

2. Easy access to travel everywhere.

Especially if you’re coming from a large country like the United States or Australia, never has traveling been as easy as in Europe. It’s a small continent, so most places are easy to get to with any of the numerous modes of transport (airplane, train, bus, etc.) out there; you can pretty much be in a new country within an hour or two! Not only that, but also it’s very budget-friendly, meaning that the barely-800 euros per month can go a long way (and then some!).

I traveled extensively during my two years of TAPIF. Granted, I wasn’t very good at first with budget-traveling, but over time, I was able to budget like a pro. From knowing how early to book flights to choosing modes of transport, I was able to save a lot of money, all the while even having some money left over after my contract was up! Plus, the chance to take in all of the diverse countries and their culture was absolutely priceless.

3. Your French gets better.

You might think your French isn’t up-to-par, but I assure that you’ll be much more comfortable speaking and understanding it by the end of the year. There’s also the feeling of not improving as much as you might’ve wanted to (trust me, I can attest to that), but what you think isn’t very good might not be the case for others. In other words, you’re probably better at French than you might believe!

Having minored in French (and studied abroad) in college, I admit that I had a decent level when I arrived in France my first year. I would say I was somewhere between an A2 and B1 level, and by spending an extended amount of time immersed in the language, I would say that my French improved, albeit gradually. By having using it to read work documents, speak with bankers and landlords, and make friends through my travels, it did a lot to boost my confidence in the language. While I’m far from becoming a native speaker, I am more at ease with it than I’d been just two years prior.

4. You will make friends.

Whether it’s through TAPIF or outside the program, you’ll definitely establish at least a few good friendships. What makes it special is the fact that you meet so many people who share common passions, such as travel, the French language and culture. Perhaps you’re all recent college graduates with no idea of what to do after TAPIF, or maybe all of you love to share crazy experiences getting drunk in Paris– either way, you’re bound to meet people who are so alike with you, but at the same time so different that it adds many perspectives to your experience as a whole.

Despite living by myself in an isolated town my first year, I still managed to put myself out there and make it to several assistant(e) gatherings in the city, as well as traveling with some of them during les vacances. I also established friendships through my travels, such as Couchsurfing with locals in other French cities (e.g. Montpellier, Toulouse, Paris) and practiced French in the process. Since I consider myself both *incredibly* shy and introverted, having this experience of meeting people really got me to venture out of my comfort zone…for a good reason! I still stay in touch with some of them today, which is great.

5. You learn how to deal with inconveniences.

From a delayed train to CAF payment, there are so many things that we as foreigners come across during our long stay in France. It might be a first-world nation, but it’s still different from what you are accustomed to in your respective country. Bureaucracy is the bane of every foreigner’s (even French’s) existence, which can be really frustrating to no end. For instance, what might be as easy as buying OTC medication at your local pharmacy back home might be a hassle of requiring an authorized note from your doctor in France to obtain it.

You might find it extremely irritating at first, but soon enough, you learn to deal with it– at least, you learn to accept it. Learning to take things lightly, even laughing at the ridiculousness, of certain things will offer a clearer head to figure out solutions, all the while reduce stress levels. Learning to be persistent in getting your CAF money or establishing set schedules with your colleagues will pay off in the end. And finally, learning to be *incredibly* patient with the French system will keep you sane while navigating throughout the year.

Cons of Doing TAPIF:

1. You will deal with a lot of inconveniences. 

This point goes hand-in-hand with the last pro point– yes, it’s true that there’s lots of paperwork in whatever you do, anywhere in the world, but in France, it feels especially challenging. Getting your VISA is one thing, but completing your OFII appointment is another: I’ve heard assistant(e)s in other regions have struggled to secure an appointment to legalize their work in France: some of them never even do so, which technically makes their seven-month job illegal.

Setting up a bank account, along with renting a flat, can also be a nightmare. I’ve heard of assistant(e)s who didn’t get a bank account set up until January, or had to move flats in between months because of some rent dispute. Getting the monthly paycheck into your account is always a waiting game, especially if you need that money soon. I had issues setting up Internet in my flat during my second year of teaching, which I hope not to repeat anytime– certainly was a headache, to say the least.

2. You will struggle with teaching.

If you’re a first-time assistant(e) who has little to no experience in teaching, you’ll find the school-teaching experience to be overwhelming. You’ll definitely struggle at times with classroom management, messy time-tables, and colleagues who might not be very helpful. Teaching is certainly not an easy job: after experiencing it first-hand, I admire just how much my colleagues have to put up with it every day, often with longer hours than ours.

Now I’ll admit, there are some assistant(e)s out there who have teaching experience, and they’re relatively independent when it comes to planning lessons and effective at managing students. However, there’s also the issue of dealing with school administration, which may or may not be on top of processing your papers to legally work at the school. That, or having to constantly find a classroom which is available to teach in– face it, there’s always something happening at school every day which will challenge you!

3. There will be the winter blues. 

Let’s be honest: no matter where you’re placed in France, you’ll be hit with the winter blues. This period usually occurs between January and February, right after returning from the vacances de Noël. During this period, the weather is cold, the days are short (dark by 16:00?! C’mon…), and disillusionment starts to settle in. You start having doubts of why you chose TAPIF in the first place, as well as feel alone in the struggle and miles away from your home country. Really, it’s not a good time for anyone to be in.

There were times during my two years in TAPIF which made me really depressed. Not to the point of being clinical, but it was very rough: I felt at times that I wasn’t being a good teacher, that my colleagues and students didn’t like me, that I wasn’t being a good person to friends and acquaintances. I became paranoid, wondering if people thought I was a fraud in trying to be better than what I’d made myself out to be on social media, e.g. photos of my travels and weekend parties with flatmates, etc. I wasn’t happy, and I kept wondering what was the matter with me, let alone wondering how I could fix my situation.

I’ll tell you this: things will get better. The winter cold will subside, the days will get longer, and you’ll feel a sense of being reborn (I’m not exaggerating, well, maybe a little…). You’ll find your stride with teaching and you’ll be happier, which I would say should be the best things you take out from your TAPIF experience.

4. You will not make a lot of money.

To be fair, considering how little hours you have to work, getting paid barely 800 euros per month is not too bad. At the same time, however, it’s not a fortune. You’ll most likely not be able to save a whole lot by the end of the year, especially if you have to pay a lot for rent and traveling expenses. Don’t expect to save enough upon returning home– more likely than not, you’ll have to move back in with your parents (just like the good ol’ days in primary school!). Basically, it won’t be enough for retirement.

I did manage to save a few hundred euros after my first year of teaching, then even more after my second year. Early on did I learn the importance of saving up, and I was lucky to have lived in school-provided housing for cheap to keep more pocket change. I budgeted heavily, knowing how much I should spend for my travels and how much to save for food and rent. Learning to work with the limited resources you have teaches responsibility, along with knowing just what your priorities are in life.

5. There will always be culture shock.

Culture shock applies to everyone: even if you’re fluent in French or the most open-minded person out there, you’ll at some point come across something which will challenge your beliefs. Perhaps it’s the fact that the French kiss each other when greeting each other or the sheer amount of dog shit that’s left on the sidewalk– any case, there will be things which you might have a hard time accepting, which can cause a strain on your perception of la belle France.

I’ll say that, no matter just how long you stay in France, you’ll always have that culture shock. Maybe it won’t be as strong as it was before, but it’ll still linger. However, it’s a matter of not getting upset over it, especially if it doesn’t actually harm you, or at least knowing how to deal with it accordingly. Same goes for cultures all over the world, and that’s what makes the globe so diverse and fascinating!

Although this post is by no means a comprehensive list of TAPIF pros and cons, I hope you see it as a good start to your soon-to-be experience working in France. If any past assistant(e)s have more thoughts, I’d be glad to hear them!

Finally, if you would like to learn more about dealing with TAPIF, here are links to my previous posts:

How to Get Your French VISA

How to Set Up a Bank Account

How to Find Housing in France

TAPIF Teaching Advice

How to Get a French Phone Number

How to Get Internet in Your Flat

 

Bon courage, future assistant(e)s!

 

— Rebecca

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9 thoughts on “The Pros & Cons of Doing TAPIF

  1. Thank you so much for sharing!
    I’ll be in Mulhouse from October and I am still really confused about where I should live. I have a family house in Strasbourg proper which would be free but it is so far north. Or I can rent somewhere closer and not have that much money. Also, a friend advised me not to stay in/too close to the school because then they would want you to come in everyday for an hour or two. Rather than put the majority of the hours in a two or three day block.
    I also have experience teaching children and teenagers sports but I don’t have language teaching experience. I remember reading blogs a year ago that said to prepare study plans the summer before arriving. I can’t think of how to plan these lessons. I don’t know how far into English my lycee and vocational students are. Did you prepare lesson plans before hand?
    If you can give any suggestions or such from your experience id love it.
    Cheers,
    Rushell

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, Rushell. So great that you’ll be in the Alsace region: I’ve only been to Strasbourg and Colmar, but I’ve heard good things about Mulhouse as well!

      In terms of housing, I would personally choose to live in the city proper, and just pay a bit more for convenience to and from school. However, the biggest advice I can give is to have really good communication with your school. For instance, if there’s a way to work something out with your school with teaching hours (e.g. working 2-3 times a week vs. every day), then it’s possible to live in Strasbourg and commute the long way over. Have you also asked if the school offers housing? That could be another option.

      From experience, I haven’t had to prepare lessons in the summer before arriving. At least in my académie (Rouen), we had training days before our contract started, as well as two weeks of observations, so that gave us time to prepare lessons after les vacances de la Toussaint. Again, it wouldn’t hurt to communicate with your school to ask what they expect from you.

      Hope this helps. Let me know if you have more questions!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When I did the UK equivalent of TAPIF three years ago (woah, that makes me feel old!) it took me a long time to realise that my French was actually improving. I think others (especially native speakers) notice your improvement before you do – especially if you’ve started out with a good level already. Administrative inconveniences become ten times harder when you’re having to deal with them in a foreign language – sometimes it took me ages just to craft an email outlining my query because of the specific terminology involved (e.g. the shower head falling off). I think – to some extent – living abroad gets easier with time, as you become more accustomed to the culture and the way things are done, though sometimes there’s no place like home. Hope things go smoothly for the transition to a new region this academic year!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it’s amazing how time flies when teaching abroad! You have a point about native speakers noticing improvement before we do: while I have noticed becoming more comfortable speaking French (part language barrier, part anxiety), I suppose the French themselves notice a lot more. At least my writing skills have improved a lot, especially when it comes to dealing with administration, as you’ve mentioned. Thanks for the well wishes; I hope you’re transitioning well from France to work back home!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It really is – I always forget just how much life at home moves on while I’m away! People move, places change, cafes come and go… That’s one plus of the lengthy forms you have to fill out, it’s a good opportunity to hone your writing skills. Thanks – it’s been a pretty smooth transition, and at some point I’ll endeavour to post an update on things 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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