After successfully finishing my contract as a language assistant, here are some of the prime time tips I would like to pass along:
1. Above all, do not expect any two experiences to be the same. TAPIF is luck of the draw, although I personally believe a lot of it also depends on you and your overall attitude and ability to adapt. So be positive!
2. Realize that you are not in the United States and things are not done in the same way. Things take time. Things get lost. Things must be done on paper. Just be patient and flexible.
3. Do NOT expect teaching to be easy or to come naturally. I did a 4-year degree in teaching. Things take time and patience. Figure out how to manage a classroom, be confident and always have something up your sleeve to fill the time if an activity backfires or finishes early. Kids can tell the difference
4. Don’t be afraid to travel (or do anything!) alone. Barcelona was by far my favorite city visited this year, and I went there alone. Had I made my travel decisions based on whether or not I had a companion, I wouldn’t have had the experience!
5. Invest in a Carte Jeune and a regional train pass for even more travel discounts.
6. Read the Assistant Handbook. Read it again. And then again. All of the answers are there. Don’t be that person who asks all of the annoying questions on the Facebook page when the answers are in the handbook. And then, research assistant blogs (check my page for my favorites!) Of course, don’t hesitate to ask questions whenever you are confused about something– but make the effort to use the Searchbar in Facebook grouips and do some research first.
7. DO NOT worry about housing until you are in France.
8. When it comes to housing, go with your gut. If something seems shady, it probably is. Don’t accept under the table rent because you will most likely get screwed over. Don’t settle for an apartment like I did. Be realistic about what you want and need in an apartment/neighborhood. But, do not be afraid to move if the situation is not working for you. Don’t take something dirt cheap but that doesn’t have basic necessities (ie: Safe neighborhood, washing machine, etc.)
9. Live where it’s fun and commute. Many assistants who were placed in smaller towns lived in Toulon and just got to work by bus or boat. I loved my time in little Valenciennes but there were enough assistants there to make it work.
10. Get to know your colleagues. Use them as a resource, especially at the beginning when it comes to housing, banking, cell phones, etc. And then, make friends with them. Celebrate holidays with them. The same goes for your secretary– s/he will be a great resource for you, especially when working with the rectorat.
11. Make a connection with your Proviseur, and then towards the end of your experience ask for a letter of recommendation (and perhaps a couple of colleagues.)
12. Don’t wait until the last week of September to arrive. Housing takes time, bank accounts take time, cell phones take time. I left the USA on September 2nd and arrived in Toulon on the 16th. This way not all of the apartments will be gone and you will just feel less rushed and stressed.
14. Use any networking you have in your area. You never know how it could help you (for me I was able to stay in my mother’s colleague’s friends’ son’s apartment for free for a few weeks while I searched for my own and got settled!)
15. Get involved with and befriend the other assistants; you will need each other for support. But, try to meet locals as well.
16. Branch out and search for second job opportunities. Every little bit of money helps.
17. Travel around your region during the weekends. There is so much to see in France.
18. Travel during breaks, or save up your money to travel at the end of your contract. Just do not head straight home after your contract. I made a good balance of usually traveling for one week of each vacation, and then a month at the end of my contract. It also helps with the adjustment period once you’re back stateside.
19. Speak French. This seems obvious but if end up hanging with mostly English-speaking assistants, not speaking French is bound to happen. But, don’t speak French with your students !
20. Get a hobby- you will have a lot of free time. Whether it be volunteering in your city, applying for grad school or other jobs, writing a book, training for a marathon, or working extra hours like me— find something to do because there is a lot of downtime.
21. Bring your student ID card to France. Ask for student discounts whenever possible. Or Buy a youth ID Card from STA travel and use it as a student ID.
23. Get involved with your community. It makes the experience much more memorable.
24. If you plan to stay in France long-term, get started immediately. Those of us who started in January were a lot more succesful that those who waited until April.
25. Enjoy your time. This is a unique and life-changing year in one of the best countries in the world! Embrace your time. Don’t be like me and start worrying about the future way too soon.
Other advice? Comment Below!