This past school year, in a nutshell, was a very difficult one. Sure, I loved my job and I loved living in Lille; I traveled and visited friends and in return had a ton of visitors. But I was still quite sad a lot the time– I was (am?) dealing with death and heartbreak and loss and grief and the overall stress about what to do and where to go after my contract, while also trying to “live in the moment.” Argh.
Some days, I’d get so, so homesick, and I wanted nothing more than to go home– back to the United States where I could be surrounded by friends and family and familiarity and money and retirement plans; where I could run away from my problems here and always be 100% myself all the time instead of being constantly reminded that I am a foreigner in a foreign land. Other days, I really wanted to stay– perhaps not in France but in another European country– particularly the UK. There were even a few times where I strongly considered completely moving to another part of the world and starting again.
But one thing is for sure– I was so sick and tired of the stress of not knowing and never feeling settled. So, earlier this year I made a conscious decision to solely focus on my career goals and advancement, instead of the location. If the job opportunity provided the chance for growth, advancement, and higher pay; if it aligned with my values and goals– I would apply, no matter where it was. I decided that if I was going to stay in Europe, or France especially, it was going to be for the right reasons (for me): career advancement, skills enhancement, and of course, financial stability. And if I didn’t find something by mid-October, when my residence card would run out, that would be okay. Because I can advance my career from anywhere! The great thing about teaching is that it is so versatile, and possible to gain such a wide variety of experiences.
More specifically, I have always been interested in teaching at an international school in Europe. Since 2012, I have saved various school websites and applied for various positions in London, Paris, and southern France. Despite never having received any interviews before, (probably due to lack of experience or papers), I decided it was time to get back on the horse and try again. So, from January through April, I sent out applications to various international schools in London, Paris, and southern France; I signed up on various recruitment websites such as TIE Online, Enseigner à l’Etranger, TESOL France, and SEARCH Associates, and even seriously considered paying a lump sum of money to attend a recruitment fair in London. As I had assumed, it is EXTREMELY hard to break into the mold and the circle of Europe-based international schools, especially without attending a fair. I tried to play up the the fact that I was already living in Europe, in hopes of maybe getting my foot in the door somewhere. I also applied for QTS status in the UK, but my Wisconsin license was rejected on the basis of being an “initial” license instead of a “professional” one (I have since “switched” over to an Illinois license and am applying again– a tip for those looking for a loophole in the system!) In response, I received absolutely nothing from anywhere in London or Paris or southern France. I was started to think up a plan of jaunting to Asia for a year so I could quickly save for graduate school in the UK; having a UK Master’s Degree would definitely give me a good leg up.
In the meantime, I kept searching, applying, and interviewing. I received an offer to teach high school French back in Wisconsin, as well as an offer at a private school in France, which would sponsor my work visa but for which the working conditions were not ideal. I was stuck between wanting to have a stable plan and “doing the right thing” by accepting one of these positions, and wanting to take a gamble and try for something else, about which I was more passionate and excited. S0, despite the lack of understanding from many of my close friends and family, I decided to take the risk, turn down the offers, and keep looking– and doing so felt so relieving and empowering.
They say that it’s not what you know, but who you know. They also say that if things are meant to be, they usually just fall into place. I can now, more than ever, attest to both of those things to being totally and completely, 100% true.
In order to supplement my income and pay off my student loans, I give private English lessons to children. Most of these families are doctors who work at the same hospital– I’ve had my network of clients grow from Valenciennes to Lille during my two years in the north. Back in March, I casually mentioned to one of the families that I was looking for work in an international school in France or the UK for next year, to which she replied that her mother was a long-time Italian teacher at an international school here in Lille, and that she was still friends with the vice principal. A phone call was made, and sure enough, rumor had it that there was a position open in the English department. I had never heard of the school before, but after a quick Google search and some LinkedIn creeping, I had found out that the school has three branches in Lille, Paris, and London. Within a few days, I had called the vice principal, spoke about my interest and qualifications to her on the phone, casually stated that I give private English lessons to so-and-so’s grandchildren, and was told send my CV, cover letter, and three letters of reference. At the end of March, I had been short-listed for an interview– which included teaching a lesson to twenty students in front of a small panel, touring the school, having lunch, and meeting with the head director. I found out later that day that vacancy still hadn’t been officially confirmed, and they couldn’t guarantee anything, especially because they also had other applicants to interview. Happy to have had the opportunity to interview at an international school nonetheless, I went on my way, for nearly two months. I continued applying and interviewing and researching other opportunities.
Mid-May, I received an email from the school. The vacancy had been made official, and I was being offered a full time, permanent position in the English department. The school was also willing to sponsor my work visa. It felt too good to be true. “This doesn’t happen,” I told myself, “Americans don’t get CDI’s and sponsored working papers without going to French graduate school or having a partner. There must be some mistake.” Except there wasn’t. I accepted the position, kept the news to myself for a bit, but then couldn’t help but spill the beans to family and close friends.
So, next year, in spite of it all, I’ll still be in France. Heck, I’ll still be in Lille. I’ll be joining the English team at the international school, and can, under the assumption that I do a decent job, stay as long as I would like. I am so, so happy and excited to take this next step in my teaching career.
I’m still waiting on a few more details in regards to the contract, and I am crossing my fingers that telling the rest of the world will not jinx this next opportunity- but I didn’t want to wait any longer!
Will I stay “forever?” I don’t know. Will I become French? I don’t know, but even if I did, I don’t think I would ever truly feel French. All I know, is that stability feels good. I’m looking forward to hanging pictures on the wall; to buying some artwork, and perhaps investing in a decent piece of furniture. I’m looking forward to new beginnings, to healing, to nesting, to paying off my student loans, and to growing my savings. I’m looking forward to new challenges, new travels, and continuing this blog. It’s been a blessing, and a pleasure, to have you all along on the ride with me.
I’ll let you know how it turns out. Wish me luck. I love you all.