Let me make this clear: I love, love, love getting comments, messages, and email from readers, and make a point to respond to each one I receive. But lately, I’ve noticed a trending, recurring question in many of the messages I receive– often a derivative of the following:
“I want to live and work longterm in France/Europe/stay in France after TAPIF. What did you do to get there? How can I do it too?”
Here’s my response:
Thank you so much for reading and for your kind words; I’ve met so many expats in France over the years, and everyone has a different story to tell. Overall, there is not really one right or wrong way to live or make your way to France. But, here’s a bit of background information in regards to what I did.
I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in French/ESL Education, and got my teaching certification. I knew I liked languages and teaching and traveling, so I chose a major which I thought would work to my advantage when it came to teaching and living abroad. I worked hard at university and I landed a great job teaching ESL a week after I graduated. I worked hard and saved my money and built professional relationships and gained teaching experience.
In the months leading up to TAPIF, I read various blogs to get a better idea of what people were doing and what to expect. And when I arrived in the fall of 2013, I relied on no one but myself. I set myself up and figured things out, and then I put a lot of extra time and effort into my job as an assistant. I integrated into the school, became a key member of the team, asked for letters of recommendation, and gave private lessons to make extra money and travel around Europe at every opportunity I could afford to, even when there was no one to go with me.
When January of my assistant year came around, I used all of my free time to research ways to stay and then to apply for lectrice positions. I planned ahead and made lists and networked and sent my CV to more than twenty universities. I joined Facebook groups and emailed strangers and put myself out there for others to judge. And then, after four months of hard work, I got a lectrice position.
Over the past two years as a lectrice, I’ve poured my heart and soul and energy into my job. I built a curriculum and was a part of a great team and taught great students. On the side, I found more private lessons and saved more money and also continued to network and build professional relationships.
I knew I couldn’t be a lectrice forever, so I planned ahead and decided to pursue my goal of teaching in an international school. I gave up coffee dates and shopping excursions and nights out and instead spent my evenings and days off updating my CV and letters of recommendation and researching international schools and private UK schools and subscribing to international job fairs and teach abroad websites and connecting with LinkedIn profiles and emailing important administrators at schools which interested me. I simultaneously tuned out the nay-sayers and everyone who said it couldn’t be done. I went ahead and found a job with sponsorship anyways.
Working in France legallly can be done, and you can do it, too. Here are some links to get you started:
There is no right or wrong way to live in France. Some people take the route I took: assistant to lectrice to full time employment; others found a job through the Chamber of Commerce visa; some people got a French Master’s degree; some got married or PACSed to French partners. The most important thing to remember about living in France is that no matter what you do and how you decide to do it, you will probably have to prepare to make sacrifices. No matter what, you will need to be able to speak and read at a good level of French. If you want to be an assistant it may mean brushing up on your French and your teaching experience; for a lecteur, that may mean enrolling in an M1 program in order to meet the new education requirements. If you want to study and stay long term that may mean looking into study abroad or French Master’s programs. If you want to work, that may mean looking into au pairing or working remotely or receiving an inter-company transfer. If you want to travel that may mean taking on a second job or cutting back on other things you like to do or like to spend your money on. Organizing a plan may mean spending hours upon hours in front of a phone or a computer or even at a job fair instead of doing things with your family or friends.
None of this came easy to me. I am well aware of the privilege I have as a white, college educated, English-speaking female– but I still had to work really, really hard to get where I am. I’ve sacrificed relationships and friendships; I’ve missed weddings and funerals and life across the ocean. I’ve wasted a lot of energy and have lost a lot of time and a lot of sleep. I’ve spent some nights sobbing and scrambling and and wondering what will come next and if I could possibly ever find happiness outside this sacred Hexagone. Some nights, I’m not sure if it was worth it. Other nights, I wonder where I would be if I hadn’t.
If I’ve learned anything over the past three years, it’s that although I’ve found happiness in France, it’s not necessarily France that’s made me happy. It’s important to remember that happiness is mostly a choice and comes with the little choices you make each day. Running away to France won’t solve long-term problems or unhappiness– you need to look inside yourself.
If you’re really motivated and dedicated, I promise you can move to France (or make whatever dream you have come true). I have faith in you. Good Luck!