First, thank you to the prospective and/or accepted TAPIFers who checked out my blog—your kind messages were greatly appreciated!
Thank you as well for sending me requests for more information or advice on the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF). Your questions are always welcome and I’m always glad to help out a fellow Francophile interested in my “alma mater” job as a teaching assistant!
I remember the nervous excitement as I was preparing my TAPIF application and just after getting accepted, so to make it easier on you, I’ve compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions that I’ve received. In order to avoid being redundant, I’ve chosen the questions that aren’t already on the official TAPIF website, or ones that I thought I could elaborate on with my own experience. You can check out the FAQs of the official TAPIF website here.
**Please note that my answers are based on my own personal experience and are not universal to all assistants, schools, regions, etc. While I keep myself updated about changes in TAPIF rules and procedures, please also note that I did the program during the 2012-2013 school year.
FREQUENTLY ASKED PRE-ACCEPTANCE QUESTIONS
What are my chances of being accepted? And how can I improve them?
Ah, the most-asked question from November until January. According to the official website, “For the 2013-2014 program, approximately 2,100 people applied for roughly 1,120 available positions… Approximately 375 other applicants were kept on the waiting list. A large number of accepted applicants withdraw over the course of the summer, meaning that most waitlisted candidates were eventually offered positions for the 2013-2014 program.”
Rumors have been spreading that the TAPIF program has become more competitive over the last few years, and statistically speaking, that seems to be the truth. However, “more competitive” does not mean “impossible” and by highlighting the right credentials and providing an attention-grabbing statement of purpose (see next question), you should do fine. You don’t necessarily need a French major—in fact, most of my fellow assistants in Strasbourg had studied subjects such as Political Science or Education but had minored or taken classes in French in college (and met the B1 requirement, of course!). On the other hand, they all seemed to have experience tutoring, working with children and/or teaching in some way or another, so that could speak to importance of playing up any of those elements on your application, since acceptance is no longer based solely on language skills or a mad love of all things French.
What should I write in the essay?
So that TAPIF doesn’t send me an angry letter next year because it receives 800 essays with the same outline, I’ll keep this one general. In my essay, I focused on all of the international experiences I had had (travel for pleasure—even if it was just a day trip to Canada, study abroad, assisting with the International Festival at my university, French club, language exchanges—even those unofficial online pen-pal things, etc.) with an emphasis on my French ones. I rounded it out by talking about my future career prospects and how working in France would help develop the skills I would need for them. Instead of making it sound like a 9-5 duty, I tried to make teaching sound like an adventure, but one that I would handle seriously and professionally.
Which region should I pick?
Some things to consider in choosing your regions are:
- General interest and lifestyle. Do you also like hiking and outdoor adventures? Try Franche-Comté, Champagne-Ardenne or Rhône-Alpes. Can’t stand French business hours? Think about setting up on the border. Don’t like rain? Then the north is not for you. Or if, like so many other Francophiles, your stay is mostly for oenological reasons, Bourgogne will be your friend.
- Language purposes. Do you want complete French immersion? Avoid border towns, Paris and Brittany. Do regional dialects interest you? Places like Alsace and Brittany provide access to such French varieties—but don’t worry, standard French will still be the norm! If you also want to improve your German, Alsace is a great choice and for Spanish, head southwest, of course.
- The people you already know in that area—or better yet, the French people you already know there. This will be a huge advantage for having some company, meeting new people, getting help with administrative matters, crashing on his or her sofa if you don’t have housing on arrival, etc. However, I strongly urge against studying in the same city where you did your study abroad… I almost did, and now I’m grateful that I tried instead to discover a completely different area.
- Costs. Housing and living costs vary across the country. See the question about housing below.
FREQUENTLY-ASKED POST-ACCEPTANCE QUESTIONS
Was the stipend of 790 euros truly enough money to live on?
TAPIF answers in the affirmative on their website, and I back them up on this, despite other blogs that seem to see it the other way around. Think about it: when you arrive in France, you will probably:
–Not have a car and the insurance/parking/gas/maintenance fees that come with it,
-Have the possibility of deferring your student loans (contact your loan provider),
-Have had almost 5 months after graduation day (if you’re coming fresh out of undergrad) to get a temporary job and save money beforehand,
-Benefit from numerous student and “jeune” advantages depending on your age and where you live (travel discounts, tram/metro/bus discounts/ free museums, etc).
-Be able to receive a CAF housing allocation (https://www.caf.fr),
-Have incredible health insurance coverage and paying almost nothing out of pocket for medical expenses.
-Get 50% of your commuting costs reimbursed, if applicable. Ask at your school.
A helpful tip is to come with savings—the TAPIF website recommends 2000 euros for start-up costs, but I think you could get by on much less outside of Paris. However, do be sure to check the exchange rate before you come.
Yes, your visa forbids you from working more than 20 hours per week; however, looking back, I find this limitation helpful for several reasons:
First of all, you will probably have quite a lot of administrative things to do throughout the year (yes, “throughout”) that at times seem to be the equivalent of a part-time job. Housing, the Sécu, your OFII medical visit, signing up for your CAF allocation or various subscriptions (transportation, etc.) sometimes require a lot of running around, and might take a lot longer to get in order if you have to juggle it with a second work schedule.
Secondly, if I had worked more than 20 hours, plus the 12-15 hours per week at my school, I would not have had near as much fun nor learned as much as I did in that year. Fresh out of undergraduate studies, I found the year a nice “break” from the stress of the 40-hour-plus-per-week-working-world that many of my friends back were thrown into (too) abruptly after graduation. With the rest of my time, I navigated the complicated French administration system, travelled, enjoyed the scenery, met new people, started a blog, improved my French level to C1, discovered and started two new other hobbies, and made a final decision on my career choice; in other words, I was able to take my time in finding out who this “post-graduate me” really was and in deciding my future without the hustle and bustle of a full-time work week. Now that I’m back in the post-graduate degree/working world, I’m so grateful that I took that slow-paced year after graduation to figure everything out… even if it meant more crashing on friends’ sofas instead of 5-star hotelling (but with the crêpes they had ready for me in the morning, was it really all that bad?).
How does housing work?
Either your school will set you up in housing (usually local university residences or church housing) or you will be on your own. I would recommend searching for housing a week or so before you arrive and contacting landlords from the U.S. You can search on http://www.leboncoin.fr or http://www.seloger.com. You can also go through an agency, but this almost always requires a garant.
Ah yes, the famous question of the garant. A garant is basically a co-signer of your lease who says that if you don’t pay your rent, he/she will be responsible for footing the bill. Most—almost all—landlords require one for students but even for working professionals. Explaining that you will have an income in the coming year doesn’t usually work well either: landlords usually want to see your last few pay stubs, your tax filings from last year, etc., which, of course, you probably haven’t done in France or don’t have at all if you were a student the year before. Usually, only French citizens or occasionally European residents are accepted as garants, so unless you have family over there that is willing to sign for you, you are pretty much stuck. One of my friends got around this by having a teacher at the school sign for her, but the teacher had offered: I don’t recommend flat-out asking a teacher who hardly knows you to sign away their life savings in your name.
There are other options, including:
–Getting extremely lucky and finding an owner that doesn’t require one. Now that owners can take out risk insurance, more and more accepting to take in foreigners without French garants, but they are still few and far between.
-Using your bank as a garant. This gets expensive, as they charge interest and “block” up to one year’s worth of rent in your accounts, so this essentially means you will be paying this up front.
–Organizations such as Amallia offer to stand in as your garant.
Do NOT accept any lease agreement that agrees to let you go garant-less but makes you pay an excessive amount of money up front in return (like the landlord who asked if I could pay for the entire year in advance!). Technically, it is illegal to ask for more than one month of advance payment although it could be justified if the renter proposes it, but do you really want to take the risk of ruining your year with legal problems?
For pricing estimations, it all depends on whether you want a student dorm room, a studio, an apartment or a roommate situation. Because I can only speak from my Strasbourg housing experience, this article from LesEchos or this one from 20minutes could be helpful.
Will I be alone? How do I meet people?
It’s become the trend for assistants in the same region to start a Facebook group for their year. If you connect to TAPIF’s Facebook page, you will have an easier time finding out if your region has created a Facebook page. My region even had two: one for mostly English-speaking assistants, the other for assistants in general.
Since spending time with the natives is also essential to your experience, not to mention your French level, get out and meet them! People are usually interested in meeting foreigners who are doing more than just the tourist thing, and they are even more interested if you actually speak their language (don’t hesitate to bring out your accent from time to time). I and/or my fellow assistants accomplished friend-making in a few ways:
-Choosing a region in which I already knew a few people, even if only vaguely from my previous study abroad experience or pen pal programs,
-Finding French roommates who can help you expand your social circle. Sometimes this worked out well, sometimes not, so choose wisely. Check out: http://www.colocation.fr or http://www.leboncoin.fr*
-Joining a running or other sports group (free, if you’re worried about the stipend) on http://www.sport-partenaire.com *
-Joining any group that has to do with your interests (again, plenty of free options if you’re worried about the stipend!): church groups, book clubs (check library web pages), wine tastings, etc.,
–Creating a profile on http://www.onvasortir.com, where other users propose outings—everything from swimming to apéro to picnics and cinema—and if you’re interested, just show up *
*Common sense applies in any culture: take all precautions for meeting your Internet acquaintances in person. Bring along another assistant, do some background-checking, tell someone where you’ll be, stay in a public place, etc.
What’s the best part?
There are so many… Learning about French students and their opinions of the U.S., plus my friendly and kind co-workers were the most memorable parts of teaching. Outside of work, it was the great friends I made, followed closely by Nutella, wine and desserts like this:
… Otherwise, see the last paragraph under the question Was the stipend of 790 euros truly enough money to live on? above, or the blog post I wrote during my assistantship here.
What were your biggest hardships there?
Everyone seems to expect me to answer with “the French administration,” but actually, I’ve found that this stereotype has been way too exaggerated. While I find the administrative process long, meaning a lot of going back and forth to retrieve and hand in documents that always seem to missing from the applications you hand in, I have never found it complicated or bothersome, but a natural part of being accepted into a foreign country. Taking a deep breath and keeping in mind that it will all get done in the end (it will!) has kept me from ever getting stressed out about such things. Therefore, my answer to this questions is “finding housing” sans garant. Once you clear that hurdle, you can sit back, relax and enjoy the Frenchified year ahead.
Best of luck to this year’s accepted TAPIFers and good luck to future applicants!