Once you’re out of school, if you went to school, and you’re leaving the comfort of a study abroad department behind, going international starts looking like a bigger challenge. In my case, my hometown beckoned after graduation, promising me family time and barbecue nachos. It was tempting, but not what I wanted, not yet. Sorry, Mom… maybe in a few years. I wanted to make working abroad happen.
The good news is that moving abroad is still possible outside of scholarships, but ya gotta work for it. I applied to a program called TAPIF, got accepted in May, and spent the summer dreaming of all the croissants and baguettes to come as I started my professional life overseas. It ended up being perfect for me, so much that I went home and then came back for seconds.
TAPIF is the American branch of a teaching assistant program in France, one that’s open to any native English, Spanish, or German speaker. I won’t go into too much detail on how to apply, as it’s different depending on where you’re coming from, but here are some resources on the application for Brits and everyone else, plus an excellent American blog on the subject.
If you have any more good resources on this program, feel free to leave a comment! Basically, if you have some level of French and a bit of experience with kids, you’re good to go.
As for this article, I’ll be telling you what to expect once you’re here.
Ready, then? Let’s get into it.
You won’t make a lot, but you will make enough.
The salary for this program is about 800 euros a month, net. You can survive on that most anywhere except Paris. For instance, I live in a small town called Saint-Nazaire, where I spend about half my pay on rent and live frugally on the rest. There’s even enough wiggle room to hop on a train to Paris once a month to see my spicy French lover.
So the salary works for me, although I should specify that I’m anal about economizing. It’s in my nature to never overspend. Clothes shopping stresses me out. I don’t want to pay for Amazon Prime, and you know I can take Spotify advertisements if it means saving $10 a month. Even my Dave Ramsey-inspired parents think I’m extreme.
What can I say? I love budgeting. Spreadsheets give me a thrill. My life is an adventure.
For spenders, which is to say “normal people,” France has tons of benefits that can make this salary more flexible. The CAF, for example, is a government program that will likely reimburse you for some of your rent. All you have to do is make an account online, fill out some confusing forms–like the FAFSA, to my American friends–and you get a check in the mail every month. It depends on the size of your apartment, whether you have family money, etc, but I do know an assistant whose rent is 400 euros, minus 260 from the CAF, meaning she ends up paying only about 140 a month. Pas mal.
You can also get half the cost of your monthly public transport pass reimbursed after you fill out–you guessed it–more paperwork, and if you’re under 25, pretty much everything has a discount. Plus the universal healthcare isn’t bad, for those of y’all who come from a country without it. So get out there, kiddos.
All the Free Time
You’ll work a total of 12 hours per week, divided between two or three schools. That, plus a few hours of classroom prep at home, adds up to a work schedule of 15 hours a week at most. It’s not much.
Unfortunately, if you’re not a European citizen, your visa won’t permit you to work a second job, or at least not an official one. However, if you babysit, nanny, tutor, or do any sort of work where you’re paid in cash–no problem! Most assistants find some kind of side hustle to finance their travels since the salary itself is scant. With 3-day weekends on the reg, there’s certainly time to hop on one of those 20 euro Ryanair flights and see what happens.
Otherwise, if you have a project you’ve been meaning to do but never had the time, this is a perfect opportunity to get going on that. Learn your third or fourth language, knit all your sweaters, self-publish erotica on Amazon, whatever. Live your dreams.
This is a Real Job
Even though the hours are low, you will be expected to be prepared and professional when you’re on the clock. From what I’ve heard about some other teaching assistant programs, it’s common in those positions to end up in empty classrooms or just tutoring a kid or two at a time. That’s not the case here.
I work in primary schools, meaning I wrangle 14 classes of French babies aged 5-11. Some of the teachers are hands-on, standing in front of the students with me and helping to manage the class, but others are very insecure about their English, basically sitting at their desks in the back and watching me faire la clown for 45 minutes. It’s draining, but rewarding when the students come running up to me during recess, yelling ‘ello Julia!
Little darlings. One day they’ll get that h sound.
Assistants who work with older students tend to get more support from their teachers, as middle and high schools have instructors hired specifically for English. Plus the students themselves may have a more advanced language level, which makes communication easier.
So know what you want: tiny spitfires who make the job tough but worthwhile or the cool kids who sit still but may roll their eyes and text under the table.
Choose your challenge.
As I mentioned at the top, I’m in my second year of this program, feeling cool and confident in the classroom. There’s certainly more to say about the job, but these are the areas I was the most worried about when I was packing up to go. If you get to do the same, just know the beginning will feel overwhelming with all the administrative paperwork and class preparation, but it’ll all get done eventually, and you’ll be a pro with your students by the end.
Feel free to leave me any questions in the comments below, plus your own tips and tricks if you’re an assistant too! We’re a community here at Shut Up and Go. Let’s get there together.
Happy travels, y’all!