This post was contributed by Leah Glickman.
If someone had told me a year ago that I would be living in the South of France, I would have definitely laughed. And let’s be real, I would have laughed even harder if someone had told me that I would be working in a high school in the Alps for only 12 hours a week – with paid vacation. But here we are, and here I am – writing this post on a Wednesday, in a cute café, in Nice for the start of my 5-day weekend.
I graduated in May 2018 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Health and Exercise Science and a Bachelor’s of Art in French studies with a minor in Education from Skidmore College (… so I clearly had a lot of free time)! I had already studied abroad in Paris during my junior year and had fallen in love with France and travel.
During winter break in January, I was browsing online for different post-grad jobs … ok, I was looking at food blogs and dessert recipes. But, I stumbled across this girl’s blog where she spent a year living in Martinique, teaching English (and she included a bomb-looking recipe for a tarte). I did a quick Google search about the TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France) program, and my heart sank when I saw the deadline to apply was in one day, January 15th. I would have had to have a letter of recommendation from my French professor, my transcripts, and an essay (in French!) already written! I closed my computer and drowned my sorrows in a glass of wine to at least pretend I was in France, living my best life…
2 days later, I got an email saying the deadline had been extended until the 31st of the month, and I fired off some emails to almost all of my French professors to start the application process with newfound determination. My thoughts were that I would see if I even got into the program and then make my decision later, as I usually do since I cannot decide on anything to save my life.
The application was actually pretty easy – the hardest part for me was choosing my top 3 académies (French equivalent of school districts) to be placed in. The program doesn’t make you choose, but you can rank preferences from 3 groups A, B, and C.
I did manage to hit a couple bumps in the rest of the application process since the deadline was still right when I got back to school after break. I luckily found one of my professors who was willing to write me a recommendation letter in a couple days… or so I thought. She was actually my advisor for the French department but after emailing her to remind her of the (quickly approaching) deadline, I stopped hearing back.
Was I ghosted by my advisor?
I frantically emailed every other professor in the department that I’d ever taken a class with and ended up hearing back from my first-ever French professor.
Quelle chance! I actually had to call the person in charge of the TAPIF program at the embassy in Washington D.C. to explain that I had had some problems with my reference letters and wouldn’t make the already extended deadline. Luckily, she was super understanding and kept my profile active until I could submit everything. And on February 3rd, I clicked the button and sent off my application (with another glass of wine of course).
Honestly, after I sent in the application, I almost forgot about it until all my friends were getting acceptances or going off to job interviews in March. At this point, I still wasn’t even certain I wanted to do the program, but I still wanted some answers so I could figure out my next move after graduation.
Oh, by the way: shout out to French bureaucracy for everything taking twice as long and having no way of knowing anything about the status of my application.
2 months later in late April, I was sitting at work on a dreary, cold, spring day back at school, when I got a notification on my email with the subject: Acceptance to TAPIF 2018-2019. I’m pretty positive I was shaking as I opened the rest of the email which told me I was placed in my first-choice – académie de Nice at the secondary level for middle/high schools. Almost immediately, my eyes flickered down to the two blue buttons at the bottom of the email – accept or decline. One week (and various Google image searches) later, I found myself clicking the “accept” button. It was one of the most impulsive decisions, I’ve ever made, but my mindset was “there’s no time like the present!”
Oh shoot, I was heading off to France again! My summer was spent waitressing and personal training to make as much money as possible so I could travel while on the TAPIF program. Since assistants only work 12 hours a week, I must admit that we’re minimally paid. In July, I got a second email telling me of my school placement and I was quite shocked to find my little school was nowhere near … well, anything on the map! When you are placed in the program, you aren’t guaranteed to be placed in a big city (or in my case, any city)!
After a minor freak-out where I saw my perfect European life fly away, I googled the name of the town* in hopes of salvaging my plans of jetting off to other countries every weekend and spending time on the beaches during my time off.
* commune made up of 5 villages
It was about an hour and a half away from the nearest airport and city in Nice, and Google Maps seemed to think there were no bus routes that went to my new workplace. Feeling dejected, I sent off my first email to my professeur référent who would be my contact person at the school. I introduced myself and asked if she had any advice for starting to get a head start on apartment-hunting and such. She emailed back within a few days and explained that the previous assistant had lived at the boarding school attached to the high school for 3 days a week, and had an apartment in Nice for the rest of the time because there wasn’t much to do in the village. I showed my mom pictures of the school (small village roofs covered in snow) and she joked that I was going to be Belle from Beauty and the Beast … Little town, it’s a quiet village.
There was some hope!
The next step was to get my visa, so I applied for an appointment. The year I applied was the first year the French government outsourced the visa process to the VFS company so I was able to just drive a few hours to Boston, instead of flying home to LA. I came prepared to the appointment with every paper I thought they would need, plus two extra copies. It was a classic moment though when the man in charge of my paperwork announced my passport pictures were unable to be read by the system. I was sent out into the 100 degrees Boston heat to find a CVS that would take new ones. Needless to say, my pictures for the visa are a little sweaty and stressed looking. But hey, before I knew it, I was on the 7-hour flight to my new life in France!
The first few weeks of the program were a whirlwind of adventure from trying to find an apartment in the budget, to opening a bank, to figuring out how to get up to the mountains to my school! But life has a funny way of working itself out, and I now happily live with 2 other language assistants (and a dog!), have successfully opened a bank account and gotten a phone while speaking French, and carpool up and back to school with some other teachers.
Take that French bureaucracy and its many, many bumps in the road! All my stress and panic over the unknown for these next 7 months was worth it to be here now.
Life isn’t all la vie en rose here on the French Riviera, and I’ve still found many things to complain about (am I slowly transforming into a French person??) like my hour and a half commute up to the mountains, my frustration when I can’t think of a French word or my high-schoolers refusing to speak in English, or when I get catcalled on the street.
But that being said, I couldn’t be happier I took the leap across the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re thinking at all of doing the TAPIF (or really any other teaching program abroad) I would definitely say go for it – it has been a wild ride already, but also a great adventure. My French is getting better, it’s been fun to live in the sunny South of France as well as teach in the snowy Alps and I have plenty of free time to blog, take pictures, make food, and (of course) Shut Up and Go!
Meet Leah: A clumsy, caffeinated, Californian living and teaching English post-grad in the South of France. Taking on the world one country (and one plate of food) at a time! Travel pet-peeve: When you have the perfect Insta shot set up… and then a tour bus of tourists swoops in with their selfie sticks. #filterneeded Keep up with her on IG.