An Unofficial TAPIF Handbook: Things You Should Know, from A Two-Time Language Assistant

TAPIF, or the Teaching Assistant Program in France, is something very near and dear to me. Directly and indirectly, it inspired 99% of what I write about here.

The program isn’t perfect, but I’m endlessly grateful for the opportunities TAPIF has afforded me. In my opinion, there can never be enough first-hand accounts of the unique experience that teaching assistants have, so I’m hoping to add to the information that’s out there in an honest and complete way.

If you’re considering the program – or you’ve already applied and want to know what you’re really getting into – consider adding this post to you reading list. It’s a long one, but maybe it will answer the questions you have.

Before I start, let me explain why I drone on endlessly about this thing. Why did I decide to crank out a few thousand words on the program?

Well, participating in the TAPIF program allowed me to live and work – for about two years – in France. It allowed me to become truly fluent in French and travel more than I could’ve ever imagined if I had taken a job in the U.S. right after graduation. It allowed me a venue for dipping my toe into the waters of English teaching, which has become a continued area of interest for me professionally.

I love this program and I’ll keep recommending it for years to come. I know how important it was for me to have a long-term experience abroad and how rare it is to do that and to be paid for it, especially in Europe, especially after graduating college, especially after majoring in one of the humanities instead of business or economics or something directly related to the foreign service.

That said,  TAPIF definitely has its limitations. Prospective assistants need to hear these limits even more than they need to hear about the opportunities presented to them. I’ve written enough about the fun stuff and, honestly, the advantages are pretty obvious to anyone who wants to go abroad. Now, after finishing up my second TAPIF year and hearing stories from assistants who’ve lived through some really rough things during the program, I want to balance out my own previous praise with some more details about the teaching assistantship and give suggestions on how future teaching assistants can make it an amazing year.


1.The Basics
2.What Happens Over the Summer (Plus tips for booking your flight)
3.Orientation and Training (A snapshot of the first few days)
4.Being an Assistant(e) de langue, Day to Day (Includes a sample daily schedule…and ideas for what to do with all that free time!)

And all the stressful things…
5. Where the *&$% am I going to live? (All the words of wisdom I could possibly write on the single most nerve wracking part of the process.)
6. Opening a Bank Account (Trust, for some reason it’s harder than you think it will be.)
7. Misc. Other Things to Do (Sécurité Sociale, CAF, transportation reimbursement, second jobs, getting a cell phone plan, signing up for a gym, and the super important OFII visit)


The Basics

Here are the essentials about what the teaching assistantship is:

  • TAPIF is a program organized by the French Ministry of Education, the Centre international d’études pédagogiques, and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy
  • Every year, it sends about a thousand 20 – 35 year olds from Canada and the U.S. to France to help teach English in primary, middle, and high schools
  • Applicants must prove they have a certain level of French to participate, but they are not expected to be fluent
  • Once accepted and placed in an académie (school district), assistants receive a work contract that runs from October through April of the upcoming school year
  • To live in France for the duration of the program, assistants apply for a (specific type of temporary) visa at the French embassy or consulate near their home in the U.S./Canada
  • Assistants placed in metropolitan France (i.e., not an overseas department) are paid 790€ / month + 50% of the cost of local public transportation from their home to their workplace
  • TAPIF assistants work 12 hours per week, spread across one, two, or three schools
  • Participants normally cannot sign a contract to work a second job on top of the assistantship
  • Since the 2014-15 school year, TAPIF assistants have been able to apply for a renewal of their contract to complete a second year of teaching just after their first
  • Assistants can’t renew their visa in France and stay between contracts; those accepted participate for a second time still have to return to their home country and apply for a new work visa
  • There are similar programs between France and other countries in order to support all the languages taught in French schools; so, TAPIF assistants may end up meeting other “assistants de langue” from the U.K., Spain, Germany, China, India, countries in the Caribbean, and other select places around the world

Obviously, there are a lot of things that I consider to be essential info, but there it is.


What Happens Over the Summer

Congrats, you’re accepted! After hearing about your acceptance in April and confirming your willingness to participate, you start receiving emails from someone at the French Embassy who oversees the application process to the program. These emails may include:

  • an American assistant handbook, with information specific to the U.S. residents who will work as “assistants de langue.”
    • This handbook has a timeline for what you need to do administratively and otherwise before leaving (e.g., how and when to make your visa appointment, how to obtain official copies of your birth certificate) and how to begin looking for housing and open a bank account once you arrive.
    • I assume the Canadians receive another version with information relevant to the administrative steps required for Canadian citizens / residents, but I’m not sure.
  • a CIEP handbook which is sent to assistants de langue from every country. This book has different information from the country-specific handbook and it’s worth a good read as well.
  • links to the official Facebook group for assistants for the upcoming year, as well as Académie (i.e., school district)-specific groups. They’re meant to be a support system and a way to exchange information before and after you arrive, in addition to a social tool for “meeting” other assistants.
  • offers for tutoring gigs, babysitting jobs, informal live-in and live-out nanny positions, and even homestay / housing exchange offers . These arrangements are not necessarily monitored by TAPIF. They’re just job or housing offers that the program has agreed to pass along to the assistants, so do your own recon before agreeing to any gigs or living arrangements you’ve applied for this way.

My biggest suggestion for the summer before the program is to work and save money. This past year, I had a snag in my payroll paperwork that meant I didn’t get paid until November. Needless to say, I was happy I had some financial cushion for that first month. Another assistant had a ton of problems opening a French bank account; she didn’t end up receiving any of her pay until as late as January (although I think this is a very rare case). I say all this to reiterate the following: the more start-up cash you have access to, the better.

Later in the year after you start getting paid, you’ll probably realize that the salary isn’t a ton of money. Any assistant would be happy to have a little extra cash on hand, even just as an emergency fund for replacing a broken phone, buying meds to fight off a bout with the flu, or any other shitty thing that could happen. For assistants in the Paris region like me, I can safely say that the assistant salary isn’t enough to cover all of your regular expenses (rent, phone service, transportation, groceries) plus a normal amount of money to spend on actually doing things in your downtime.

Flights

Another thing you have to do over the summer is book your flight. It isn’t cheap, but it also doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars. It’s smart to book before your visa appointment, since the consulate usually asks to see your flight reservations anyway.

The best thing I ever did was booking a flexible round-trip ticket before my appointment, like I got to do with Iceland Air. By flexible, I mean something more than basic economy — though not as fancy/expensive as business or first class.  If for some reason you don’t like the sound of Iceland Air, check around different airline websites to see who else offers such a tier.

Yes, buying a ticket with this airline meant I had to fly past Paris just to change planes in Reykjavik and turn right around, but the price difference between “Economy Flex” and regular economy was minimal. What wasn’t negligible, though, was the peace of mind I had knowing I could to make a change to or even cancel my itinerary for just $75, plus having a more generous luggage allowance.

If you don’t book something more flexible than the most basic economy trip – with Iceland Air or any other airline –  you could have to pay $200 or more to change your flight schedule, even by a few hours or just a day. If you’ve bought a basic economy ticket and for some reason have to cancel the reservation altogether, you can straight up lose a huge chunk of what you originally paid!

Also, even if your placement is far from Paris, look at flying into a Paris airport and completing your journey by train. It may work out to be much less expensive than flying into the closest regional airport to your placement. That savings could make the longer journey worth the trouble, plus you can schedule yourself a day or two in La Ville Lumière before settling in.


Orientation and Training

The first day of the contract is normally an orientation day, which you’re told about over the summer or at the same time as you receive your official work contract. On this day, you meet administrators and sometimes teachers who work for the school district where you’ve been placed. They give you a ton of information about the program, attempt to “train” you for the job, and ask you to complete start-up paperwork.

Orientation usually continues onto a second day. You meet again in the same place and get a bit more information, possibly doing some demos of potential activities to use in the classroom. That’s honestly the extent of training, reading and maybe role-playing a handout full of ESL activities. Then, you are taken to (or sent out on your own to find) your school(s) in order to formally introduce yourself before the real work begins.

The training/orientation days are also where you meet the other English assistants working in your area so – despite the icebreaker activities and stacks of paper – it’s sort of fun and social. Both years, orientation is where I made fast friends with other assistants. Whether they were conscious of it or not, everyone spent that first day trying to establish a group of people to hang out with, bounce ideas off of, and complain to for the rest of the year. Some assistants even ended up deciding to be roommates and look for housing together after they met at orientation.

After orientation, the first two weeks on the job are reserved for observation. That means you won’t be required to plan lessons for those days, even though you’re now armed with a packet of a hundred games and worksheets to try. Instead, you report to work and watch how things function in the classrooms. Take notes, or don’t; talk to your new coworkers, or don’t; jump in and play with the kids, or don’t. The observation time is for you to get comfortable with the new environment, and the only requirement is that you’re in the building. That said, it’s probably smart to actually interact with people during this time instead of just looking like a weirdo sitting in the back of the room.


Being an Assistant(e) de langue, Day to Day

You can be placed in one, two, or three schools. Even if the contract you get over the summer just lists one, you might find out at orientation that you have additional schools to report to. (This happened to me in 2015-16, changing from one elementary school to three in the time it took me to read a half-sheet of paper handed to me on the second day of training.) Don’t worry, though! The schools are normally really close to one another and it doesn’t mean you’re working more the 12 hour per week norm. That said, it does affect your schedule if you have to move between schools throughout the week.

If you’re working in just one school, it means you really get to build a bond with your students and you might – if the teachers are friendly – get close to your coworkers. On the other hand, if you’re in two or three schools you might not get enough time with each class; it can make you feel like a visitor everyday, even at the end of the year, because you’re just less of a familiar face than you would be if all of your hours were in one single place. Be aware that it can be an obstacle on the social end, but also know that working in many schools does have one advantage: you end up using a lot of activities you planned for School A on another day in School B and School C, so you won’t have the same pressure to constantly plan something new.

Aside from number of schools, an assistant’s day can vary even further depending on the kinds of teachers they’ll be working with. I’ve had the full gamut of coworkers. There were teachers who provided all the material and expected to team-teach everything, and there were laid-back types who let me do whatever I wanted with the class, but left me to come up with topics and prepare lessons by myself.

Sometimes I could take a small group of students and work with them in a separate room, being really hands-on with the group. Other times I was just kind of sitting in the back of the class because the teacher didn’t need or want anything from me and hadn’t given me the opportunity to work with kids on my own. Just get a clear set of expectations from the teachers you’re meant to work with and it’ll work itself out!

In theory, the language assistant program gives direction to schools on how things are supposed to work between the language assistants and teachers. In practice, though, it’s a big gray area. The schools sometimes aren’t sure of what to do with this great assistant they’ve asked for (or just happen to receive year after year), but it’s not the end of the world. Actually, it’s kind of nice to have a mix of hyper-involved and less involved colleagues. That way, you have some days where you’ve done a lot of prep and feel like an actual asset to the school and other days when you’re just playing around with the kids and hanging out. Things balance themselves out once you understand the expectations of the people you actually work with.

An Actual Teaching Assistant’s Schedule 

To give you a visual of a typical emploi de temps, here’s my schedule from my first year of TAPIF. I was working in two different collèges (middle schools) for the Académie de Créteil:

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 6.26.04 PM

The first line of each block above is the class, the second line is the teacher, and the third is the classroom number. For example, during the 8-9am block on Mondays, I was in classroom #25, working with Mr. S and his “4èB” class, a.k.a. the B section of “quatrième” grade. (Wondering what the hell “quatrième” is? Look at the U.S. State Department’s detailed explanation of French grade levels here.)

Looking further, you can tell that on Mondays I spent part of my lunch break (or, pause méridienne, which always lasted a full hour and a half — thank you French social norms re: work-life balance) traveling from one school to the other. Some mornings were early starts, some were late starts, and I ended at different times depending on the day.

On Wednesdays, I was always annoyed because I had to travel 45 minutes all the way to school just for one hour of work (partly because the kids didn’t – and still dont – have class on Wednesday afternoons). I knew I couldn’t ask to change this, though, because there simply weren’t enough other English classes to find a more convenient time to work on a different day. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t a huge deal because…

Fridays were completely free for me, so long weekends were a definite possibility for taking mini-trips once I had my life/money in order. Honestly, though, I usually ended up using Fridays to run errands. There was no shortage of times when I needed to visit some administrative office to sort out enrolling in Sécurité Sociale or dedicate an hour to call and fix something at my bank or take care of something else I couldn’t get done on the weekend. (I’ve got plenty more to say about the trials and tribulations of working with the administration française in the “Opening a Bank Account” section.)

With all the gaps in my schedule on the days I did work, I could plan lessons and organize teaching materials between classes. I wasn’t normally motivated enough to do this, but there were a few times when I used the teacher’s lounge computer to make lessons instead of doing it at home.

You can also see that I worked with 12 different classes, located at two different schools. This meant that I never got to spend a ton of time with each class. That was my biggest regret, not having a lot of time with each group. I always felt like I was seeing some student for the first time, which was a bummer, but also not up to me to decide. I think the schools’ approach was to expose as many students to this real example of the anglophone world as possible, regardless of the depth of that exposure.

Too Much Downtime

You’ll probably have a day or two off during the week, simply because 12 hours don’t evenly divide into five class days and the people planning your schedule don’t usually want to force you to come to school for only an hour of work.

In any case, 12 hours of work means that assistants have an obscene amount of free time during the week, even after considering the commute to and from school. At first, it’s fun and you need the time to find an apartment, to make friends, and to look for side jobs. After you’re settled, though, you risk spending a ton of that free time wasting away watching Netflix or procrastinating before planning your lessons.

It gets almost depressing if you don’t find something productive to do with yourself, so that’s why I suggest tutoring and babysitting – even for assistants who somehow don’t need extra money. You can also look for language exchange groups like the Polyglot Club to practice your French and meet some of the millions of people that exist in France outside the TAPIF program. You could even audit classes at a local university if you find something interesting that doesn’t interfere with your work schedule.

Some people are tempted to do this program while pursuing a Master’s degree. It’s technically possible, but extremely rare to pull off because you don’t get to choose the location or hours of your TAPIF job. If you’re considering this balancing act, you can always read my other post – “TAPIF, Grad School, and the Truth” – for more insight.

I like a good hour or two of sitting in a café and people watching as much as the next girl, but at some point you have to step away from the caffeine and leave the smoky bistro. A really good idea for keeping yourself busy, even if it sounds corny as hell, is to write down an actual list of things to do before you have to go. I’m talking about tourist attractions in your town, other cities in France you want to visit, and even other places in Europe you’d like to travel to. That way, you can stay accountable to yourself and have a quick reference for things you can do in those plentiful hours away from work.

During the year, keep in mind the rythme scolaire. It’s something you’ll hear quite a lot about in the teacher’s lounge when everyone starts talking about the date of the next school holidays. (Or, more likely, you will hear this word when people start talking about changes that the Éducation Nationale has threatened to make to said schedule in the future.) Get ready to jump for joy, because that holiday schedule guarantees you ample time to travel and hang out. Basically, every six weeks of work are rewarded with a two-week break. I’m not lying, you will have a hefty break every six weeks. Check the official academic calendar here and start thinking of what to do with all those vacation days! It was honestly overwhelming for me; I was used to thinking adults only had 2 weeks off in the summertime, max.


Moving Abroad is a Huge Task, and TAPIF Can’t Solve All Your Problems

Here’s the juicy/depressing part of this faux-handbook: an explanation of a few of the shit things that often happen with TAPIF assistants. I’m writing this section to make prospective and future assistants aware that, as hard as the people who manage TAPIF work to keep the program running well, they can’t solve certain logistical problems for assistants – and there will be plenty of these problems to choose from.

Immigration, even in this temporary sense, is hard. We can’t forget that this program isn’t study abroad, where everything down to our homestay and weekend excursions are arranged before we arrive. There are so many great things that TAPIF provides, but everyone’s housing, bank accounts, and 100% vetted sources of extra income don’t fall under the program’s purview. Here’s some advice for trying to tackle what the program can’t:

Where the *&$% am I going to live?

Finding a safe, comfortable place to live is the most important thing, but it’s also the most stressful part of moving to France. Some assistants are lucky and get offered housing by their school, but this is usually only the case for assistants in a lycée (high school). Keep in mind, though, that not all lycée assistants have an apartment reserved for them and, to be honest, when they do have a place it’s not always the best or most affordable housing solution.

So, here’s the deal for everyone who doesn’t arrive with a place to live: In Paris and other large French cities, assistants don’t earn three times the average rent for a studio or a one-bedroom. This means that many landlords deny assistants because there isn’t sufficient proof of income. Guarantors are usually out of the question, too, because American and Canadian assistants’ parents don’t have French bank accounts and, thus, their income isn’t saisissable for a French landlord.

Admittedly, that’s not a super uplifting series of observations. What do assistants do, then? Well, resist the urge to abandon all self-respect and move into the first box you can find for the sake of expediency. Perseverance is key, and I believe that if it were truly impossible for assistants to find housing, the TAPIF program would either intervene or cease to exist. That said, looking for housing in France means it’s time to really evaluate your needs. Do you need to live in the city center, or can you compromise as long as the place is near public transit? Will you take a tiny studio even if you’ve never lived in a fourth floor walkup with no washing machine? Do you absolutely have to live alone, or can you handle the frustrations that come with sharing space?

If you’re really hellbent on trying for your own Parisian studio, my post “The Good Room: What to Know about a First Apartment in Paris” has more info about typical French apartments and some places to start your search.

I’ll assert that, in general, roommate arrangements are a lot easier to find. So, spend the first week or two searching Appartager.com, Roomlala, and other sites with colocation ads. Trust your instincts, scrutinize the offers, and don’t agree to anything that doesn’t feel like a good fit. Take enough time with your search to find something that’s worth living in for a year.

You can also buddy up with a few other assistants and visit a reputable real estate agency – in person – to see if they can find an apartment for you to share. With the burden of the rent shared across more than one (foreign) person, some assistants have had luck with this plan. Be sure to bring all of your work contracts to this meeting; it could get things moving quickly and cut down on time spent in a hostel. Remember, though, that real estate agents in France take a fee from the renters (i.e., you and your new friends) when dealing with locations.

Another option is looking into homestay offers and au pair / chambre contre service ads. (People tend to use websites like FUSAC.org and the Assistant de langue Facebook groups to post these.) In a homestay, there’s a family or single person renting out a room in their home; since it’s an agreement between two individuals and not a pure landlord-tenant situation, people are usually more lax regarding your lack of thousands of euros or a garant in France.

Informal au pair jobs are plentiful, so if you find a nice family or someone personally recommended to you by a former assistant you could be in an okay situation. The babysitting will take up your free time, but you’ll pocket all of your TAPIF income and should even be paid a bit of  extra money on top of that for the childcare. Chambre contre service is pretty much the same thing where, in exchange for English lessons (usually for kids), a family is willing to give you a room to stay in for free.

While I explain that these arrangements exist, I learned that a lot of the stress assistants have comes from these side job/living arrangement options. Assistants feel obligated to take them on in order to fix their housing problems quickly and to save money over the course of the year. Unfortunately, though, there are scammers and unhelpful people everywhere, at home and abroad.

Any babysitting, tutoring, or housing-in-exchange-for-childcare offer could turn out to be much more difficult than it seemed at the outset. It bears repeating that it can be straight-up trouble once you get into this kind of arrangement in a foreign country with people you don’t know. Some families can be demanding or exploit the fact that they have the upper hand, unjustly changing your job duties or treating you in a less than stellar way because you depend on them for housing and some of your income, so they think they can. Some people renting rooms to assistants turn out to be horrible roommates or worse, looking for shady ways to get more money from you once  you’ve moved in.

Consider offers for side jobs and roommate offers, but be smart! Do all the research you can on the people/families involved. Make sure you’ve gotten some sort of contract -signed by everyone involved – explaining the duties to perform or accommodations offered. Don’t rush into accepting any offer you receive, even after you’ve met person face-to-face; mull it over and maybe keep looking for alternatives after you’ve decided in case things turn sour. More than one assistant (that I met this past year alone) had a very, very stressful experience because of who they lived with or worked for.


Opening a Bank Account

This is another thing to start working on from day one in France, as there is no way to be paid if you don’t have a French account. It just isn’t as easy to open a checking account in France as it is in the U.S., and the fact that TAPIF participants are foreign adds more complications to that.

My advice is to walk into a bank near your school (or your house, if you are magical and already know where you’re living) armed with every possible official document you can think of, plus photocopies. Choose a bank branch that is easy to get to, as French bank accounts are domicilié, or somewhat tied to the branch where they were opened and a specific conseiller (who is your main point of contact for any questions or issues you have regarding your account).

Most banks will offer you an account geared toward students and young professionals, which should have low monthly fees and usually come with online or mobile banking as a main service. You should opt for a check book, even if you don’t really use checks at home; they’re pretty standard for paying rent and putting a deposit on things in France, so the fact that the bank might charge you for a chequier doesn’t mean you should forgo it.

Finally, follow up with the bank after you’ve left this first appointment! If you’ve been waiting a long time for your card or account documents, it could mean they’re having trouble opening an account for you and/or not taking your request seriously.

Lots of assistants have had to visit multiple branches of multiple banks before finding someone who can work with them – even though they had proof of employment in France and the visa to prove legal residence. Sometimes the issue is that you’ll be using your school as your address instead of your apartment (because you won’t have one yet). Other times, it’s because the person in front of you has never worked with a language assistant or foreigner in the country for such a short period of time, so they’re unsure of how to go about opening an account for you and aren’t really falling over themselves to find a solution. Whatever the case may be, you have to be assertive to get things done in France; opening a bank account is likely to be your first hands-on experience with this.

The French themselves have an anxiety-ridden relationship with l’administration; just Google “phobie administrative” and you’ll find both playful and rather serious considerations of a kind of psychological distress caused by institutional interactions. I take this to mean that we can’t expect people – at the bank, at school, in customer service at your new internet provider, or even in the stupid checkout line in the grocery store – to be as eager to help you as they might’ve been in a similar situation back home.

I’m generalizing in a way that even I’m not 100% comfortable with, but for the sake of warning people who haven’t lived through administrative nightmares I’ll say this: in your dealings with the bank and other institutions, believe me when I say that the typical American customer service experience is actually better than the typical customer service experience in France. You’ll be thankful for the efficiency of the DMV after having lived in France for a year. At least at the end of your wasted two hours at the DMV you eventually get what you came for, instead of leaving with five new things to worry about and none of what you entered the building looking to receive.

Miscellaneous Other Things to Do

  • Sécurité Sociale: Enrolling in Sécu (healthcare) is required for all non-European assistants, but was a complete bust my first year. I went my entire stay in France during the 2013-14 school year without ever receiving a Carte Vitale, so I don’t know what would’ve happened if I got really sick  had to go to the doctor. Luckily, the process was changed last year (2015-16) and after a bit of back and forth I received my card in a pretty timely manner. It was a surprisingly smooth process this time.
  • CAF: La Caisse d’Allocation Familiale is the group assistants apply to see if they are eligible for financial assistance in order to pay their rent. It is a very, very long process to apply and takes your TAPIF income, monthly rent, and type of apartment into account. Of the people I know who’ve gone through and applied, maybe 50% of them actually received money in the end…and it was truly at the end of their time in France. It’s smart to apply and assistants do technically have the right, but don’t budget based on money you expect the CAF to pay back to you.
  • Transportation Reimbursement: By law, French employers pay for 50% of the cost of public transportation between an employee’s home and their workplace. This includes language assistants and really isn’t hard to get! Just remember you’ll have some paperwork to fill out for this (it’s not automatic) and you normally have to buy a certain kind of public transportation plan to receive the money. For example, in the Paris region I had to get a Navigo card and buy the monthly fee; my Académie would not reimburse me if I only used T+ paper tickets or bought a weekly plan instead of monthly. Your school/Académie may even ask you to send them your receipts each month as proof, which I had to do my second year (but not the first).
  • Working a second job: You’ll probably want to work an extra job, especially if you read any other part of this long ass pretend handbook. Be aware that assistants normally can’t work another formal job (i.e., one with a signed contract). You can contact your Rectorat – which is an administrative arm of the Académie where you work – to ask if you’re allowed to take on further employment, but in my experience it’s always been a “No.” This is why people place ads on LeBonCoin.com to offer English lessons/tutoring services and take on lots of babysitting work, so it’s probably your best bet.
  • Cell Phones: Whether you bring an unblocked phone from home or get a new one in France, you’ll need a local number for your schools and for your bank, among other things. Phone service is relatively cheap in France, so have no fear! I didn’t want a contract, so I paid 29 euros a month for 2 GB of data and unlimited calls/texts with SFR. There are other no-contract (sans-engagement) providers out there, like Sosh (part of Orange), SFR Red, and Free. All you need is a RIB (relévé d’identité bancaire, a document you get with your account that you give to a business you are allowing to charge you automatically/monthly from your account) from your new bank account, an address where you can receive mail, and access to the internet, as these services can only be purchased online. The only thing to consider with these types of low-cost services is that there are no brick-and-mortar stores to visit if you have a question or an issue; everything is done online or by phone.
  • Gyms: Like in the U.S., it’s not common to find a no-contract gym. If you’re like me and won’t work out unless you have a real gym to go to, you’re in luck! Normally, moving more than 100km from your gym is grounds to break the contract, so you shouldn’t have problems ending yours when you leave France. Just explain your temporary situation and be sure to get confirmation from your gym that you can break the contract at the end before you sign up. Fees tend to start at 19 euros a month.
  • OFII: In addition to the visa that is stamped into your passport before you leave home, assistants from outside the EU must get their visa validated by the OFII office. The day of your visa appointment at the consulate, you should have completed the top half of an OFII form. When you get your visa, you should also get this form back with a stamp on it. As soon as possible upon arriving in France, you complete the bottom part of the form and bring it/mail it via certified mail (lettre recommandée avec accusé de reception) to the OFII office nearest to your place of residence for the year. The office will then contact you for an appointment that cannot be moved. On the day, you go to the office for a medical exam and complete a bit of paperwork; at the end, the OFII office places your official titre du sejour in your passport, validating your visa stamp and rendering you an official and legal resident for the duration of that visa.
    • It’s a relatively straightforward process, but it needs to be done within 3 months of your arrival in France – otherwise your visa becomes invalid. If the OFII hasn’t contacted you for your appointment within a few weeks of receiving your OFII form, contact your Académie for advice or assistance.
    • My first year of TAPIF, the OFII office in Paris was extremely backed up and many language assistants had to wait until that three-month mark had almost passed before being given an appointment. Without the OFII stamp, it made Christmastime travel outside of the Schengen Zone risky, as our visas would’ve looked invalid to border officials when we wanted to re-enter the country. Luckily, the Académie was made aware of the issue and contacted the OFII office to rectify the situation; I think everyone’s appointments were taken care of before anyone’s visa truly became invalid, including my own.

After all that, the only other thing I should say is that no one should let the complicated things discourage them from applying for or enjoying the amazing adventure that TAPIF allows you to have.

Nothing is perfect, including being a language assistant, but it can be a damn good experience – especially if you know what to look out for before you get there. I’m not saying that anyone can avoid all the possible pitfalls, because things happen wherever you go in life. Hopefully, though, you can avoid the snags you’ve read about here and have an amazing year full of teaching, travel, and personal growth. It’s an amazing job, even with the limits of the support it provides.

If it wasn’t, I never would’ve done it twice.

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Have a specific question? Think I can answer it? Feel free to send it to me here! I’d love to try and help:

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “An Unofficial TAPIF Handbook: Things You Should Know, from A Two-Time Language Assistant

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