That’s right! You heard correctly: I’m moving to France.
So, I’m sure you’re all wondering: Chris, what on Earth are you doing moving to France and what the heck are you going to be doing there and what in God’s name is “TAPIF”?!
Wonderful questions, really. Well, if you read my “About” page you would know what’s up. If you didn’t, shame on you.
Just kidding! Here’s what you missed (on Glee!):
In the fall semester of my final year at university, I wandered into my professor’s office looking to discuss personal statement ideas for graduate programs I was considering. Well, my professor told me that going to graduate school is great and definitely something to consider, but she suggested that I take a break and really try to find what it is that I truly want to study instead of shuffling into what I just thought I was interested in. Needless to say, I was terrified and distressed. I always thought that I would naturally go through all of my schooling in one go and then bam! Be done. And now one of my mentors was suggesting to me that I … dare I say it … take a … GAP YEAR?!
Fast forward a few weeks and the idea eventually sunk in and I was committed. I was going to look for something else to do after I graduated instead of going straight to graduate school … but what, exactly?
One night in November I watched a movie on Netflix recommended to me by my father: Last Love – a movie about an American expat living in Paris who is recently widowed. He befriends a younger French dance instructor and they become friends, but because of their age difference, everyone, especially his children, thinks their friendship is inappropriate. It was good. The reason the movie is important, however, is because I remembered in that movie how much I love France. The country has captivated me since I took French 1 my freshman (first) year at university. I love the culture, the food, the wine, the landscape, and, above all, the language.
The next morning I researched this program I remembered stumbling upon a few months before. I couldn’t remember the name but I knew it was something along the lines of “teaching assistant France”. It was the first result on Google.
The program that I subsequently applied to is called the TAPIF: the Teaching Assistant Program In France. According to the website:
The Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) is a joint initiative of the French Ministry of Education, the Centre international d’études pédagogiques (CIEP) and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy. The program’s goal is to strengthen English-language instruction in French schools by establishing a native speaker presence, while also providing American Francophiles with excellent teaching experience and first-hand knowledge of French language and culture.
You have to be between 20 and 30 to apply for the program and you must be an American citizen and you cannot be a French-American dual citizen. I’d like to point out that I’m speaking only about the American TAPIF. The French Ministry of Education hires young adults from many different countries to go to France and act as native speaker resources for their various language classes that they offer from primary school through secondary school. The program’s contract is from Oct 1 – Apr 30 and it is paid. You aren’t guaranteed housing, however, though some schools do offer it to their assistants.
When you apply for the program, you pick whether you would like to be placed in a primary (kindergarten – 5th grade) or secondary (6th – 12th grade) school. You also pick three “Académies” in order of preference to pick where you will be placed if you are accepted to the program. France is split into 26 académies and 4 departments (for the American territories that France still controls). An académie is an administrative zone run by the Ministry of Education and they, for the most part, correspond to regions within France. You pick 3 in order of preference, though there is no guarantee you will get your first choice and TAPIF makes it clear that they give placements based on merit, though I’m not so sure if that is true. Here’s a map taken from the TAPIF website that shows France divided into its various académies:
The deadline to apply is in January and then you don’t hear back until … APRIL! You’ll see that TAPIF is all about waiting. Yay.
In April, I was notified that I had been accepted and placed in the Académie de Lille! If you look at the map, you’ll see Lille in the far north of the country. That’s right. Winter is coming. (Sorry, I had to). But really, I’m from Florida so this is going to be one heck of an experience. I’m convinced that I’m going to freeze. Let’s put out a warning now for anyone in the region to look out for a frozen Floridian come November when it really starts to freeze (to me). Keep your eyes open guys. It’s gonna be me.
Once you find out which académie you’ve been placed in, you have to let the woman in charge of the American assistants, Natalie Cox (bless her), know that you accept or decline so that people that have been waitlisted can be notified promptly. After that, you wait until June or July to (maybe) receive an email notifying you of the schools you’ve been placed in from your “prof référant” – the person at your assigned school that is in charge of making sure you settle in once you arrive in country. I say “maybe” because it’s August 1 and I have yet to receive an email from my prof référant.
In late July, Christmas comes early for all the assistants. What I mean is that our contracts arrive in the mail and everyone that hasn’t heard from their prof référant (including yours truly) finds out what school(s) they’ve been placed in. Now, the reason everyone wants to know this is because the académies are fairly large and you can be placed anywhere in that region. You aren’t guaranteed to be placed in the city that the region is named for, though everyone usually wants to be placed in said city. I got my contract last Tuesday, July 28!
I’d like to preface this by saying to all of my friends that, while I’m sure it’s been fun telling people that you know a guy moving to Paris, stop now because I’m not moving to Paris. I was placed in a high school in the charming seaside city (town?), Boulogne-sur-Mer (IT EVEN SOUNDS REALLY FRENCH)!
Here’s a map of France with Boulogne pinned:
It’s all the way up there on the coast! How nice though, right? A coastal town?! I was a little bummed at first because, like most people, I wanted to be placed in or around Lille. However, I quickly took the news for what it was worth and looked on the bright side of things. Boulogne-sur-Mer is a town in the French region Nord-Pas-de-Calais with 43,000 people and a metropolitan area of 133,000 people. Compared to most of my fellow assistants, I’m very lucky to have been placed in a town with that many inhabitants. I’ve seen people placed in towns with a whopping 8,000 people.
I also got fancy and made this photo of the Académie de Lille up close with Boulogne pinned so you can see as well:
Look at that. I outlined the académie and everything. I’m such a computer pro.
But yeah! That’s my little region that I’ll be moving to in September. I officially bought my plane ticket and I leave for France on September 12. I’ve been looking at places in Boulogne to get an idea of what rent will cost. I also sent an email to my high school and I hope someone responds soon, though they probably won’t because French National Education workers are on vacation from July 14 – August 24 and let me tell you, the French LOVE their vacations. They do not work on vacation like Americans tend to do, but hey. Good for them!
The reason getting in touch with your school is so important is because your prof référant can help you find a place to live and some may even offer their homes for the first week or so until you’ve found your own housing. In reality, since we haven’t arrived in France yet, we have very little control over the situation and it is nerve-wracking. Most people in the Facebook page for our Académie are worrying (myself included) and I think it’s normal. People keep saying to calm down but we’re moving to another country! We’re excited and nervous and it all comes together as panic.
I know it will all work out, though. It (almost) always does.
So, there you have it. I’m going to be an assistant de langue à Boulogne-sur-Mer, France in 1 month and 10 days. There, I’ll spend the next year acting as a living, breathing English textbook for students and hopefully helping them learn to speak English better! I’m very excited for this job and the adventure that this program will bring. I only work 12 hours a week and I get 2 week vacations every 6 weeks of school (Hashtag Love France). I’m going to get to travel around Europe and visit friends I haven’t seen in months or years. I’ll be closer to my family that lives in Portugal. I’ll be able to visit new countries and experience a world far greater than my home here in Tampa, Florida. And, I’ll get to live on my own for once and get to see how I fit into the world as 1 of the 7 billion people that inhabit it.
Before I forget, here’s a picture of Boulogne I got from Wikipedia:
That’s going to be my own little corner of the world. Let’s go.
See you in the clouds,