Teaching English in France: Bonne Chance Mes Amis

by Jason Neiverth

Every once in a while, in the middle of my day, I find myself suddenly transfixed, unable to move. A half-chewed morning croissant rests deliciously inside my now-still mouth. I stare straight ahead at the sun shining against the distant mountains, amidst a city laden with culture and history, culinary geniuses,
and some of the most interesting people on the planet. I see all this and I can only think one thought, repeated in my head like a mantra–Is this really my life? Six months ago, my wife and I sold everything and moved to Grenoble, France. Just out of Graduate School (and speaking very little French), I never believed that I would be able to make the move either financially or practically.
But as it turns out, I am making a comfortable living working only 12 hours a week and taking wonderful French classes at night. The rest of my time is, well…mine!

Each year, the French Ministry of Education offers 1,500 teaching assistantship positions in the French public school system exclusively for American citizens. Candidates are hired to teach 12 flexibly scheduled hours per week of conversational English. The program requires minimal knowledge of French as the classes are
taught in a “total immersion” style. The pay is a whopping 900 Euros a month (more in some regions) plus social security health care; typically enough to cover basic expenses in almost any French region. Not to mention all the free time it affords you to earn extra cash or to simply lounge around the countryside. The French are infamous for their bureaucracy and applying for the assistantship
can be at first glance a daunting process. But smile! Your chances of getting the job are excellent. Oftentimes, there are more spots to fill than there are interested parties. This year, for example every qualified individual who applied was accepted. If you stay organized, there is no reason you should not be able to complete the procedure expeditiously and with little stress.

The first step of course is to visit their Web site at
. Here you will find some of the details of the program and some basic information on things to consider when moving to France. It is also where you will find links to some of the paperwork you will need for the process. Take a look through the basic requirements regarding age and education. If you fall just outside the range of them, fear not. Like many of the rules in France, you may find that exceptions can be made given the right circumstances. Find and fill out the application form which is usually available in September and due by January 15. Your application will be accompanied by a medical form, letters
of recommendation (forms provided for each) and a copy of your transcript or diploma. It may be a while before you hear back. Remember that they receive thousands of applications and it is a big job to sort through them all. If you included your e-mail address on your application, you should receive periodic updates on where they are in the process.

The program requires you to speak only minimal French. However, in addition to taking some immersion classes while in France, it is a good idea to get enrolled in some classes before you leave as well. Adequate French skills will make your visa process go smoother and also allow you to enter France and work much earlier than your scheduled assignment. And, of course, you will need to begin learning French in order to enhance your functional capacity while in-country. If you can enroll in a full-time program, your French will develop rapidly. However, even if you only have a couple hours at night to go to classes, the total language immersion environment will doubtless facilitate a rapid adjustment. As an added incentive, foreigners studying in France qualify for up to 234 Euros per month in housing subsidies! The French are very proud of their education system.

Quite frankly, it may be the most advanced education system on the planet. As such, there is virtually no end to the schooling options available to you. Some language programs are even approved U.S. partners, and as such, are qualified to distribute U.S. financial aide to help you in your education. There are even
degree programs available in English if you want to continue your home education!

Most of France’s education is publicly funded. As such, you will find that many of the private universities in France offer extremely competitive rates. There are multitudes of schools dedicated to teaching French as a second language. Tuition can run as low as 500 Euros per semester. If you are a visiting researcher,
oftentimes you may qualify for up to a 50 percent reduction on top of that. The Ministry of Education maintains an excellent web resource in English on specific education options. Visit for detailed information.

Obtaining your visa can be another hurdle. If you are heading to France solely for the assistantship, then you will be contacted in advance with instructions on how to apply for your visa. Follow their deadlines studiously as visa’s can take up to two months to receive. However, if you plan to come to France early and start school, then you can apply for a student visa at any time. For this,
you will need proof of enrollment in a French university in addition to your regular paperwork. French schools will issue this proof after receipt of your deposit. All the other necessary forms can be downloaded at
(See Link Below) If you are going to be living in France through the assistantship program, then you will be assigned a region (they can usually honor your request). In any case, you will be responsible for securing your own lodging. This can be quite difficult in a foreign country, and will usually require a week or more of diligent effort before you find something that works for you. You may
find it helpful to look on-line before you leave.

Web sites such as can be an excellent source for finding studios or roommates, and the searching
will familiarize you with the French apartment lingo. Most people seek assistance from the city’s apartment hunters. There are literally hundreds of such agencies who maintain lists of available rentals. They will usually require a fee somewhere in the neighborhood of one months rent, payable after signing. Some charge a much smaller fee (about 20 percent) which must be paid up front before they will release any addresses. If you can afford it, the former option will allow you the most flexibility. These fees can be quite a shock to newcomers who are used to the landlord covering such expenses. But the good news is that housing can be quite a bit less expensive than you may be used to paying. You can get student housing for virtually nothing, or rent an apartment in town for between 200 and 1000 Euros. If you are taking classes then you may qualify for the student housing subsidy as well.

Within 9 days of arriving in France, you will need to begin the process of applying for your carte de sejour. This is your official residents permit and you will need it in order to remain and work in the country as well as receive government aid. Having one will essentially make you a temporary citizen. The bureaucracy can be intimidating, but if you persevere, you may be able to do it all in one shot. Visit your local prefecture for the necessary paperwork.
Once you arrive, allow yourself plenty of time for errands. Remember, you are on French time now, so things may take a little longer. For instance, to obtain a bank account you will need to make an appointment, usually 7-10 days in advance. Your social security health coverage will require similar foresight. When you
arrive in town, your local Maison de Tourisme can be a great source of information and advice on wading through these tasks.

On a final note, the assistantship provides a wonderful opportunity but it is not your only option. If you do not qualify for the assistantship, take heart. There are plenty of employment opportunities for Anglophones living in France. There are many American corporations with operations in France. These companies tend to maintain an English-only policy in the workplace. In addition, many people need help improving their English for school, business, or even help with term papers. With a little bit of advertising, you should easily be able to support yourself. Whichever path you choose, I am sure that your time in
France will be memorable and fulfilling. Be sure to save copies of everything, relax, and take long breaks. Get yourself a nice café and smile…you will get through it. Bonne chance, mes amis!

Visit The French Ministry of Education page where you will find some of the details of the program and some basic information on things to consider when moving to France. It is also where you will find
links to some of the paperwork you will need for the process.

Visit The Ministry of Education maintains an excellent web resource in English on
specific education options and more detailed information.

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