Teaching Traveling: Here to discuss the hot topic of how to find a job teaching in France without an EU passport is Dana Wielgus. Tell us about your background, Dana.
Dana: Bonjour! My name is Dana, and I’m a twenty-six year old American originally from Milwaukee, WI. I have been living and teaching in France since 2013. I completed my undergraduate degree in French and English as a Second Language Education, and am now certified to teach both of those subjects.
During my time at university, I spent one summer teaching English at a language camp in Japan through an internship with USA Summer Camp (Guy Healy, Japan), as well as spent a semester studying abroad in Normandy. Both of these experiences confirmed my itch for travel and my desire to teach and live abroad after graduation. As a self-proclaimed Francophile, I had my heart set on France. So, after teaching ELL for six months in the States, I left for France in September 2013 and have been here ever since.
TT: When people think of living and teaching abroad, many think about visa restrictions, as it is extremely difficult to get sponsored. So, how were you able to legally work in France as a non-EU citizen?
Dana: As far as I’m concerned, the most well-known and easiest way for non-EU citizens to teach in France legally is through the Teaching Assistant Program in France. The program sponsors your work visa. In order to qualify, you must be between the ages of 20-35, have a fairly good level of French, and be a native English-speaking citizen of one of the following countries: Australia, South Africa, The Bahamas, Barbados, Canada, OECS, the USA, the UK, India, Ireland, Jamaica, New Zealand, Trinidad, and Tobago. For Americans, there are approximately 1100 spots reserved per year. However, the program has gotten quite competitive over the past few years, so having a university degree, teaching experience, and strong French language skills are almost a must these days.
The duration of the TAPIF program is 7 months (October-April), during which you teach 12 hours per week, have eight weeks of paid vacation, and are given a modest monthly stipend of 790€ net per month. Nowadays, if you are lucky and start the process early, you can apply to extend and/or renew your contract once (although this is not guaranteed).
The application process for TAPIF is pretty straight forward: you need to write a statement of purpose (in French), provide transcripts and details regarding your education and teaching experience, and provide two letters of recommendation. TAPIF is a great way to get paid to live and work and travel around Europe while also gaining international teaching experience. I participated in TAPIF during the 2013-2014 school year (when I was apart of the program, it wasn’t possible to renew your contract.) I taught in a high school in a city between Marseille and Nice, right on the French Riviera. I also gave private lessons on the side and was able to fund some of my travels. I spent seven months exploring the Côte d’Azur region as well as traveling internationally to Turkey, Morocco, Italy, Great Britain, and Spain.
Although the contract is quite short, and the pay isn’t the greatest, this program is a great way to get many feet in the door in France. The best way to make connections are by being physically present, especially when you do not have necessary working papers.
TT: Amazing! What did you do after your TAPIF contract ended?
D: During January 2014 of my TAPIF year, I knew I wasn’t going to be ready to permanently leave France after my contract ended. So, I decided to start researching other ways to stay. I found two other job opportunities that was available for non-EU citizens in France: Lecteur / Lectrice d’anglais and a Maître de Langue (university English teachers). A lecteur (if you’re a man) or a lectrice (if you’re a woman) d’anglais and Maîtres de Langue are people who give English courses at a French university. The main difference between the two is that the maîtres de langue teach fewer hours overall (but the courses they do teach usually require more preparation) and they get paid more. Just like the assistantship program, the French government sponsors the work visa.
These jobs are only open to foreigners — the person must be a native speaker from an English speaking country in order to qualify. The contract is typically for 12 months (with an option to renew for an additional 12 months), and is much better paid: around 1227€ net for lecteurs and about 1550€ net for Maîtres de langue.
To be a Lecteur / Lectrice, you usually need a Bachelor’s Degree plus one year of postgraduate studies (but sometimes something like a teaching certificate will count). To be a Maître de Langue, you need to have a Master’s Degree and a year of Doctoral studies. HOWEVER, it will vary GREATLY on the university and what they want. Unfortunately, these positions have become MUCH more competitive over the past few years, so diplomas and teaching experience are very much taken into account.) One of the easiest ways to obtain a position such as this one is to see if your American university has any reciprocity with a French university —they may put positions aside to those students.
The catch here is that there are no sponsored programs; you have to find and apply for the individual positions on your own. To do this, I created a French-style CV and cover letter, did a ton of Google and Internet research, and sent out my application to over twenty universities. I received a lot of rejections, got a few interviews, and in the end was offered a lectrice position at an engineering school in northern France. I just finished up my two-year contract and I absolutely loved my job. I worked in a small international team and taught mostly Business English with TOEIC exam preparation. My students worked really hard and were really respectful and kind. I learned a lot and grew so much as an educator. I also took on a TON of private lessons, and thanks to paid breaks and summer vacations, I was able to travel to over ten new countries over the course of two years.
TT: What are you doing in France now?
D: I knew that I couldn’t renew my lectrice contract for a third year, so I started thinking about what I wanted to do next. I toyed with the idea of heading back to the US, staying in France, or moving to a completely different country.
At the same time, I’ve always wanted to work at an international school (basically, an Anglophone-style or English-speaking IB school in a foreign country, usually catered towards expats, military families, etc.). I initially applied to several during the first few years of my career, but never had enough experience. I decided that this was the moment to try again. I signed up to a couple of recruitment websites, looked into recruitment fairs, and started researching cities and schools that interested me (mostly in France and the UK). I tailored my CV and cover letters to the countries I applied to, and hoped for the best. Basically by happenstance, I came across an international school in the city where I currently work (with sister schools in Lille, Paris, and London), via a family to whom I give private English lessons. I was able to network, establish a connection, send my CV, and lock in an interview. Long story short, I was offered the ESL teacher position, and they sponsored my working papers. I am very excited to begin the next stage of my career!
TT: Congrats! Are there other ways to work or live in France that you have not yet explored, that others could explore?
D: The French-American Chamber of Commerce offers a visa called the FACC / Young Professionals visa, which basically sponsors working papers for Americans who find employment in France. The visa has a maximum duration of 18 months (called a “CDD contract” in France) and cannot be renewed, but it is a great way to get a foot in the door at a company who maybe would be willing to sponsor you after the initial contract! International Schools will consider this visa for a non-EU hire.
There is also a “Skills and talent” visa (Carte Compétences & Talents) visa, which allows a professional with exceptional talent to work in France, under the assumption that “you will make a significant or lasting contribution to France’s economic development or to its intellectual, scientific, cultural, humanitarian, or athletic prestige, and directly or indirectly, to that of your own country.” More information about eligibility and requirements can be found on the French embassy website.
Finally, there is the EU Blue Card scheme, which is an approved EU-wide work permit (with the exceptions of Denmark, Ireland, and the UK). The Blue Card visa was approved to bring in non-EU citizens to fill skills gaps across Europe with foreign workers. In order to quality, you must have a contract for at least 12 months and make at least 1.5 times the average salary (approximately 54K€). More information can be found on the website.
Obtaining a French Master’s Degree is another way to live in France. Students are given a one year “Grace Period” to find a job after finishing their studies (called an APS visa). Because it’s easier to find permanent employment with a French certification, many past assistants, lecteurs, and maîtres take this route after finishing their contracts. Additionally, you can work part time on a student visa, which gives ample opportunities for networking.
TT: These are excellent suggestions. Now, is it possible to keep up with your U.S. state certification requirements while teaching abroad?
D: Generally speaking, yes! Although I took some time off from my US teaching obligations, I realize I do want to keep my license up-to-date, just in case I want to go back to the US one day. Additionally, I need my valid license for my job at the international school. Usually, you need to do some research and work with your state’s DPI (Department of Public Instruction). Since I’ve been here I’ve been able to fulfill professional development requirements through joining TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages), which offers plenty of seminars to members all around France, as well as an ECIS (European Council for International School) in Copenhagen.
TT: Do You Need to Speak French to Live in France?
D: Generally speaking, yes. It is very difficult to live in France if you do not speak French. It will make administrative tasks a nightmare, and it is more difficult to integrate into the country. If you are interested in working in France, consider brushing up on your French skills at your local Alliance Française or joining a conversation group. I had a good level when I came over but I’ve improved so much over the past three years —especially when it comes to tasks like reading the water meter, looking for specific tools in a hardware store, explaining a weird toothache, dealing with administrative paperwork, and getting my haircut!
TT: What are the best parts about living in France?
D: The best part of my three years in France has to be all of the people I have met. I have a really, really great network of expats, Francophiles, and French people here — people I now call some of my closest friends but would not have met had I not come here.
On a more cliché level, the great, fresh food, the long dinners, the wine, the history, the architecture, the language. I love walking around the city center and admiring the beautiful architecture. I love eating fresh baguettes from my local boulangerie and indulging in a delicious dessert. I love spending hours at the dinner table, having apéro (hors d’oeuvres), long dinners, and sipping red and white wine (or if you live in the north of France, Belgian beer!) I love speaking the language and I love not having a car. I take joy in riding my bike or walking more frequently. I also appreciate the affordable health care system, and the fact that France has a great mentality when it comes to work-life balance — it’s okay to relax. Finally, I would be lying if I didn’t mention the vacation. You get a lot of it in France, and living and working here has allowed me to have a great balance of having a home base and a routine but also having the time to explore Europe. For the moment, it’s the best of both worlds.
TT: Are there any drawbacks to living in France?
D: Like anyone far from home, I miss my family and friends, even more as the years go on. Being an expat also means having to constantly goodbye to fellow expat friends who leave the country. On a more stereotypical level, France can be a bureaucratic nightmare; you need to stay organized and keep every piece of paper in existence. Finally, I sometimes find it difficult to integrate into all aspects of the culture, although I do my best to do as the Romans do when in Rome!
Thank you very much, Teaching Traveling, for featuring me. If you would like to read more about my life in France, check out my blog: AsToldByDana.com.
TT: Great to have you back, Dana! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?