Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Day 8: How to work for TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program in France)

Look at me, failing already at the blogging thing.

I can only say it's because I had a long day at school yesterday on 5 hours of sleep (thanks for screwing up my sleep schedule, vacation!) so I ended up falling asleep at 8pm last night and sleeping til 7am this morning. Oooooops. I totally *meant* to blog yesterday if I hadn't fallen asleep...

Anyway, today (well actually yesterday but...) I wanted to blog about my current job, which is being an English Language Assistant in France.

Have you ever wanted to live abroad and work in France? Well, here's your chance!

People from many different countries can apply for this job; basically any country that speaks English. I know people from Australia, New Zealand, UK, Ireland, Jamaica, and Trinidad. However, I'm only going to cover the application experience from the American standpoint because that's the only one I really know anything about.

First: You need to do an application. The application for 2013-14 is due next week, January 15, so this will probably apply more for people considering it for 2014-15, or people that have already applied for 2013-14. The application consists of an application form, an essay (which must be written in French) and two letters of recommendation, preferably from college professors. If you took French in college, one must be from a French professor. If you did not major or minor in French, or take at least 3 French courses in college, you must take an exam with the Alliance Française and demonstrate at least B1 proficiency on the test. (You have to register for the test well in advance to make sure you receive your scores before the application deadline.) There is also an application fee of $40. You can read more about the requirements here. You should also apply for a passport now if you haven't got one.

You kinda need one of these to leave the country.

Second: Once you submit you application, be prepared to wait. And wait. And wait some more. Don't worry, it's good practice for France. You should hear back sometime in April as to whether you were accepted. DON'T just expect to get accepted. I applied two years ago and was waitlisted and ultimately rejected. Have a back-up plan. For real. This year, however, I got my acceptance email April 4th. The program has an official Facebook page you can 'Like' for updates.

Third: When you are accepted, they will tell you the Académie, or school district, in France you are accepted to (which corresponds to one of France's régions, or administrative districts) but NOT which city, or more likely, which town, your school is in. The académies are named after the largest cities in that district, but you may or may not be anywhere near that city. For example, I am in Académie de Rouen. Rouen itself is a bigger city with about 500,000 people; but, my school is in Auffay (a very small town of about 1000 people) and I live in Dieppe, which is a small city of about 50,000 people. You will find out which town/city you will be in when you receive your arrêté de nomination in the mail. The arrêté can arrive anytime between late May and mid-July. I received mine around mid-June. 

Fourth: You have to apply for a visa. You must do this in person at your nearest US consulate. There are consulates in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco, and Washington DC. Being an Alabama resident, I applied at the consulate in Atlanta and I can give you more info about that if you need it. It will take about 3 weeks to receive your passport back in the mail with your visa attached inside. There's other paperwork you will have to fill out and mail in or do in person as well, that the person in charge of the program, Carolyn Collins, will email you about when you need to do it. Also, don't bitch about the paperwork. This is nothing compared to what you'll have to do once you arrive in France, the land of the paperwork nightmare.

Fifth: It's really beneficial if you are in the United States for the majority of time leading up to leaving for France. You will have a lot of stuff to mail in, receive in the mail, and go do in person. It's a little hectic to have to take care of some of these things from abroad. I know from experience; being in Korea for most of the months leading up to going to France (I was only home for 4 weeks in between the two places) was not fun in terms of getting my shit together.

Sixth: Prepare to leave for France! Once you're all accepted, have applied for your visa, and gotten your birth certificate apostilled (see link for more details; I've attached the website for my state, Alabama, for reference, but your own state's Secretary of State department is the best place for you to check), start figuring out what you want to pack. Just DON'T OVERPACK. 

 This is a BIG no-no.

You can only check 1 suitcase between the US and Europe for a reason. You don't need more than that plus your carry-on, I promise. You will still bring more clothes than you need anyway, but don't overdo it. And, you WILL buy clothes in France (especially in January during 'les soldes'; don't lie to yourself), so you don't want your suitcase full to bursting when you go home. It depends on where you're going but you will probably need good waterproof shoes and a rain jacket in most of France, and a warm coat. You may also want to bring certain teaching materials, or things related to American culture, like Halloween and Thanksgiving materials.
ETA: IELanguages is an AMAZING website run by a former assistant and not only has great information about the TAPIF program but also has good resources for improving your French or other languages. 

Last: Go to France!! I have experience living abroad in wildly different places from the US, so I haven't found much culture shock in France; however, if this is your first overseas trip, or first long time overseas anyway, be prepared for culture shock out the wazoo. It is normal. Try to make French friends but also make friends with your fellow language assistants. They will be your rock if you are having a hard time adjusting. Also some of the professeurs référents (the teacher at your school who is in charge of you) can be nice or not so nice, but suck up to them as much as you can at first (not in a weird way, but be super nice and awesome and helpful). They can make your stay much easier if they like you. For instance, mine helped me find an apartment before I came to France, and let me stay with her free for 4 days until I moved in, helped me get internet set up, and just assists me if I need help translating paperwork and stuff like that. She is generally awesome.

I'm currently about halfway though my term here in France. It's gone by SO fast already; I really don't want to leave at the end of April (even though I'm really excited to go to New Zealand). If you have any questions about applying and working for TAPIF, please let me know! 

Have you ever thought about working abroad in France, or another country? Or, do you currently? If so, please leave a comment below!

xx Kaylin

(Photos: 1. Mine; 2. wikipedia article on US Passports; 3. http://fletcher-prince.com)

PS I'm planning to write more posts about working with EPIK, the program I did in Korea, and what Teaching English as a Second Language is really like, later on. Stay tuned for that!


  1. Hi Kaylin, thanks for your super helpful blog post on the TAPIF. I've just applied for the 2013-2014 program and have my fingers extra crossed that I'll be accepted! Right now I'm an English teacher in Shanghai, China, where I've been for almost 2 years. I don't wanna overload you with questions (actually I do) but one thing I was curious about was how you think your application/qualifications changed from the year you were waitlisted to last year when you were accepted? Like you said, I don't want to assume I'll be accepted but I am curious about the backgrounds of people accepted/not accepted.

    1. Hey Lydia,
      I think what changed the most was that I lived and taught in Korea. That you have been living and teaching in China for 2 years is an excellent addition to your application. It can't do anything but help your chances. What are your French qualifications? Did you major/minor in it in school? Did you major/minor in something else that looks good to them too, like education or English?

    2. Thanks for your prompt reply! I did minor in French but I didn't study education or English. Did you? I'm hoping my teaching experience might make up for that some. Stressing won't do anything so I'm determined not to worry too much, but I wish I had a better idea of the breakdown of the applicants selected last year, like % who studied education, w/ teaching certificates, etc.

    3. No, I also have a minor in French and unrelated major (mine's Anthropology). I guess that's KINDA related because it's about studying other cultures and stuff!

      I do have a TEFL certificate though. I got one before I went to Korea. I made sure to include that on my application. I'm also pretty sure I had glowing recommendations from my professors.

      All this helped alot considering my mediocre French skills.

      Hope that helps!

  2. I worked as an assistant in Rouen (2005-06 and 2006-07), so it was interesting to read about the process for become an assistant. I had kind of forgotten what the process was like, so thanks for the reminders.

    I miss "les soldes" in France. I try not be materialistic, but I tried to take advantage of them. However, I don't miss the paperwork.

    Kaylin, were you told you had to get your birth certificate translated? I read that before I departed for France. I was dumbfounded that they would require a translated birth certificate. Fortunately, it wasn't a problem once I arrived in France.

  3. Yes, we were required to have our birth certificates translated. It was actually a massive deal because they told us to do it before we came (I didn't) when actually, La Sécu wouldn't accept them unless they were translated in France by an official translator here. I got mine done here but some people had to do it twice because they followed the instructions exactly. Waste of money!!

    Les soldes are still on and now that I have a bit of cash coming (I am getting a €68 reimbursement from the ferry company in Dieppe because they screwed up my trip to England at Christmas) I'm planning to buy a couple things. I mostly just want some new sweaters.

  4. Hi Kaylin,
    I just applied for the 2013/2014 year and I'm a little disappointed to hear that you got rejected the first time you applied! Now I'm very nervous, especially considering that it is nearly IMPOSSIBLE to get a response from TAPIF regarding how many positions they have available. The only concrete number I could find was that they had 2,300 applicants last year, but still no info on how many actual assistants are milling around in France. So my question to you is, how many assistants are in your academie? Do you ever interact with them? I *really* wish I knew how many of the 2,300 got accepted!

    Also regarding your visa, is your visa valid only for the 7 months of the program or are you just issued a generic 12-month long-stay work visa?

    1. From what I can tell, there are about 1500 positions and 2300 applicants. (from the USA) There are assistants from other countries too of course but I dont think that affects how many Americans get accepted.

      I couldnt tell you how many Americans were in my academie though. All the English language assistants are grouped together onve you get here. I think there are probably about 150 or so total from all countries here. Also in our academie they are not renewing anyone this year (and some of but not all the others are doing the same) so that actually gives the new folks a better chance.

      Technically I was waitlisted the first time but unless you are really high up on the list you arent likely to get off it and I didnt want to agonize all summer about it so I took my name off the list in like June.

      My visa is valid until late June this year but Im probably leaving not long after the program is over at the end of April. (early ish may) I think its kinda random what date they give it to you for, depending on your consulates discretion really. I think some peoples are only valid until the day after the program ends sometimes even.

  5. Hi Kaylin,
    I applied for the 2013-14 year and we just got our responses in today. I've been waitlisted :( I'm kind of surprised because I thought my qualifications were pretty good: I've lived abroad, I speak French fluently and am a French tutor at my university. Still, I'm hopeful about getting off the waiting list. I wonder why you took yourself off the first time you applied. Did you receive word from tapif that you were still on the waitlist by the end of June? Were you told what position on the list you were? Just wondering what my chances are now....

    1. Hi Yazmin, I took myself off the first time because when I pestered Carolyn about where I was on the list, she told me I was in the bottom third. Usually SOME people get off the waiting list, but it is normally just the top third. So I decided I didn't want to wait around for them to eventually be like, yeah we aren't going to pick you, so I took myself off and did other things with my time that summer and fall (I took a backpacking trip to England in September instead), then worked and saved some more money and went to Korea to teach the following fall.

      I can't really tell you what your chances are, only that getting in is pretty competitive and gets more and more so every year. Good luck at getting off the waiting list though! Let me know how it goes :)

  6. Hi again Kaylin,

    Just thought I'd drop back by to tell you I was accepted by TAPIF! I'm obviously super excited but the time seems so far away. Wish I could hop on a plane right now!

    I was wondering, regarding your visa, how much sooner before the start date of the program was your entry date? I'm just trying to have an idea of how early I can arrive/how much time I'll have to get settled before I start working..


    P.S. I see you mentioned in a comment that the duration of the visa really kind of varies by consulate. You were really given a lot of time to stay in France after the program end date! I know you have to go to the consulate in your region, but I'm really curious about which one you went to?

    1. Awesome!! That's so great you got accepted! I know what you mean about wanting to hop on a plane right away. I was like that too! (And I'm only 3.5 weeks away from leaving to go home, so I'm getting antsy to get on that plane again lol)

      M visa was valid for a week before the start date (valid from Sept 24), but that may have only been because I only got my visa back a week before I left (I was in Korea until 4 weeks before the France thing started so I couldn't apply for the visa until I got back.... btw, REALLY not recommended. I was so stressed about it coming back in time, because typical French admin never tell you anything about the time it takes for things). If you apply earlier, it MIGHT be more time? Again, French admin. You never really know.

      My visa's valid until June for some reason but I'm going home in May. I guess if you've got solid au pair or tutoring gigs you've been doing through the year it wouldn't be bad to stay on, but I don't so I'm just going home where it'll be free to live lol.

      I'm from Alabama so I went to the Atlanta consulate. Here's the map of all the consulates in the US: http://www.ambafrance-us.org/spip.php?article330 They are located in Boston for New England, NYC for NY and the tri-state area, DC for mid-Atlantic states, Atlanta for Deep South states, Miami for Florida, New Orleans for Louisiana, Houston for TX-AR-OK, Chicago for the (vast) Midwest states, San Francisco for the Northwest, and LA for the Southwest.