Florence: First Impressions & Travel Resources

I took the bus to Florence because it’s cheaper, and it’s only three hours from Rome which doesn’t feel long anymore. It was hot in Rome but the storm was just starting to break as I left the bus station in Florence. The men who peddle umbrellas and those colorful plastic bag ponchos seized the opportunity to pounce on anyone caught in the rain unprotected.


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Eating my way through neighborhoods of Rome: Monti, Trastevere, Testaccio, and more

I don’t know what to tell you about Rome. I didn’t do the things you’re supposed to do. Shannon and I agreed we would definitely skip the Vatican because we’ve both been before, and while we might pop by and wave hi to some of the famous monuments from the outside, there was no way we were waiting in line to go in.


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Best Boulangeries in Lyon

It is no secret that I like French bread (and croissants and pains aux raisins and éclairs and… well, you get the idea). When people ask what brought me to France, I tell them it was the boulangeries. Whenever I am mad at France because the Sécu refused my carte vitale application for reasons they made up, I go get myself the best pain aux raisins I can find. (Something I didn’t know before I moved to Paris: All the flaky pastries like croissants and pain aux raisins are called viennoiseries in French.)

I can’t believe I’ve been in Lyon for three years! I’ve lived up in the Croix-Rousse neighborhood and down on Presqu’île, so those are the areas I know the best, but I try to make it a point to eat croissants all over the city.

Here’s a list of some of my favorites:

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Seville Favorites

I didn’t fall in love with Seville, but I also kind of did.

That’s confusing.

I mean, when I first arrived, Seville didn’t live up to the hype, and I kind of hated the cramped touristy city center, Barrio de Santa Cruz. But once I explored a bit more and got some churros in me, I felt differently.

You know those cities that you love so much that you imagine going back over and over again, or even renting an apartment and staying awhile? I didn’t feel that way about Seville. But I loved a lot of individual things about the city, which all smushed together add up to an awesome week in Seville.

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How to get a visa and teach English in France

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been three and a half years. In July 2012, I was working on my TEFL certificate in Chicago. By the end of August, I was living in Paris.

Now I live in Lyon and I’m in my fourth year of teaching English in France. Here’s how I found work and got my visas.

Year 1

Private language schools in Paris

My visa: I had a six-month student visa through a study abroad program. When I got it, six months seemed long, but they went by fast. You need to be enrolled in school full-time to get a student visa, which allows you to work about 20 hours a week. Public universities are inexpensive (a few hundred euros per year). You can also study at a language school. You can find more information on how to get a student visa via your regional French consulate.

My jobs: I was hired by a private language school soon after arriving in Paris. I had emailed my CV and was called in for an interview. Schools often recruit in September because everyone comes back from vacation for la rentrée – back to school, back to work. I worked 15-20 hours a week for the first three months, and then the school gave me fewer and fewer hours because they did not have enough new students. I had to find another job, but I only had a few months left on my visa, so most schools refused to even interview me. “Call us when you sort out your visa,” they said.

Finally, a language school for kids hired me to teach groups of children ages 3-10. I responded to their job posting online and then interviewed in person. I worked for them 10 hours a week until my visa expired, and then I worked for a wealthy bilingual family under the table on a “tourist visa” for a few months. I made more working for them than with language schools, even though I only worked two weeks a month. (I found their job posting at the American Chuch in Paris and sent them an email with my CV.)

The pay: Both language schools paid 18 euros/hour brut (so around 14 euros/hour net before taxes.) The other job paid 15 euros an hour net (with a fixed number of hours per week) and 100 euros/day when traveling.

See Things I Wish I Had Known About Teaching English In France for other helpful information.

Year 2

TAPIF Language Assistant in Lyon

My visa: TAPIF (Teaching Assistant Program In France) is a program for foreigners under 30 that allows you to work legally in France. I had a travailleur temporaire work visa. This visa is usually valid for about 9 months because the assistant contract is 7 months, but the San Francisco consulate did me a solid and gave me a 12 month visa (the maximum length).

My job: I worked 12 hours a week at a lycée in Lyon. I taught groups of 10-15 students ages 14-18. I got the job by applying to the TAPIF program, who placed me in the Rhône-Alpes region of France. The local education administration (the rectorat) gave me my school assignment over the summer. I also worked remotely for an American company as a travel assistant during this time.

The pay: Assistants net about 790 euros/month in metropolitan France (Paris too) for the duration of your contract. You work 12 hours a week (this can be split between several schools in the region.) This includes quite a few weeks of paid vacation (during the vacances scolaires.) Some schools provide low-cost housing on campus.

Years 3 & 4

Lectrice in Lyon

My visa: A lecteur/lectrice work contract allows foreigners to legally work in France for up to two years. (It’s a one year contract that can be renewed once if the school opts to keep you on.) I renewed my visa at the préfecture in Lyon instead of going back to the U.S. (If your visa is still valid and you are not changing status – from worker to student, for example – you can renew it in France.) I’ve blogged all about this process in case you’re interested. This year I had to wait in line for almost nine hours, starting at 3 a.m.! But now you can make appointments online… three months in advance. (Don’t worry, the préfecture is relatively painless in many other cities.) My visa is good for 1 year because that is the length of my lectrice contract.

My job: Lecteurs/lectrices are foreigners who teach at French universities. There is no national program; instead, you apply directly to the university if they have an opening. The job description and the application process vary depending on the school. Many schools will insist that you have a Masters degree, or a year of study towards one. Some schools will accept a TEFL certificate in lieu of this. I got an interview by sending my cover letter and CV to the head of the English department. Hiring season for lecteurs/lectrices is usually March through May, depending on the school.

Last year I taught 11-14 hours a week and this year I’ll teach 20 hours a week (we are compensated for teaching extra hours.) Some of my co-workers juggle another job on top of this. I’ve written all about the perks of being a lectrice here.

As I said, the lecteur/lectrice contract is 12 months long. If your school renews your contract, you can hold the position for a maximum of 2 years. It’s competitive because there are far fewer positions available than there are for assistants. In my opinion, this is the best job to have in France as an American teacher.

The pay: Lecteurs/lectrices earn a salary of around 1500 euros/month brut, or about 1250 net. This is paid for the twelve months of your contract, so it includes a significant amount of paid vacation. (Summer vacation, Christmas vacation, Toussaint vacation, winter vacation, spring vacation… and then some.) The number of hours vary by institution, but around 10-12 per week is normal. Beyond that, you are paid hourly for the extra hours you teach, 40 euros/hour brut. This is usually paid annually or bi-annually.

Note: French salaries are lower than Amerian salaries across the board. It’s really, really normal to earn less than 2,000 euros/month in many industries, especially at the beginning of your career. A lecteur/lectrice salary allows you to live comfortably almost anywhere in France (with the exception of Paris) even though it’s not a ton of money. For example, in Lyon you can live with roommates for around 400 euros/month and by yourself for 500-600 euros/month. Phone plans and public transport are cheaper, you won’t have car payments, and healthcare costs are negligible.

Other ways to work in France

Working Holiday Visa

If you from a country that offers a working holiday visa in France, it’s an excellent way to work in France. Americans cannot obtain a working holiday visa in France.

Franco-American Chamber of Commerce: American Trainees in France

If you are American, you may be able to get your visa sponsored by up to 18 months via the Franco-American Chamber of Commerce. You have to find a job that meets their requirements first, you must have a four-year degree, and you must be under 35. I have never actually met someone on this visa, but I don’t see why it couldn’t be done. More information here.

Freelance lessons and tutoring

Some language assistants and students earn extra money by teaching private students. Many families look for native English speakers to tutor their kids. You can also post an ad in upscale neighborhoods, at schools, or online. People also post up-for-grabs gigs in city-specific Facebook groups (e.g. “English teachers in Lyon”). I don’t recommend that you count on this for your main source of income, but it can be a good way to earn some cash on the side.


Vacataires teach at universities like lecteurs and lectrices do, but they don’t have a monthly salary – they are paid only for the hours they teach (40 euros/hour brut). Like heures supplémentaires for salaried teachers, they are usually paid in chunks once or twice a year. You must have another primary employer, and you cannot get a visa for being a vacataire.

I’ve written a more complete post on how to get a visa here.


This is meant to be a brief overview of my time working in France. It is based solely on my personal experiences, which may not pertain to everybody. If you would like more information, you are welcome to contact me with questions. You might want to check out the other posts I’ve written about teaching English in France. The most popular ones are Preparing for TAPIF, Things I wish I’d known about teaching English in France, and my favorite lesson plans.

If you’ve written about teaching English in France, feel free to share a link! If you’d like to mention something I missed, I’d love to hear from you. 

5 lazy ways to practice a foreign language

Learning a new language isn’t easy. I’m not suggesting that you’ll become fluent by half-assing it. (So un-knot those knickers, please.)

But it’s summer, the season of laziness. I feel guilty being unproductive (#AmericanProblems) but sometimes I just don’t want to analyze news articles or read French literature. Soooo in the same way that I equate eating jam with getting my five a day (what? There’s fruit in jam) I have a few ways to “study” that are so painless, you’ll think you’re just chilling drinking rosé pink lemonade. You can have a lazy day and still feel like you did some work. (As long as you don’t make every day a lazy day.)

Watch TV with subtitles

I don’t like watching movies and TV dubbed in French, just as I wouldn’t like watching French movies dubbed in English if that were a thing. I always go for VO – version originale – because it’s just more enjoyable to watch. And can you blame me if most all of my favorite TV shows are in English? (Most French people will probably tell you the same thing. And if you’ve watched French TV, you’ll know why.)

So if my brain or uterus hurts and I just feel like binge-watching some Netflix, I put on the French subtitles and BAM I can call it learning. And I actually have learned a ton by doing this, so it’s not like the jam-for-fruit excuse (although I have eaten a lot of fruit via jam). I pick up new words and expressions no matter what I’m watching. I jot them down in the moment, and then look them up and study them later on. They’re not necessarily things that are difficult to understand, but things that are new to me or that I wouldn’t use actively, even if I understand them passively.

I also think it’s really interesting to see how humor is translated, since it’s often based on language or culture. For example, a play on words like “I love you from my head tomatoes” can’t be translated literally. In French, the translation was “Je t’aime de tout mon coeur de boeuf” because “coeur de boeuf” is a kind of tomato. (Bonus points if you know which Netflix series I’m talking about. Still haven’t decided if I like it.)

And when Phoebe says she’s late for her Green Eggs and Ham discussion group, well, that won’t make any sense in a culture that doesn’t know who Dr. Seuss is. So in the French version, the discussion group was about the “madeleine de Proust” and the effect on “le mémoire.” Lol?

Jill has some interesting observations on using Netflix to improve your language skills too. (She analyzes subtitles and dubbing simultaneously because she’s not as lazy as I am.)

Find language exchange partner

I have done this in Chicago, Paris, and Lyon in Spanish, Italian, and French via conversationexchange.com. It’s a little like dating – you send someone a message online, and you decide to meet up for coffee. Sometimes it’s awkward and you leave it at that. And sometimes you make a new friend. If you click, then doing a language exchange just feels like hanging out with a friend. You can try new cafes and restaurants, get ice cream, take a walk around a cool neighborhood – whatever you both like to do.

You need to have at least a basic conversational level, but it’s okay if you’re not fluent. I’m definitely not fluent in Spanish, but forcing myself to speak the language has helped me make lots of progress. Luckily, my language exchange friend is very patient and loves mid-afternoon snacks as much as I do.

Set an itty bitty daily goal on Duolingo

Duolingo is an app and a website for learning foreign languages. Its mascot is a happy green owl. You can either start at the very beginning or take a placement test. Activities introduce new vocabulary and grammatical concepts and require you to recognize and produce words and sentences, written and speaking.

Does it work? If you don’t combine it with additional practice, probably not. But it won’t hurt, and if you use it as a tool, it can help. Take notes and repeat everything out loud to maximize your results. (But don’t use this as your only teaching source and take it with a grain of salt – when I was helping my dad with his Duolingo in French, I noticed a few errors.)

What’s good is that you can set a daily goal of how many lessons you challenge yourself to complete, and Duolingo will track your progress. My advice is to set that goal at a level that you can realistically complete every day, no matter how busy you are. Do you have 30 minutes every day? Maybe not. But I bet you can squeeze in 5 or 10 minutes. You can always do more if you want to, and it’s better to do a little tiny bit every day than to put it off for a week (or forever) because you don’t have time to do a lot at once.

Listen to podcasts

I’m a huge fan of podcasts. I always recommend that my students listen to podcasts to improve their aural skills, because listening without a visual challenges your ear more. There are also many to choose from, so you can choose something that interests you that isn’t too long for your attention span. I like getting a few minutes of news in French and Spanish, and sometimes other podcasts from France Inter. If I’m traveling outside of France I’ll squeeze in something like “ItalianPod 101” or “German survival phrases.

If you’re learning French, try French Etc, les Infos en français (or en français facile, where they speak a little slower), or one of the podcasts from France Inter. If you go for a language learning podcast, try out a couple to find one you like. (Because I’ve heard some that are booooring.)

Why is this lazy? You can listen while you chop vegetables, put on your makeup, lie in bed with cucumbers over your eyes. Yes, it will work better if you concentrate and take notes, but listening and repeating isn’t a bad start.

Do a “guilty pleasure” activity in your target language

Things that are a “waste of time” in English turn into “studying” in your second language. I stand by this, as long as you don’t abuse it! (Please don’t spend all your French study time watching Allô Nabilla.) You can learn things about the language and culture by watching reality TV, reading magazines, falling down the YouTube rabbit hole… whatever.

The bottom line is that a little lazy language study is better than nothing at all. It shouldn’t be torture, after all, and you can learn a surprising amount doing these things. But of course, they will work better as a complement to a language class or more active study. That said, I have had a lot of students who credited their excellent English to watching TV shows and playing video games. (…and not to my awesome teaching. Thanks guys.)

Have you tried any of these ideas? What has helped you to learn a new language?

I’m Vé-loving It: How to use the bike share system in Lyon

It’s been three months since I ditched my metro card for Vélo’v, Lyon’s bike-sharing network. I learned how to bike when I was a kid, but I haven’t rolled on two wheels much since the early 90s. (Apart from the terrifying Vélib incident in Paris of 2013.)

[Note: Vélo’v and Vélib get their names from the word vélo, which means bike in French.]

But it turns out that I love the Vélo’v system in Lyon. There are a lot of bike lanes and bike paths, so I feel safe most of the time, and since there are so many Vélo’v stations, it gives you a freedom that you don’t get when you’re confined to the metro. I just pick a bike and go. Plus, now that I don’t live in a fifth-floor walk-up anymore, I have to get in some exercise so I don’t feel guilty about taking the elevator when I get home. (To the second floor. Just because I can.)

It’s not all rainbows on wheels, though. Here are a few situations where my vé-love turns to vé-loathe:

  • At 8:30 a.m. when there are no bikes anywhere – the early birds took them all.
  • At 6 p.m. when everyone is having apéro on Presqu’île and there are no open spots at the Vélo’v stations to park my bike. It’s worse than looking for a parking spot!
  • When the bike seat is too high and refuses to budge to where I can actually reach the pedals, no matter how hard I whack it. (I’ve learned that twisting it back and forth is a better method than whacking. I’ve also learned that violently whacking the seat of a bicycle in an attempt to lower it makes you look crazy.)
  • When pedestrians amble across the bike path like dazed cattle who have wandered out of their pasture. I am not a skilled cyclist; it would be much easier for them to wait for a second than it is for me to brake abruptly and wait for them to saunter by while I wobble precariously, trying not to fall off my bike.
  • Oh yeah, falling off my bike. That happened this week. I have banged up hands, knees, and elbow (the right one) and a bruise the size of an avocado on my leg. It started out pink, turned purple, and today it’s black. I actually put off my visit to the préfecture because I didn’t want to sit on the sidewalk for five hours with that bruise!

But still, Vélo’v pass is ridiculously affordable (it only costs 25€ for the entire year. That’s opposed to 60€ per month for public transport) and it’s a fun way to get around when the weather’s nice. If you’re comfortable on two wheels, this might just be the way to go.

How it works:

First, you buy a pass at one of the many red Vélo’v stations.

One-day pass: €1.50

Three-day pass: €3

Week-long pass: €5

Annual pass: €25, or €15 if you’re under 25 (Annual passes must be set up online.)

The first 30 minutes of each ride are free (60 minutes with certain passes), and then there’s a small extra charge per hour. But you can just switch out your bike for a new one at any station to avoid paying extra.

Keep in mind: At peak times, it may be difficult to find an available bike or an available parking space.

Vélov Lyon La Vie En C Rose

For more information, visit www.velov.grandlyon.com.

Have you ever used a bike sharing system? What did you think?

Eating My Way Through Paris (Again)

When I go to Paris, I really just want to eat. I have an ongoing list called “Stuff to eat in Paris” that I pull out every time I’m back in the soixante-quinze. (Because Paris is in department # 75 and French numbers are funny.) I enjoy hitting up much blogged-about hotspots and deciding if they live up to the hype, and discovering new gems by chance, like the Bar à Soupes in the 11th.

I was back in the City of Lights in June, juggling my love of food with my loathing of Paris prices. (It’s like if you attacked normal prices with helium. Because they’re inflated. No, I’m exaggerating. It’s not that bad.) You’ll notice that I spent a lot of time in the 10th, my current favorite arrondissement for doing stuff. (The 12th is my current favorite arrondissement for chilling, in case you were wondering.)

If you’ve ever lived in Paris, you’ll know more than a few of these!

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Stylish Packing for Europe: Guest post for Become an Au Pair

Ashley Fleckenstein of Ashley Abroad has lived in Paris and traveled the world, and is now based in Denver, Colorado. She has written many helpful posts about being an au pair in Europe and has also shared a few guest posts from other au pairs and expats.

So as a departure from my often-whimsical posts about weird French stuff, I wrote a guest post on packing with style for a move to Europe, in which I express my love of scarves and ankle boots.

Take particular note of the photo collage I made thanks to this tutorial from A Beautiful Mess because I was supremely impressed with my own artistic cutting and pasting abilities. I don’t have photoshop, so I just arranged the images in PowerPoint and took a screenshot. Bam!

                              Stylish packing for Europe collageNot too bad, right?  

You can read all my advice about looking stylish in Europe and packing for a long séjour abroad here. At the bottom I include links to my favorite posts on minimalist style and packing.

What are your best packing tips? What do always pack when you travel?

Paris cheap eats: International yummies for 10€ or less

My first year as an expat in France was spent in Paris as a struggling English teacher plagued with visa problems.

I didn’t eat out a lot.

When I did splurge on something that wasn’t pasta, I wanted the yummiest possible food for the least possible cost.

Actually, I still want that. So now, whenever I’m in Paris, I hunt down the best cheap food I can find. These are some of my favorites so far.

Continue reading “Paris cheap eats: International yummies for 10€ or less”