If I were a big-time blogger with a global influence, I don’t think I would tell you about La Campagne à Paris. If it became more popular, it would be spoiled.
But I’m rather lucky because only a select group of exclusively nice people (right?) read my blog.
So I think it’s safe.
I think I read about La Campagne à Paris on Paris Zigzag, a fantastic site for discovering little-known places in Paris (in French). It’s a tiny neighborhood in the 20th, just minutes from the Porte de Bagnolet metro stop (line 3, take exit 2).
It’s a tiny little haven of cobblestone streets and storybook houses with pretty gates and flowers in front. It was nearly deserted – I encountered a few residents, a couple wanderers like me, and a cat.
2016 is a big year of change. I’m feeling excited and anxious about the big move to California, and sad to leave Lyon and see most of my expat friends scatter all over the world as we all move on to the next chapters of our lives.
Recently, Hugo and I got a little taste of California life – one of my oldest, dearest friends got married this May and we flew to California for the occasion. She had a beautiful outdoor country wedding that belongs on Pinterest – vintage family dress, DIY centerpieces and bouquets, maid-of-honor hairdresser (that was me! So much pressure!) Her husband is an awesome dude. He cooked all the food. For 150 people. I repeat, he cooked all the food for his own wedding. And made the cake. (He is a good cook!)
So we spent a lot of time out in the countryside – way out in the countryside. I kept an eye out for rattlesnakes, like the paranoid city girl I am. (Did you know they coil up like that to spring at you?! And that they can spring really far?!) We also hung out with my parents, did some shopping, and toured some nearby town like Pacific Grove and San Juan Bautista. We made a trip up to San Francisco, where we wandered around gaping at the gorgeous Victorian houses. It was a speedy trip but I tried to throw in some fun new places that Hugo hadn’t been before (you know, like Target).
Other fun vacation stuff: my mother taught him the words “curmudgeon” and “kerfuffle.” (You can see where I get my love for funny words.)
And now we’re back in France and I’m planning my travel for this summer! (Trip to Rome, Florence, and Bologna in the works, and Lisbon a bit later. And I’d like to squeeze in some shorter trips if I can swing it. Major European travel FOMO here. Suggestions welcome!)
Classes are out, exams are graded, and there’s still a bit more work to be done but it’s quasi-vacation in that I don’t have to go to work every day or plan lessons or grade exams. Which is weird, because this semester (the whole school year, really) was so busy and intense. I kept trying to enjoy my last days of teaching, but I was constantly stressed from being in the hamster wheel. But I had some lovely students this year, and I certainly learned a lot. (I hope that having been a teacher will make me a better student. When I was in undergrad I was very passive and afraid to participate or ask questions, and I would have learned so much more if I had been more active in class. And from my perspective as a teacher, class is so much more interesting when students ask questions.)
Before the wedding, I squeezed in a trip to Paris to see another close friend, aka my partner in crime. We strolled the Marais and Place des Vosges, walked the Coulée Verte, and climbed the fence of the Petite Ceinture, an abandoned railroad that circles the city (but that’s another story). I also got to see a dress rehearsal of Der Rosenkavalier at the Opera Bastille, which was so cool! I loved getting to see behind the scenes, and I remembered how much I love Strauss.
(Speaking of music, I must take the time to tell you about Arts Alliance soon – they’re an awesome organization that makes London opera, dance, music, theater, and art available all around the world. They are killing it on their YouTube channel.)
I don’t write about Paris much since everyone else already has, but I may round up some of my Paris favorites at some point since I do love exploring the city. Anything you want to know? I’ll be back in Paris before the summer’s out, so if there’s anything cool you think I should check out (or eat) while I’m there, let me know!
Going to Paris really kicked off a new season for me – I was mostly chained to work for the first four months of the year and I didn’t travel at all. There is always more work to be done, whether it’s prepping lessons or writing exams or grading them, so taking a weekend trip would be more stressful than anything. Thank goodness for the supportive group of lectrices at work!
I didn’t even leave Lyon during the week-long vacation in February – Hugo’s sister was expecting her second baby and I wanted to be here when he (as it turned out) arrived. It was so worth it to be here for that important day. Hugo and I got to tell her two-year-old that he was a big brother, since the baby came during the night. I’m really going to miss getting to see those little guys and their cousins grow up while we’re in California. It’s one of the hardest things about leaving, because unlike everything else, they will change so fast, and we’ll never get that time back. Will they even remember us? (I’m an only child, so no nieces and nephews on my side.)
I don’t believe that fear of change is a reason to avoid it. I’m not afraid of something new and unknown, but I’m a little heartbroken that I have to let go of so much in order to move forward in my life. I wish I could have it both ways, but as they say in French, you can’t have the butter and the money for the butter (which makes more sense than “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” because you don’t exactly part with the cake when you eat it, whereas you must part with your money to buy butter. Unless you are a butter thief, I suppose. Butter thief, teach me your ways!)
I’m terribly sad to be uprooted from the life I’ve built in Lyon, but I am looking forward to building new roots in a new chapter of life. I’ll let you know how it goes.
All I know is that 2016 has been hurtling along at an alarming pace, and I don’t anticipate that it will slow down any time soon. All aboard the TGV of life!
One of my 2015 resolutions was to travel more. I went to nine countries and sixteen new cities, which is not much if you’re a travel fanatic but is still pretty good if you’re me.
For me, it’s always a battle between traveling, saving money, and just taking the time to enjoy life at home. Sometimes I feel like I should go somewhere, but I wonder if I’d actually be happier strolling the cobblestone streets of Lyon with Hugo and gelato (my other main squeeze), than I would be pinching pennies in Rome, even though the latter makes a more interesting story. So I try to be honest with myself and not travel just for the sake of it, just to say I did, or because I think I ought to. I know I’d be kicking myself if I didn’t travel at all, but I also know that I can’t go everywhere I want to and still save and have stress-free time at home, so the hardest part is deciding where to go, because there are so many interesting places to visit just a short plane ride away. OMG MY LIFE IS SO DIFFICULT!!!!!!!
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!
Have you ever been to La Défense? It’s the cluster of shiny towers a ways down the road from the Arc de Triomphe.
[Not so fun fact: if you take the metro line 1 to La Défense, all you need is a regular zone 1 and 2 metro ticket, but if you take the RER A to La Défense, it’s considered zone 3 and you need a more expensive ticket or you risk a fine.]
Well, even though it looks straightforward enough on the map, La Défense is kind of trippy if you don’t know your way around (and I definitely don’t).
Have you noticed that when you have a long period of time to explore a place thoroughly, you don’t? It’s easy to live somewhere for a year and never get around to seeing some of the major sites. Please tell me I’m not alone here!
Example #1: I grew up on the central coast of California, yet didn’t visit Hearst Castle until I was 26, and still haven’t been to the Winchester Mystery house. (I have listened to two podcasts on the latter, though! Geek alert.)
Example #2: I lived in Chicago for five years and never went to the Museum of Science and Industry. Big fail. (I regret this almost as much as I regret not eating more Big Star tacos.)
When there’s no deadline, there’s no urgency to explore a city’s attractions. If you can go any day… why go today? Life gets in the way, and routine takes over.
To ward off a future steeped in regret, I keep a little Paris bucket list so that I can take advantage of the city while I’m here. It’s easy for me to get lulled into the mindset that I can visit whenever I want, but the fact is once I go back to Lyon for la rentrée (back to school), I won’t popping up to Paris for the weekend anytime soon. I try to check something off the list every day, even if it’s a simple as wandering around the North Marais or trying the tacos at Candelaria. (Verdict: Delicious but overpriced.)
So on this note, I’m going to share with you some famous Paris attractions that I have never, ever visited, even after two years in France. Don’t judge me.
The Moulin Rouge
How many Parisians have actually been to the Moulin Rouge? Seriously, I want to know. Is it like, something everyone does once? Is it only for tourists? Do they have regulars? Do they have a Nicole Kidman doppelganger?
I hear the Catacombs are really, really cool. Can someone explain this one to me? What is down there besides a lot of bones in a damp subterranean tunnel?
The Versailles Gardens
I’ve been to the chateau. I’ve been to the canal around back (yesterday!) but I haven’t been in those gated gardens. I’d like to go one day, but after all the chateau-ing we did in the Loire, I’m a little burned out on manicured hedges right now. Remind me to show you the gardens of Villandry… and you can tell me if Versailles tops them!
I routinely forget about the Pantheon. What am I missing out on?
The Eiffel Tower
No no, I have seen the Eiffel Tower. It commands so much real estate in the Paris skyline, you can’t not see it. But you know what I’ve never done? I’ve never been up the Eiffel Tower. Not up to the top, not up to the first floor, nothing. It is fun to watch people trudging up like little ants, though. I don’t feel bad about this one – everyone says the best view of Paris is from the Tour de Montparnasse anyway. (Although… I’ve never been up there either. What is wrong with me?!)
The truth is that Paris is a city with endless possibilities, and I don’t think one person could experience everything it has to offer in a lifetime. So many museums, so many famous patisseries, so many restaurants where Hemingway drank teakahlua whiskey? (What did Hemingway drink?) But I’m slowly chipping away at Paris, little by little. And if I move back one day? Who knows, maybe I’ll finally make it up the Eiffel Tower.
Have you visited any of these? What did you think?
Not everyone understands traveling alone. When I announced I was going to Barcelona by myself, I ended up on the receiving end of some raised eyebrows and confused looks.
“So you’re just going… by yourself?”
Um… yeah! I am. I like being alone. Not in a recluse-I-hate-the-world I-hate-other-people kind of way. I like people! But there’s a certain calm about being alone. Not only does it not bother me to be alone, I need to be alone sometimes. I get cranky without my alone time.
Can you tell I’m an introvert?
Introversion aside, I love the freedom of traveling alone. I can do whatever I want, whenever I want. Isn’t that nice sometimes? It’s so indulgent to do exactly what you want for an entire day (or week) and not have to worry about anyone else. (No, I don’t have kids.)
And in fact, if you aren’t able to go places by yourself, whether it’s taking a trip or just trying out a new restaurant or seeing a movie, that means you depend on others to do what you want to do. If you don’t go see a movie just because no one wants to see it with you? If you don’t eat at the restaurant you’re craving just because your friends already have plans? What do you do? Just stay home because you can’t go out by yourself?
When I was twenty, I moved to Chicago to finish music school. At the beginning of the school year, I wanted to go to the opera (the Chicago Lyric Opera is amazing) but I didn’t have anyone to go with. I thought about just staying home. But finally, I put on my favorite dress and went alone, and it was one of my all-time favorite nights at the opera. Through the Lyric’s student tickets program, I got a great seat in the dress circle (maybe because I was only buying one ticket?) and saw Deborah Voigt and Christine Brewer sing in a spectacular production of Die Frau Ohne Schatten. If you’re not an opera fan, that probably sounds like gibberish, but trust me, it was magical. And if I hadn’t had the guts to go by myself, I would have missed one of the best opera productions I’ve ever seen.
Anyway, from that time on, I’ve always done the things I really wanted to do, whether or not I had company. On my first trip to France, I rolled through the Côte d’Azur on my own and fell in love with Nice.
A few years later I moved to Paris, where I didn’t know anybody. I made friends quickly, but solo strolls in Paris are still one of my favorite things.
This summer, I spent a week solo in Barcelona. As I explained to skeptics, it seemed silly to not go just because there was no one to go with me. And as it turns out, I had an amazing time. All. By. My. Self.
All that being said, there are some things that are just more fun in good company. Picnics in the park? Hitting the town for an evening out? Not so awesome when you’re alone, in my opinion. I don’t want to go to the Seine at sunset and open up a bottle of wine by myself. I go with my dog, of course. (Kidding, kidding.)
Do you like to do things alone, or do you find it boring? Would you judge me for eating cream-filled chocolate-covered doughnuts for breakfast?
I frequently receive questions about teaching English in France. I try to answer honestly but recognize that what was true for me may not be true for everyone.
I came to France with wildly unrealistic expectations. Actually, no. I didn’t really have clear expectations. I didn’t know what to expect.
The problem was, it was hard to get accurate information on the reality of teaching in France, and I think that’s because the reality can vary so much. I read that you had to fly over here, knock on doors until someone offered you a teaching job, and then fly back home with your work contract to get your visa. I’m sure this has happened to a handful of people in the history of teaching English in France, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say THIS IS A LIE. In my opinion, the only way this would work is if you used the Franco-American chamber of commerce to sponsor your visa (they have an exchange program for professionals under 35 with a college degree). And you certainly could do that. If you can find a teaching contract that meets the requirements.
My TEFL program set the record straight on visas, but while they gave me an idea of what it was like to teach in France, I still didn’t really know what to expect. Before I launch into my list, let me give you the rundown on what I’ve done here: I’ve been a teacher in France since 2012. I taught for Business Talk France and Les Petits Bilingues in Paris, I worked as a TAPIF language assistant in a lycée in Lyon, and I’m starting my second year as a lectrice at a university in Lyon. I’ve taught pretty much all ages, all levels. I’ve even “taught” babies and stuff. (What? It was less stressful than teaching teens, and I’m handy with a tambourine.)
No, I’m not an expert – a few years of teaching does not an expert make! However, I’ve had a taste of a variety of teaching situations in France, and I sure know a hell of a lot more than before I came over here – thank goodness.
Before moving to France, I wish I had known that…
Teaching contracts aren’t full time, and your hours aren’t fixed
You’re going to laugh at me, but I thought if a language school hired me, I would work 35 hours a week. That’s a full French work week, right?! And I thought, if I work 35 hours a week and get paid 18 euros an hour (which is a common hourly rate), I’ll make 2500 euros a month! Anyone who knew anything about work in France was shaking their head and going, “No girl, just… no.” But I honestly didn’t know how it would work. So here’s the deal.
No one teaches 35 hours a week. No one. (If you do, please tell me your story!) In theory, you could if you worked two teaching jobs. But a full time teaching contract isn’t 35 hours anyway, because you need time to prep and lesson plan (which you will not be paid for, FYI.) The truth of the matter is, that while there are jobs out there that will offer you enough hours to live on, most language schools only offer part time hours as they have them available. For example, I started out working fifteen to twenty hours a week with a language school in September (which is probably the busiest time of the year), but in January, there were fewer students to teach and so I only worked ten hours or less with that language school. I interviewed with quite a few other language schools to see how they worked, and most of them offer students as they become available, a few hours a week at a time, and won’t guarantee a certain number of hours. This means you could go from being able to pay your rent to living on your savings and eating 99¢ pasta. Eek. That’s not what you want.
Bottom line: if you’re paid hourly and your hours are prone to fluctuate, you better hustle. Most teachers have more than one job.
Salaries are lower in France
I did have some co-workers who had full-time contracts. They were paid a monthly salary instead of hourly. (It’s often easier to negotiate this kind of contract with your current employer if they know you, like you, and want to keep you.) Their salary was about 1300 euros per month. To give you another example, Les Petits Bilingues is a language school for kids, and center managers work full time teaching and managing and earn 1800 euros per month. A French teacher in a French school earns about 1800 euros per month. A marketing professional might earn 2000-2500 euros per month, and an assistant or receptionist might earn 1300-1800. Minimum wage is higher compared to the United States (about 9-10 euros/hour) and government benefits are great, but overall, the payscale is lower than what you’ll find in the US. (If you have more examples or a different opinion, please tell me! This is based on my observations and personal experience, and certainly it can vary depending on the job.)
Sometimes, employers lie
Look. Not all language schools are bad. But sometimes, employers promise things that don’t turn out to be true. I’m sure that their intention is not to mislead teachers, usually. But the fact is, if you end up only working half the hours they promised you, you get screwed, whether they meant to lie to you or not. This happened to me with two language schools and it sucked a lot. If it’s not in your contract, there’s no guarantee. Have a back-up plan.
The dress code is on the casual side
When you’re moving to France, what do you pack? I didn’t know what I would have to wear to work, especially because I didn’t have a job yet! There are some situations where you want to look sharp – interviews of course, and when a language school that sends you to the student’s professional office to teach. In general, casual is fine as long as you still look nice. Business casual is okay, but jeans and a sweater are usually acceptable too. I like to dress up a little for classroom teaching because I look younger than I am, but some teachers dress more casually. If you’re working with kids, all bets are off. When in doubt, pack versatile clothes that you can dress up or dress down, but know that you won’t be expected to wear a suit or heels to work. It would actually be pretty weird if you did.
Classroom management is more important than your teaching skills
I’ve been working in the ESL field for over six years, and I love teaching adults and private lessons. You know what I suck at? Classroom management. With business language schools, this isn’t a problem because you teach grown-ups who have chosen to be there and presumably want to learn. With the TAPIF assistantship program and with schools like Les Petits Bilingues, it is a huge issue because you have to manage groups of kids, and they could be anywhere between three years old to eighteen years old. (Note: sometimes, language assistants aren’t responsible for their own classes – they might help the teacher in class or work with just a few students at a time. It completely depends on the school you end up in.)
In fact, although Les Petits Bilingues was impressed that I had a TEFL certificate, they were much more concerned with my experience managing groups of kids, for good reason. There’s no lesson planning involved with that particular company because they have their own materials, so corralling the kids is truly the toughest part of the job (seven year olds are the worst.)
The hardest part is this: you really have to discipline them in French. I don’t find that English is effective for discipline in most cases; they just don’t understand. And it is not easy to discipline kids in your second language.
Truth: I am not a scary person. I am small and smiley and baby-faced. If you are more intimidating than I am, or simply more comfortable and experienced in classroom management, this may not even be an issue. Good for you!
Visas are a big deal
I knew that I needed a visa to work in France. I knew that an employer was unlikely to sponsor me. But I didn’t realize how big a deal these legal things really are. Sometimes you even need legal status to work with a family privately, because they can get tax benefits by hiring you. You can work up to 20 hours a week on a student visa in France, and many people go this route (I did my first year.) No one is really calculating the number of hours you work, and some people say it’s an average of 20/week over a period of time that matters. I think this probably matters most if you are filing taxes, and I’m not sure what would really happen if you exceeded the limit (by working for two employers, for example) although I don’t recommend you break the law.
When employers find out that you’re not European, their first question will be about your legal status. Some of them are wary of student visas. When I had two months left on my visa, many schools wouldn’t even interview me. “Give us a call when you take care of your visa,” they said. Since schools can hire UK citizens with no extra paperwork, it makes it tougher on Americans looking for work. Canadians and Australians can get a working holiday visa in France, but that program doesn’t exist for Americans. Most job postings will say “must have the legal right to work in E.U. or don’t bother applying.”
Luckily, school is cheap here, and if you plan ahead you should be able to enroll as a full time student. Be warned that if you don’t actually go to school and pass your classes, you won’t be able to renew! I wish I had had this guide about enrolling in school in France before I came.
Christie was right… the TAPIF program is the way to go
Christie was my advisor at the International TEFL Academy in Chicago. Christie is awesome. And she told me that they really advise people who want to study in France to go through the TAPIF language assistant program. But I didn’t want to do that. No, I said, the pay is so low (about 800 euros per month net.) No, you don’t have any control over where you’re placed. No, I would have to wait until the following year to apply and I want to go to France now. (What a brat.)
Let me tell you, if you’re not studying in France, if there’s no exchange program with your home university, if you don’t have a European passport, I really believe that the TAPIF program is the way to go. I’ve done it both ways, and it was much easier being an assistant than it was doing it on my own. It can be a bit luck of the draw in terms of where you end up, and not everyone has a good experience. But at least you know you have 800 euros coming in every month, you have plenty of time to work another job on the side (assistants work 12 hours per week), and the visa process is easy-peasy. Sometimes schools even offer housing for cheap. Dana and Jill are former assistants who have written a ton of helpful posts about this program.
The most important part of your job is to get your students to use the language
Yes, grammar is important and you should know your stuff. Yes, private students may have individual needs that differ from each other, yes, it can be hard to incorporate oral activities in a large class. BUT. In general, the French school system drills verb tenses into their students’ brains, but many people are not confident speaking. In the vast majority of everyone I have taught in France, the written level is much higher than the oral level. This is normal when you learn in the classroom, and it was certainly the case with my French before I moved here.
When I tested grammar levels, my students knew all the irregular past participles and found written exercises too easy, but struggled with oral communication. Just getting them to use the language is huge, and if you’ve studied a foreign language yourself, you know how essential this is to making progress.
If they are prepping for a test like the TOEFL or TOEIC, it’s a different story, and of course you want to know your stuff so you can offer helpful grammatical explanations and help your students expand their capacities for expression in written and oral English. Many schools have their own curriculum they want you to use, which takes lesson planning off the table. (Less work for you, but also less freedom.)
But in general, I find over and over again that practice listening and speaking is what students need most, and where they have the least confidence. More likely than not, they know more than they think they do, and just never have the opportunity to put what they know into practice.
Note: If you’re a language assistant, this is the whole point of your job. Your students already have English teachers for learning grammar and taking tests – you want them to have fun using the language so that they like speaking English and want to continue to progress!
Some disclaimers and caveats:
This is my perspective, based on my personal experiences. Not everyone shares my perspective, so please take it all with a grain of salt (feel free to add tequila and lime if my ranting has left you depressed.) I wanted to write it because I had a hard time finding honest personal accounts of what it was like to teach in French language schools in particular before I moved. There are many bloggers writing about the TAPIF program, which is great!
If you disagree with me, I’d love to hear your story! If you’ve experienced something similar, well, I also love it when people agree with me.
Have you taught English abroad? What was your experience like?
Can I tell you something? It is a lot easier to write blog posts when you are in the middle of the French countryside and you can’t leave the house because you can’t drive in France anyway. When I was in La Campagne, the days were long and calm and often filled with nothing in particular except for sunshine and baking cupcakes just because. (Seriously.) In the city, I feel like I don’t have time to catch my breath sometimes. There is always somewhere to go, something to do, someone to see, and in a city like Paris, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out if you stay home.
Did I tell you I’m in Paris?
Well, I am. And today, I’m staying home because it’s the first time I’ve been able to call somewhere home since I left La Campagne (…two weeks ago. I’m so dramatic.) I don’t actually live in Paris, but I unpacked my suitcase and saved the wifi password in all my devices, so I think it counts.
I kind of have a love/hate relationship with Paris. I lived here for about a year before I moved to Lyon, and even though I love to visit whenever the opportunity presents itself, I don’t think I could ever live here again. This is how I feel about it:
Love: It’s so beautiful!
Hate: But it’s so expensive.
Love: It’s so international with many opportunities to meet new people.
Hate: But it’s so expensive.
Love: It is rich in culture and has world-class museums.
You get the idea. There are many reasons I’m happy to live in Lyon instead of Paris, but the sheer cost of Paris is oppressive, especially for a thrifty girl like me. I hate overpaying more than I hate people who spit on the sidewalk and cut in line at the post office (because I’m pretty sure it’s the same people) and in Paris, it’s not difficult to overpay.
But… it’s Paris. Just look at it.
I’m so excited to be ending the summer here and I’ll tell you all about it. What do you want to know?
Have you been to Paris? Did you love it or hate it?