When I accepted a position with TAPIF, I knew that there would be some drawbacks. I read some blogs from past assistants to get a better idea of what it would be like. So far, this has been an amazing experience and I am so glad to be here. That being said, there’s a lot I wish I had known or better understood beforehand. Here’s my personal Pro/Con list of the program from my experience thus far.
Opportunity to Live in France
It is really difficult for Americans to acquire a Visa in France. This job provides the opportunity to live in France for 7 months and be paid! You can do the program two years if you like it. The program is very straight forward about the pay and hours you are to work. If you don’t want to study in France or be an Au Pair, this is a really great option to kind of test the waters of living and working in this country.
In the french school system, every 6 weeks of school is followed by a 2 week break (give or take). These breaks are included in your monthly salary, so basically you’re paid to have a vacation every other month, providing great opportunity to travel around France and Europe. The program involves just 12 hours of work per week which allows for plenty of personal time.
Potential for Reimbursements
In this program we are offered reimbursements for half of the cost of our commute if using a monthly pass. This is really helpful with costs. There is also CAF, the Caisse d’Allocations Familiales, in France. While working in this program, assistants can apply for aid with rent payments. Depending on how much your rent costs you can get a bit back! These will both be delayed by several months, however, so you shouldn’t expect them until January or later.
Cost of Living
The program suggests that you prepare about 2,000 in savings before your arrival in France for your initial costs. For me, this estimation was far below reality. Thankfully, I had a decent sized savings account when I arrived so I didn’t have to panic (until month 2 when I realized my savings account had essentially depleted). This may seem a bit ridiculous, but let me break it down.
The program pays you at month end. October you can be paid an “advance” of your salary (complete misuse of this term). They offer to pay you 700 out of the 780 you will normally be paid for the month of October, as long as you have all your paperwork submitted to the rectorat by October 10. Then the difference is paid along with the November check. Everything administrative in France takes awhile, so you essentially need to have everything to your Secretary by October 7th ready to mail. When did I find this out? At Orientation on October 3rd. So hey, four days to gather X, Y, and Z or else you won’t be paid for two months!
It wasn’t possible for me to open a bank account in time to submit my information for the October paycheck. SO, if you are in a situation like me, you will not be paid until the end of November. Folks, that is minimally 60 days living on foreign soil with no income. (75 days for me, as I arrived in France before beginning work.) In this situation, I needed enough savings in my account to: pay a rent deposit, two months rent, pay the assurance responsabilité civile, purchase metro/bus passes, and buy food. I’d say that is minimal living expenses, not counting any shopping, coffee/drinks after work or on weekends, travel or anything else. Deposit plus two months rent jumps to 1,200 in costs before eating, commuting, and paying renter’s insurance.
Even once I began to be paid, I felt stressed about money. I understood from the beginning that I would not be able to set aside any money. However, after depleting my savings before my first paycheck, I found it was nearly impossible to pay myself back for the savings I had spent. Living off of 400 euros a month after rent, I basically just break even. If you want to travel at all, or eat out occasionally, costs add up! And I did not come to France to sit in my apartment alone every night! So goodbye savings!
Initially I was under the impression that we could work a few hours a week elsewhere as long as it doesn’t interfere with the assistant position. I tried to apply through an employment agency to find some side tutoring and babysitting gigs. As soon as they found out I was an assistant they confirmed my type of work visa and informed me that I’m not allowed to work beyond my current contract. Then, I got my hopes up again during training when one of the program contacts offered an opportunity for possible paid work. If she works with the assistant program, she’d know if I wasn’t allowed to work other jobs right? Wrong. It took two-three weeks of wasting my time pursuing this second job for her to tell me, “oops, I guess you’re not allowed after all since you aren’t European.”
Europeans can ask permission from the rectorat to get a second job, but apparently Americans cannot. (I am still very confused about this because everyone I ask gives me a different answer.) Of course, many assistants informally babysit or tutor, but that is easier said than done! I arrived here knowing exactly 0 people in this region. Pretty difficult to find people to babysit for when you you can count the people that you know on your hand! Beyond this, anytime someone posts in the Assistants Facebook group with “babysitting opportunity” I swear it’s like a pond of piranhas! Within 10 minutes the post has at least 15 responses of “I’M INTERESTED!!!”
If you are lucky enough to find a second job to supplement your income – good luck pairing it with your schedule! A lot of assistants work with multiple schools. Some of them have a somewhat fixed schedule, alternating every other week with schedule A or B. I’m in one location so I don’t have to worry about switching locations but my schedule changes every single week. The teachers I work with are supposed to fill in my schedule by Friday evening the week prior. Unfortunately, what is more common is that the schedule will be half full (or sometimes even empty) on Sunday night and I will have courses added to my schedule the night before or the day of. Beyond the inconvenience of not being able to make plans ahead of time, I basically have one day to lesson prep. Half the time I’m just winging it!
Twelve hours a week sounds like a cake walk. But! This does not include lunch hours, any breaks between classes, lesson planning, or your commute. It can add up! It is not uncommon to have 3 hour breaks in between classes and these hours do not count towards your weekly total.
I wish I had known before I arrived that second jobs were not permitted with my Visa. I accepted this position thinking that it’d be easy as pie to earn a second income during my plethora of spare time. Also, I expected the program to be a bit more organized than it actually is. What’s good to know is that every year assistants review their schools/experience. This helps to improve the program and to prioritize the schools that treat assistants well. In the end, I would still recommend this program to people who are considering applying. As long as you understand what you’re getting yourself into, this can be a really amazing opportunity! I’ve learned a lot about myself and made friends for life.
Absolutely no regrets here!!