Hey everyone! So after reading the other great posts my friends have written for you all I thought it was about time I gave it a go. I’ll give you some information about me first. I’m Hannah and I’m based in Hyères les Palmiers, a small town in the south of France (French Riviera/Côte d’Azur). I’m a British Council language assistant here, teaching English in a French lycée. This blog post is going to be me mainly talking about some of my experiences so far with the British Council scheme and also with France in general which might give you some insight as to if this option for your year abroad is for you and also to prepare you (a little bit) for the culture shock that’s in store!
When I was thinking about this post I felt like I could group my experiences into almost three kind of ‘categories’ as it were, which would make it a lot easier to write (for me) and read (for you). So the ‘categories’ will be: experiences of teaching, France and the social side of things.
Teaching – the main part for language assistants
Now I say ‘main part’ quite loosely as if you aren’t already aware, if you choose to become a British Council language assistant for your YA, you teach for 12 hours a week. Yes that is the same amount of time you have lessons wise at uni (no I’m not joking) and yes you do get a pretty decent wage paid every month for doing this.
Application process – slightly boring I know but some people may benefit from reading this!
The application process was fairly simple to follow just a bit lengthy, so be warned. You had to write about experiences that showcased that you had the skill set needed for the job and with all the sections added together I think it was around 2,500 words. Now you don’t have to write that much, it’s more of a max limit. At this point you can select up to three regions of the country you will be going to and you need to provide little justification as to why you have selected these regions (so my advice would be not to just select at random and do a little bit of research). I didn’t get any of my chosen regions but I was placed close to my first choice. (I’m in the Académie de Nice and the department of the Var.) You can also select the preferred age group you would like to teach, me personally, I left this open to all ages as I didn’t want to end up being too specific on my application and not getting the job (although I think everyone who applied for this scheme this academic year got a place!)
Actual teaching – fun (more interesting) part
I have to be honest, when I first found out I was teaching in a lycée (college = UK equivalent) there was what felt like sheer panic and fear as my immediate reaction haha! ‘What if they don’t listen to me?’ ‘What if they don’t like me?’ ‘What if they don’t want to cooperate?’ were all questions that ran through my head along with the realisation that some of these students are also gonna be taller and much bigger than me. Now for someone who has only had teaching experience in a primary school, this was a terrifying time haha. After arriving and meeting my teachers and classes, I now realise all my panic and worry was completely unnecessary.
There is a welcome day for your academy where you get to meet all the other assistants and other training days so you have a good network of people around you that are there to support you. I’ve found being with this age group has been a fantastic experience for me, the students are interested in talking to you (95% of the time) and asking you questions about the UK (you’re like an alien to them and for some of them you may have been the first English person they have met and spoken to). I’ve worked both in classes with teachers and also been given groups to work with separately which have both generally gone well. I won’t lie there have been occasions of minor behavioural blips shall we say, but my advice would be is be confident in yourself and stand by your discipline (check with class teachers beforehand for what is appropriate and always tell them about any problems with any students you have had). I have mainly taught in English classes but I have also helped within other subject classes that are taught in English, e.g. Histoire-Géo classes, maths classes and biologie classes. It’s impossible to sit and talk about every experience I’ve had but what I would say is that overall, it’s been a really positive and fun job to have.
France – pretty significant part of my year abroad
Yes this is where I moved to haha. It was a pretty big deal to me in general, as it was the first time I’ve moved out of home! Luckily (sort of) as I’m from Manchester, I’ve lived at home for the first two years of uni. Finding accommodation here was a little bit stressful as I was shopping online essentially so I didn’t want to agree to anything before seeing places. I arranged viewings for when I arrived in France (hotel for the first few days) and managed to secure a flat. One thing to be aware of is France loves its paperwork. You’ve probably heard your lecturers telling you this already but they are not kidding you. Paperwork for my flat, paperwork for opening a bank account so you can get paid (yep we can’t be paid into our UK accounts), paperwork for school, just SO MUCH PAPERWORK. So yes, be prepared to be slightly stressed out by paper, but don’t worry, you’ll get through it (I have faith in you).
Once you have gotten passed this you can begin to take in the stereotypes you’ll find yourself coming across; Doing ‘la bise’ with EVERYONE you seem to come across even though you thought it was a more familiar thing. No joke, experiences a soirée where there must have been 30+ people and EVERY time someone new arrived or someone left, la bise happened with everyone, not cool.
Eating cheese and baguettes and drinking wine is another biggie, awesome advantage to living the French life. Everything works at such a slower pace down in the south it seems (everyone is sometimes too chilled out for my liking – need a sense of urgency every now and again I believe), and people over here smoke like chimneys. I don’t know if it’s more than in the UK but an unhealthy amount of people seem to smoke over here.
French men are also odd, (from what I’ve experienced and I can’t speak for all women I’m afraid!) please see Rhiannon’s post for more clarification on this. Why French men aren’t charming, just creepy af.And French public transport? Be warned, it has come so close to physically driving me insane at times but ultimately I have arrived at where I was aiming to go (and I will forever have the SNCF jingle permanently etched into my brain). I feel I can say yes France has lived up to its stereotypes but it is also a beautiful country, you can see some of the views from where I live in the pictures! Sadly I can’t speak on behalf of Spain but there are students that you will be able to chat to about their experiences there!
Social life – because yes we all want one of those
Now I won’t lie to you, initially it was quite hard for me in terms of finding other people my age (French or otherwise). I think this is mainly to do with the fact that in my town there just seems to be an unusually large amount of old people, which I know sounds weird, but it makes sense when I’ve found out that here is more of a retirement type destination. It’s also more of a holiday destination for people so during winter months it isn’t particularly busy. Now this will not apply to everyone in France or Spain by all means but if you so happen to find yourself in a similar situation on your YA then there are things you can do to help yourself.
One thing I did was try and find a language assistants Facebook page for your year, mine came under TAPIF assistants which is the American equivalent of the British Council scheme, and make sure you put yourself out there (you’ve got nothing to lose at the beginning of the year, you have no friends to lose at this point, you can only make them). This is a great way to network with people and my advice would be to try and do it before you actually move to your destination country and you could find someone to room with (making your accommodation cheaper). Thanks to joining this page I managed to find the other assistants who were also living and working in Hyères and we’ve become such a good group of friends now! We are two British assistants, four American assistants, two Spanish assistants and an Italian assistant! The only slight ‘downside’ to this is the main language we all use to communicate is English but we have managed to find some French people our age to go out with now too! All things considered I feel like I’ve found worldwide friends for life! Another good tip I would recommend if you are placed somewhere that’s a little quieter, travel to places that are busier! I’ve done many different city trips so far this year and I plan on doing more before I come back home to the UK! You can find really reasonable flight prices in and around Europe for example I got return flights to Barcelona for 55€ which is at the moment about £48! Booking.com and AirBnB are also good sites to use to find somewhere to stay on your travels too!
I’ve tried to keep this as short as I can but still give you information you might find useful! Please if you have any worries or further questions about anything I’ve said (or even something I may not have mentioned) then do feel free to contact me directly. Leave a comment below and I can get back to you as soon as I can. I hope you’ve found this post useful and good luck for your year abroad!