Ciara McLaren on a day trip to Biarritz, a seaside town on the southwest coast of France. Ciara McLaren on a day trip to Biarritz, a beach town on the southwest coast of France.

After graduating with her master’s degree, Ciara McLaren moved from Florida to a small town in western France to work part-time as an assistant English instructor at a public school.She was paid roughly half the French minimum wages and lives in a dormitory for young workers.McLaren says the beginning of her stay in France had numerous challenges, from overcoming the language barricade and suffering culture shock to learning how to work well with teenagers.Still, after two years in the program, McLaren says she would do it again “in a heartbeat, ” and helps others interested in teaching English abroad to go for it with “eyes and sentiment wide open.”Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

For the past two years, I’ve schooled English for 12 hours per week in small, peaceful French cities. It’s a lot harder than it clangs.

Before you start playing the world’s tiniest violin, hear what i just said out: I was an assistante de langue, a classroom aide-de-camp for English educators at French public schools. As delightful as it may seem to work part-time in the country of baguettes, champagne, and bimonthly trips, teaching is tough. It’s even tougher in a culture that is not your own.

The Teaching Assistant Program in France drafts Americans senilities 20 -3 5 to work part-time give English instruction in French public class for EUR7 85 per month, plus health insurance. I was fresh out of a stringent grad platform and having dialogues in English for 12 hours per week was almost like a trip in comparison — I applied, came in, and prepared plans to move to France.

Lesson learned: Moving to a foreign country is not a vacation.

By the time I applied to TAPIF, it had been three years since I’d spoken a word of my intermediate college French. I tried my best to prepare by watching every French movie on Netflix, but with the school year rapidly approaching, I continued to barely string a convict together.

Immediately upon entrance in Paris, it became clear that this would be a problem. It’s one thing to be an English-speaking tourist, and quite another to be an English-speaking resident. I did my best to express myself consuming an expansive English vocabulary, my best French accent, and elaborated side gesticulates. The result of these attempts was generally rends: rips at the bank, tears at the study depot, ruptures at the phone shop, etc.

Once I had cried my nature to a French phone number and rail card, I traveled south to the city where I was earmarked: Niort. The small-time metropolitan has two main claims to prestige: One, it contains the headquarters of various insurance companies, and two, the great writer Michel Houellebecq called it one of the “one of the ugliest cities” ever.( For what it’s worth, I actually belief Niort was quite charming .)

The view from the Donjon de Niort, a medieval castle in the downtown area of Niort. Ciara McLaren The idea from the Donjon de Niort, a medieval palace in the downtown area of Niort.

To make ends meet on my minimum payment( half the French minimum wage ), I lives in a foyer des jeunes travailleurs, a dormitory for young workers. With CAF, a government housing supplement, I paid merely over 50 euros a few months in hire for a small room next to a shared toilet. Not accurately Versailles, mais bon.

My first day on the number of jobs, the culture shock made me before I accompanied through the door.

Outside of the school gate, dozens upon dozens of educators and students alike were chain-smoking cigarettes.

The school where I would be working was a lycee professionnel, a vocational academy, with students ages 15 -1 8( with some older and younger outliers ). It specializes in automobile repair and bodywork( which I knew nothing about ), and the student figure was made up of about 95% sons.

This turned out not to be much of an issue. Most of my students, regardless of age, gender, or occupation track, asked me the same questions during class epoch. “Do you have a gun? ” “Do you like Trump? ” “Have you met XXXTentacion? ” No , no, and no.

I turned their questions back on them. Do you have a artillery? Do you like France? Have you met Macron? Too no , no, and no. But it provoked a gossip, in English, which was really my exclusively position. And I liked my work, most of the time.

ciara mclaren Good bread, jambon cru, and courgette salad from the local market of Pau, France. Good dough, jambon cru, and courgette salad from the local marketplace in Pau, France.

Speaking English with students was simple, but not easy.

Teenagers are teens wherever you go, and penalty was a constant issue. I moved students to the principal’s office for everything from sexual harassment to physical fights. Despite my part-time hours, I ever looked forward to school vacations.

On a hike in the Pyrenees (don’t look too closely as the sheep). Ciara McLaren On a hike in the Pyrenees( don’t look too closely at the sheep ).

Many weeks, I didn’t even toil my full 12 hours. Shortly after I arrived, the gilets jaunes demonstrations appeared in all regions of the country, and more shows against self-discipline and school reform followed throughout the year. Daily life was so disrupted that some dates I couldn’t get to school, or would arrive to find the entrance fastened and nobody there.

In those instants, I turning now to my profs referents, the schoolteachers assigned to look after me. They answered my questions, invited me to their homes, and included me in gossip in the crack room. Sometimes, they’d forget to tell me there was a strike going on, but they were always terribly apologetic subsequently.

Fresh pastries from Le Pain Pascale in Pau, France. Ciara McLaren Fresh pastries from Le Pain Pascale in Pau, France.

Looking back on my two years spent teaching English in France, I feel both privileged and manipulated.

On the one hand, I worked 12 hours or fewer a few weeks, with frequent vacations, in one of the most beautiful countries on earth. On the other hand, the number of jobs blended two extremely demanding things: being a foreigner and working with teens.

In testaments on the TAPIF website, former deputies describe freedom, alliance, and growing. They don’t mention the long hours spent contend with French bureaucracy to accomplish mostly anything, from going an apartment to validating your visa. They don’t mention how hard it is to control your humour when your students won’t stop asking you whether you prefer “French fry or French kiss.” In Facebook groups and neighbourhood assistant meet-ups, we would commiserate over our difficulties and celebrate our accomplishments.

In quarantine in Pau, France, in March 2020. Ciara McLaren In quarantine in Pau, France, March 2020.

Despite some challenging moments, I would do it over again in a heartbeat. Two years working part-time hours in France gave me the time and space I needed to become a freelance writer. My contract ended earlier this year, and after months of quarantine in France, I returned to the US in early July.( In spite of everything, it’s home .)

On a balcony overlooking the Pyrenees, January 2020. Ciara McLaren On a balcony neglecting the Pyrenees, in January 2020.

Still, I would tell anyone considering teaching English abroad to go for it — with sees and sentiment wide open.

Being an deputy de langue may seem like a dream job, but it’s truly just like any racket, with one big difference. Some daylights it’s great, other dates it’s abominable, but either way, you’re in France.

Ciara McLaren is a freelance scribe with bylines in HuffPost, Gastronomica, and elsewhere. You can predict more of her work on Substack .

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