My experience as a language assistant with the British Council.
Hello everyone ! Welcome to another long and detailed post. This post is about my experience as a language assistant in Paris. I applied for the program through the British Council, and I'll talk about why I applied, the application process, moving to Paris and the job itself. I hope this post helps anyone who is thinking of applying or has already applied. If you took part in the program, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment box or alternatively on my instagram account @bloggerno.101. Let's get started!
WHY I APPLIED
I was in my last year of university and I didn't have a graduate job lined up. I knew that I wanted to take a gap year as I needed a break from studying, but I was unsure on what I would be doing. I came across an advertisement on Facebook for the British Council and looked at the programs they were offering. When I seen that I could work as a language assistant for 6months in France, I was excited! This would be perfect for me as I have close family in France, and so I could spend time with them, not have any problems with accommodation, as well as having help if I needed it. I kind of wanted to explore what it would be like as a teacher - my degree is in accounting but I wasn't 100% sure what I wanted to do as a career. This seemed like a perfect way to spend my gap year as well as giving me time to decide what I wanted to do.
THE APPLICATION PROCESS
If I remember correctly, the application process was fairly straightforward. You have to pick 3 locations that you would like to be considered for. I was picking France, so I picked Paris as my first choice, and I'm not sure what I picked for the others. Also, as part of the application process, you have to include a reference. As soon as you press submit, the referee will get an email to fill in your reference, and this NEEDS to be completed before the submission date. Essentially, your application is only really 'submitted' once your referee has submitted a reference for you. So make sure they know the deadline.
My referee completed my reference and my application was submitted on the 12/02/2019. The deadline was 15/02/2019. I got an email confirming my submission and was informed that I would hear from them by the end of April.
On the 30/04/2019, I received an email telling me I had been recommended for a post as an English Language Assistant. The British Council had approved my application and I had been recommended to their overseas partner. However, at this point they don't guarantee you a place, but it is unlikely you would be rejected (their words).
On the 24/05/2019, I was told about my regional allocation. They had allocated me to Paris (yay) and I would be working in secondary schools. At this point, it was confirmed that I had got the post and I was delighted. I got my first choice area, I would be living with family, and most importantly I had a plan for my gap year!
On the 07/06/2019, I was informed that I would have to apply for an International Child Protection Certificate (ICPC). Once I received the ICPC, I would have to send a copy to the British Council. The deadline was the 05/07/2019, so there wasn't much time at all. It was a compulsory step, and it cost £60 (or around this figure). Again, this was all fairly straightforward, the British Council send you links for everything and they really guide you through the application.
On the 16/07/2019, I received my arrêté de nomination (an email telling me which schools I would be working in, and who would be my point of contact from the schools). I had been allocated to two lycée professionnels (high school/college as a UK equivalent), and would spend 6 hours per week at each lycée. The contract was a 12hour week. In this email, I was also given contact details for the assistant who worked in these lycées the previous year, which I found really useful.
After this, they sent out information packs and anything else we may need for the program. We were asked to do a small course about working with children (online), and again, the British Council really helped with this. It was pretty straightforward.
I contacted both the lycées, informing them that I was going to be the language assistant for the year, and both replied, welcoming me, and telling me to get in touch as soon as I reach France.
I still had a few months before I was due to arrive in France, but I was quite worried about the program, as I didn't know what to expect. I knew I was going to be an assistant, but I wasn't sure if I needed to create lesson plans, worksheets, what age group I was working with...etc. At this point, I decided to email the assistant who worked in the same lycées the previous year. She was quite helpful - she told me we were given a lot of freedom on what we wanted to teach, that we would only be alone if it was a small group of students and that the staff were all really nice. This reassured me quite a bit, but I was still a bit nervous on what to expect.
MOVING TO PARIS
This part was the easiest for me. As I have mentioned previously, I have a lot of family in Paris, and so I knew I was going to be staying with them. This put my mind at ease as I wouldn't have to worry about finding accommodation, and I knew that if I needed any help my family would be there. I acknowledge that this may not be the case for everyone. However, when I did email the lycées, both of the professors offered to help me find a place to stay, and the acadèmie (each city has an acadèmie, so they are in charge of every school, college, lycée in that area) also offer an accommodation service, so again you do have a lot of support. I drove to Paris, as I wouldn't be living in the city, and so would be able to use my car to get around.
MY EXPERIENCE AS A LANGUAGE ASSISTANT
I have mixed feelings about my experience. When I first got there, everyone was very kind and welcoming. Both of the professors from each school were really nice and would speak to me in English or French, it was up to me. They showed me around the lycées, and both of the professors agreed that it would be easier for me to work at one lycée per week. Initially, I thought it would be 12 hours spread across both of them, but when they suggested I work at one lycée one week and the other lycée the other week, I found that this was probably easier. They were in the same district as each other but you still had to get 2 metros to get across. They were very accommodating, welcoming and reassuring.
I should also point out that the acadèmie arranged for all the language assistants to meet up for a 'training day' of sorts. This was REALLY useful. You got to meet other people (who spoke English - hallelujah!) and ask any questions you may have had about accommodation or opening a bank account etc. We were also told of topics we weren't allowed to discuss (abortion, capital punishment) based on the French curriculum in educational establishments. We had 2 of these days and I found them really useful and a good way to meet new people.
Apart from finding accommodation, the STRUGGLE to open a bank account was insane. You have to have so many documents and cards and proofs. It really was a complicated task. I tried BNP first. I made an appointment and the woman was really nice. She said I would need to bring my auntie (who I was staying with) in with me, to prove that I was staying with her. But she asked me what I needed the bank account for and when I told her it was just to be paid, she recommended that I sign up on BNPs online banking system called Halo. She wrote down the details for me and I thought it was going to be quite straightforward. I was almost pleased I had managed to crack the system the first time! But when I tried to sign up, I had to have 5,000 euros to deposit into the account in order for me to open it. That clearly wasn't going to happen. One of my friends then told me about Nickel. I HIGHLY recommend it. All you have to do is look up on the Nickel website, the nearest Tabac that offers the service. Head into the tabac with 20 euros and they'll open your account and give you your card. Download the app, set it all up and I think you get a text with your pin. You will get an email, with a form attached. You have to fill in this form and send it back to Nickel BEFORE you can use your card. It's quite straightforward. I HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend it as it saves a lot of time and effort if you're only using the bank account for a short time. If you are staying longer than the program (6months), then you can revisit the tabac and pay 20 euros to continue your account.
Moving on to the job itself. One issue that I had straight away, was that they wouldn't give us any guidance on what to do or 'teach' the students. I worked with 5 professors across both the lycées, and out of them only 2 would give me real guidance on what I could prepare. When I had something concrete to present, I felt better and that I was doing something that would genuinely help the students. When I wasn't given ANY pointers, which was the majority of the time, and even if I prepared a subject really well, I never knew if what I was teaching was right or even beneficial. So this was a bit demotivating. One of the professors would try and take over my lesson that I had prepared, and start translating for the students in French. It wasn't ideal. I feel like this is an improvement that could definitely be made. However, I kept going. I tried to encourage the students to give suggestions on things they would like to learn, as I was the first Scottish assistant that they had, and so I wanted to cover topics that would interest them. This worked better for me.
My experience with the students varied. In one of the lycées, the students were much older and therefore more eager to learn. This made it easier for me to teach them and engage with them. These students also had a better understanding of English, again making it more smooth sailing for everyone.
In the other lycée, I had the complete opposite experience with the students. First of all, the teachers liked to separate the classes by gender. Normally, this wouldn’t be an issue, but the students were all teenagers, around 12-15 years old. The boys were so disruptive and I felt like when they were all together it was worse. One time, I had a really disruptive pair of boys, who would disturb the entire class as well as shouting racist remarks to other students in the class. I found this really troubling and when I told the professor, she said ‘oh this is nothing, my old school was worse’. However, I had one class which I absolutely loved. It was a group of girls, who were so eager and interested to learn. When their 45 minutes would be up and it was time to swap, they wanted me to keep going until the professor noticed. They were really sweet and they made the bad classes worth it. The older students from the other lycée were also fun to talk with. We would have debates on controversial issues and they really wanted to know things about Scotland that sometimes I had no clue about! These classes made the experience a bit better.
Before I get into the next issue, I would like to point out that if there was any year that was the WORST to go to France, it was definitely the term 2019-2020. This is because of 2 reasons: one which is affecting pretty much everyone in the world right now - COVID19. And second of all, one which you might not be aware of, is the national strikes on public transport in France. COVID didn't affect me too much, but the strikes started around the same time as my job started (1st October). The strikes were national, and it meant that sometimes certain trains and metro lines would not function. Now, although I had taken my car, the lycées were in the centre of Paris, there was no parking or extremely expensive parking, and so the train and metros were the best option for me. When the strikes started they were affecting everyone. In the first week, I was asked not to come to some of my classes as the professor was also striking and I wasn't allowed to be alone with the students. As a few weeks passed, my metro lines also started to become irregular. Some days I would make the 1 hour train journey to find the metro wasn't running that day. Some days I would go to the train station and there was no train. All these cancellations meant that I wasn't able to make it to some of my classes. WHENEVER this was the case I would always give notice, and thanks to the fact it took me a lot of time to get to work, this would be around 2/3 hours notice. Yet, I couldn't help feeling a little judged. One of the professors said to me 'The strikes are affecting everyone, even me. I walk an hour to school in the morning and one hour back. I don't care if you're late but you have to come in'. Now, I would understand if I was a few minutes or even half an hour late. But if my train was cancelled, I would be at least 1 full hour late. And that's if ALL the metros were running. She also suggested I should walk to work. 6hours and 51 minutes on google maps? I don't think so. I understood how frustrating it was for the professors but they didn't understand that it wasn't my fault. They seemed really fed up because of the strikes, (which I was too) but surely they could be a little more understanding.
I offered to make up any hours that I had missed and they were more than happy to agree to this. I was asked if I could help one of the professors with English as she had an upcoming exam, which I did happily. I did feel like I was trying my best but it wasn't always appreciated.
Then COVID happened. It was the middle of March that all the lycées decided too close. I was told that we were going to be going into lockdown and so schools would be shutting. I was fine with this as I was staying with family. Shortly after, I began to receive constant calls to make sure I was still in France. One of the teachers was like 'you have to provide proof you're still in the country'. There's a worldwide pandemic, I'm hardly going on a world tour am I? It was all a bit strange. Anyway, the contract finished on the 30/04/2020 but due to COVID, my experience was cut short.
Looking back on my experience, I would like to make a few things clear :
My personal experience of the program in no way reflects the British Council. They made the application process easy, they were very helpful and I don’t think my experience relates to their work.
My experience was tainted by the strikes and COVID. Maybe if these two factors didn’t exist, I could have had a plain sailing experience.
I think it depends on the students as well, and some of the disruptive students can really ruin the experience for you. Especially if the professors don’t intervene.
WOULD I RECOMMEND IT?
Absolutely. Now some of you may be like what!? After listing all my problems, I still recommend it? Yes, I do. Just because I had a bad experience, doesn't mean everyone will. Also these problems did really get to me at the time, but when I look back I can't say that I didn't learn a lot of things. I learnt how to be more independent, more confident and more resilient, and I think these are great skills to develop at an early age. You also learn about French culture, the way they do things, and many life lessons which are extremely valuable. I would say that you really have to LOVE the city or country you are going too. I know if I didn't love Paris, I would have come home after one small issue. It also gives you major confidence if you want to consider moving country in the future and the experience also really forces you to work on your language skills.
Overall, my experience with the application process, moving to France and all the admin related tasks was great. I didn't come across anything that was too difficult, and I knew who to ask for help if this was the case. My only 'bad' experiences were with some of the professors. Although they didn't make my life hell, some of their remarks and their attitude towards me made me a little uncomfortable at times. Despite this, I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who is thinking of applying. I met some people on this course who had an AMAZING time, and so my experience doesn't mean that I regret going in any way.
I really hope this post helps anyone who is considering applying for the British Council program. If you have ANY questions or want to share your experience, you can contact me via my instagram or twitter (I'll leave the links below). I hope you enjoyed reading this and please leave any feedback in the comments. I would also appreciate it if you could have a look at my other blog posts while you are here and follow me on instagram, where I tend to post all updates on my blog!
Thanks for reading!
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