I studied French at university and for my year abroad I decided to work as a language assistant in Grenoble, as part of the British Council’s programme.
I had a great time, but there were a lot of things I hadn’t predicted and a lot of things I’d do differently. If you’re off to start your year abroad in the next couple of months here’s some tips for you!
Don’t be tempted to sign a contract without seeing your new home first (And don’t panic!):
This may sound obvious but there are a lot of people, myself included, who didn’t do this. My excuse is that I was away over summer and then had a panic a couple of weeks before leaving that I had nowhere to live and couldn’t afford a hostel. My apartment ended up being fine, but I’m sure I could have found somewhere which was much better value for money had I waited.
As a language assistant you’ll earn roughly 800Euros a month, you can afford a week or two of paying for a hostel when you’re earning this sort of money!
The advantage of waiting is that you’ll get to know your town better and the sort of area you want to live in as well as where your friends live.
It is still a good idea to have a look before you go, I found appartager very useful for this – and of course, fling any questions my way!
Get your bank account sorted quickly:
Getting your bank account sorted quickly means you can get paid without a delay! Don’t waste any time when you get there as the process can take a while. However, you do need an address of some sort first.
Here’s what happened to me:
On entering the bank (I went with BNP just because I’d heard of them before), I had a sit down meeting with one of the staff. This is where most the paperwork comes into play. I was presented with a stack of paper which I was to look through, read, understand and sign; here, there, here and there.
Once I had signed that paperwork I was then informed that a contract signed by both myself and my landlord was not enough proof that I lived at that address. I had to wait for a letter to be delivered to my apartment. After taking the letter back to the bank I had to wait again until I received a letter saying that my cards were ready to collect from the bank.
It took me a further four visits to get my cards. Once I had them however, I had no further issues!
Not everyone had quite so much difficulty, and some had a lot more. It really seemed to depend on who was working on a particular day as to how long the process would take. Just make sure you get it sorted early!
Don’t expect to just be an assistant:
Very few of my assistant friends and myself found that we were just assistants. Although in the rules you should be, at least if you’re prepared not to be you’ll find the job much easier.
Most of the time I was the teacher; something I turned out to prefer by the end of the seven months. As long as the teacher remains in the room and you’re comfortable teaching the class you’ll find you have more control over what you’re doing.
The teachers I worked with would normally suggest a topic to work on for the following week (body parts, numbers, dates etc.) and then I would prepare a fun game, song and vocab for them to learn. Any teachers who didn’t suggest a topic would get whatever I’d done with another class of the same ages.
Warm up your vocal chords:
If you’ve ever dreamed about being an X Factor contestant then this is your chance – with a room full of primary school children as your judges…
I worked in three primary schools whilst on my year abroad and on my first day I had no idea what to expect. I entered the classroom and after the teacher had introduced me to the students I was asked if I knew any songs. Yes, that’s right I had to sing in front of a class of twenty-six 8 year olds who already thought I sounded funny, and that’s before they’d heard me attempt to sing!
The only song that popped into my head was ‘Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes’ – I had, unfortunately, forgotten how high it goes when singing about eyes, ears, mouth and nose…
After the first time of performing for an audience it really did get a lot easier. It was even pretty fun remembering childhood rhymes and songs. The kids loved it; especially the 6 year olds who used to argue about who would come to the front and sing it first.
I recommend you pick a few songs before you go and build up your repertoire.
Take your colouring pencils!:
Especially if you are working in a primaire! These are particularly useful for making your own flashcards or for using them to teach colours.
Don’t waste luggage space by packing ‘going out’ dresses:
You’ll quickly learn that in France the clubbing outfit is a pair of jeans. Don’t waste space in your bags by packing dresses you’d wear to a club at home as you’ll discover that you just won’t wear them – unless you want to stand out as a foreigner!
Where are you going on your year abroad? Want to know about anything else? – Leave me a comment!