Useful tid-bits

Having completed my seven months of being an assistant in France, here are a few things I learned and want to pass on to my fellow/future assistants :

  1.  Bring about 5 copies of everything from India (passport, visa, OFII, etc.) or be prepared to pay 1 euro or more for every copy you make in France.
  2. Do NOT over pack. Buy/bring a good quality winter coat and thermals and scarves if you’re in the North of France. Layering is key so bring clothes you can wear in winter and layer, layer, layer and then wear the same things (minus layering of course) in spring as well.
  3. Carry little desi knick knacks like hand crafted items, jute bags, recycled paper books, indian print scarves/bookmarks or just about naything you think will make for a good Christmas/Thank you gift. It’s a gesture that really goes a long way and it’s also super well-received.
  4. If you’re below 27, get the carte jeune the moment you reach if you want to enjoy huge discounts on local TER trains. If you’re going to do a lot of inter city travel within France then you should get the TGV MAX – it’s 80 euros a month for the first three months for unlimited travel and trust me, it pretty much pays for itself after about two or three trips. Use Blabla car for inter-city/inter-country travel and Ryan air for cheap flights (get the apps ASAP)
  5. I used this Free Mobile plan and was quite happy with it. The unlimited internet was really useful and service was no problem when I travelled outside of France. I recommend you buy your sim/register at the Free store or at one of their little kiosks.
  6. After your first orientation, FILL all the paper work for OFII, social security and whatever else they talk to you about. Do not delay it/procrastinate because you will regret it, I promise.
  7. Do not be disheartened by French administration. It will make you cry and wish you were dead but you will get through it.
  8. People in your school are going to look at you weird and you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb for the first few weeks. Understand that this is normal – you’re some strange, new and exotic creature in their eyes and they need some time to get used to you – mostly they feel intimidated by your presence. This will pass.
  9. I found pair/group activities, PPTS with lots of pictures and games to be very useful in the classroom. We were asked not to use ANY French but I don’t see the point of that and did use it, especially when I felt it would help make the students understand something better.
  10. If you’re travelling a long way to get to your school and changing trains/buses, be sure to get a monthly pass so you can have it reimbursed at the end of every month. Just showing random tickets will get you nothing, it has to be an actual pass.
  11. CAF is honestly hit or miss. I was very very lucky and got back more than half my rent every month, like clockwork. My housemates didn’t have the same luck despite the fact that we all applied at the same time. Be patient, and be prepared to make many phone calls/set up many rendez vous to get your work done. Fight for your right! Especially where Euros are involved 😉
  12.  Profitez from this experience as much as you can – especially in terms of travel and speaking French.
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Italy

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The Leaning Tower, Pisa

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Arno river, Pisa 

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The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, Florence 

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Views from atop the Bell Tower, Florence 

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On the hill where Da Vinci tested his flying machine, Fiesole 

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Piazza del Campo, Siena

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The Trevi Fountain (partly funded by the winnings of a lottery and refurbished by the fashion house of Fendi), Rome 

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Was so taken aback by the sheer size of the Colosseum

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Piazza Venezia 

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Are you really in Rome if you don’t eat one Gelato a day?

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Porto, Sorrento

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Beautiful Amalfi just minutes after a storm

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Lemons gallore, Positano 

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Every bend and every corner was beautiful 

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Views I can never forget 

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The highlight of one day in Naples!

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I’m home (en France)

A ce moment, I am well settled in my wonderful three storied house (actually a palace, trust me) which is spacious, open and warm. I have incredible housemates – Italian, American and French – who are kind, helpful and smart. They’re also fabulous cooks, so we often find ourselves in the kitchen laughing/assisting/tasting/eating/chatting. We all have our own schedules and routines which means none of us get in each other’s way + we get on great so all in all I really lucked out!

Two months later, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that finding a house you’re happy with is of utmost importance. You need to know that no matter how your day has been – forgetting your French mid way through an important conversation, losing your way, sticking out like a sore thumb in your school where everyone looks at you and whispers ‘new girl’, eating by yourself, feeling lost and alone in this big, bad world – you can go back to the comfort of this familiar space and feel okay again. En plus, do not discount the cold. It can suck the life out of you – especially if you’re from the South of India like I am and have been spoilt with tropical weather your whole life. On most days as I am walking through the biting cold, I count the steps until chez moi and literally burst through the door with joy knowing I am finally home. 

The Visa process

Here are the documents you need to have ready before you apply for your visa :

  • Original passport
  • Copies of the first and last page of your passport
  • Letter from the embassy stating you are exempt from paying the visa fees*
  • OFII form* (half filled)
  • Long sejour form* (filled fully)
  • Copy of your proof of accommodation in France – By far the most aggravating part, especially if you have not made much progress in finding a house given that you’re a whole continent away. If you have nothing, you can always make a hotel/air bnb booking for about 2 weeks and show that confirmation as your proof.
  • Copy of your arrêté de nomination
  • Copy of your air ticket
  • Copy of your insurance policy – Your travel/medical insurance has to cover you for a minimum period of 3 months. I strongly suggest you take something for longer because even though in theory you are covered under social security in France starting January, there have been many cases in which assistants never ended up receiving those benefits at all. Also, even if you do get covered, it is strictly only medical so you won’t really get those additional perks of being compensated for loss of baggage/phone, theft of passport, etc. In the end (after much research, contemplation and weighing of pros and cons) I opted for a 180 day insurance policy worth 200,000 USD from Bajaj Allianz that costed about Rs. 7456.
  • 2 passport size photos – The visa specifications have to be followed, so any photo won’t do. If you’ve got a photo that measures 3.5 cms x 4.5 cms and has the most unattractive close up of your face (with your ears showing), against a white background – then you have the right ones!

(*these are emailed to you from the Embassy)

The aforementioned are more or less what you are told you need to submit. However, this varies from city to city (depending on the Consulate). In Hyderabad (under the Consulate of Bangalore) I was also asked for a cover letter, my bank statements (last 3 months), my CV, a copy of my degree. Please carry all of these just in case to avoid any sort of delay at the time of submission (I had the most unpleasant experience and spent a very frustrating 5 hours with all of this).

The visa fees are wavered for all assistants, however, you might have to pay VFS charges/handling charges. Again, this depends on which city you live in – some didn’t end up paying anything, whereas in Hyderabad, I paid about Rs. 1945.

My passport (along with my visa – issued ‘France sauf CTOM – type D’) was returned in 8 days.

Guess, I’m really going to France then! Oui!