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! 

The (never ending) quest for housing

The arrêté de nomination aka the appointment letter from your respective académies start coming in sometime in the last week of June (via email or via courier and eventually, both). However, many assistants also receive them as late as early/mid August so don’t be alarmed. Usually, someone from your school contacts you in advance to inform you that you will be working there and the actual arrêté takes it own sweet time to reach you.

(Note : Most teachers/admin in France are on vacation during this period which means you are not likely to get prompt responses to your many queries and frantic emails)

Either way…once you know which school/schools you are assigned to, you can then begin your hunt for un logement aka that distant and unattainable dream. Some schools offer accommodation for assistants (you lucky people, you know who ya’ll are) whereas others don’t.

Here are some choices you have to make :

  • Do you want to live near your school? Even though it might be in a small town? (I was faced with this particular dilemma and eventually decided to live in a bigger city close by and commute to work)
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want to live alone or with flatmates?
  • Do you want to apply to live in CROUS housing or perhaps in Foyer de jeunes travailleurs? Do you have the patience to fill out the forms and send lots of emails in French?

For logement :

  • Leboncoin.fr
  • Appartager.com
  • Seloger.com
  • Immojeune.com
  • Facebook groups (just type your city/area in the search bar and voilà)
  • Facebook pages
  • Ask ex assistants what they did/how they managed/if they know someone who can help
  • CROUS
  •  Foyer de jeunes travailleurs

Tips for the same :

  • Don’t be afraid to email people incessantly with questions and pleas for advice. Most people out there really want to help you as best as they can.
  • Most landlords don’t get back to you when you email them from the aforementioned websites. They are more responsive via telephone/in person. I saved a bunched of numbers and checked to see if they were on whastapp and messaged them (better success rate!)
  • Always cross check if the rent mentioned on the sites is inclusive of gas, electricity, water, heat and wifi (if not, that’s easily another 30 – 70 Euros – on an average)
  • Do you need a garant? And how much do you need to pay as a caution deposit? ASK!

If you find a house before you reach France, c’est merveilleux pour vous! However, you can always check-in to a hotel for a few days and look for a place once you get there. Both methods have been tried, tested and recommended so don’t lose hope, mon ami(e)!

 

Birth Certificate Apostille

At some point, you will need to apostille your birth certificate (not mandatory but highly recommended). This is one of those procedures that seem daunting even before you start…

To begin, it helps to know what an apostille is : It is a form of authentication issued to documents for use in other countries (thanks google). So in other words, it deems it a legal and valid source of proof, something that will definitely come in handy for all your official work in France (banking, housing etc).

Your birth certificate must have two stamps at the end of it : one from The General Administration Department (state) and one from The Government of India (centre)

Step 1 : Locate a place you can get this done in your city

Every city should have a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MEA) office – the address is not always listed so you can look for contact details on http://www.mea.gov.in/other-offices.htm. You can also contact an agency who will take the load off your hands and just do everything for you (be sure to check how much they will charge you for it though) – Superb Enterprises http://superbenterprisesindia.com/contactus.asp.

Step 2 : Documents

  • Original Birth Certificate

This should be a notarized document – basically meaning it should be stamped by an Advocate/Notary. In case you don’t have this stamp, you can just google ‘Notary service near me’ and get it done for around Rs.50)

  • Copy of Birth Certificate
  • Original Passport
  • Copy of Passport
  • Copy of 10th class memo (should have your date of birth)
  • A Demand Draft of Rs. 500 from State Bank of India or Andhra Bank (to be written in favour of whoever the office of your state/city specifies)

Step 3 : Fill a form

If all your documents are in order, you are given a form that you fill out. Next, this form along with all the aforementioned documents (except your original passport, that’s for you to take back home) are taken to be stamped by the General Administration Department of your State. This usually takes one day so they ask you to come back.

Step 4 : Copies and postal order

Once the state stamps your birth certificate, you need to take a copy of it. You also need to get a Postal Order of Rs.50 that you can find in a Post office or a Notary service shop (the latter takes a few extra bucks as their ‘fee’). Next, you go back to the same place and submit everything and this time all your documents are given to the people behind the  MEA government of India counter. You are asked to return the next day.

Step 5 : Collect + feel a sense of relief

Collect your birth certificate and check the back of it – there should be a stamp/apostille in addition to your state stamp. Et voilà c’est tout!

Total cost : Rs. 500 (that you pay via the demand draft in step 2)

Total visits to the office : 2-3 days

Additional tips:

  • If a private attestation agency is asking for any more than Rs. 1000 to get this procedure done for you, you’re getting ripped off.
  • Outside the office, there will usually be a bunch of brokers ready to swoop in on you, just ignore them and go straight to the counter.
  • Around the office, you will usually find a lot of photocopy and notary service shops.
  • The Central government (who issue the final stamp) does not work on Saturdays
  • If you’re born in another state and not the one in which you’re currently residing in, the procedure is slightly different.
  • If you live in Hyderabad, the combined attestation office is near the Secretariat, opposite Amrutha Castle Hotel. It is open from 11 am to 1 : 30 pm.