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MNers living/working in France, your opinions please!

(21 Posts)
furrybootsnotjandals Sat 04-Dec-10 09:55:36

Hopefully I am in the right thread here, bit of background, we live in NZ but I'm Scottish and DH is French, we have 2 children. Every three years we leave NZ to live for 6 months in France- we've done this for the past 6 years and the kids have spent 6 months at schools here, all up.
I love my life in NZ but I know DH really wants to come back to France and I like living in France, too. What I'd like to know is how easy do other (non-French) parents find it living and working in France? I have the impression that they work longer hours here, is that true?
And for those working here, can I be REALLY nosy and ask what you do and how easy it was for you to find your job, what is the work/life balance like with kids etc etc Basically any experiences you can share would be great. Oh, we (me and the kids) are fluent French speakers, too.

GoldFrakkincenseAndMyrrh Sat 04-Dec-10 11:12:48

I think it very much depends where you go and what kind of job you want to do. The official working week is 35 hours but people do work more than that.

If you speak fluent French you've crossed a big hurdle already. The other one is whether your qualifications and experience are countable, which matters more in some sectors than others, so it's a bit difficult to comment on working without knowing what you'd want to do!

In general I'd say that if you're familiar with French culture etc and have done it for short periods of time already you wouldn't find it too much of a shock.

furrybootsnotjandals Sat 04-Dec-10 12:16:19

Thanks for that GOLD. I am currently working as a Manager in the Health sector, but I have a background in education and was considering doing the CAPES to become a secondary school English teacher if we move over here. We would be living around the South West of France.

GoldFrakkincenseAndMyrrh Sat 04-Dec-10 12:44:17

You want to call out for AuldAlliance for info on getting into the teaching system. It's all change and I don't understand it but it's no longer as simple as doing a CAPES. Something about making teaching a Masters (French Masters natch) only profession.

Management experience should be fairly transferrable though. I suppose that's my big bugbear with France - everything is so state-run that it's very difficult to move around with a job which in virtually any other country would be very transferrable.

furrybootsnotjandals Sat 04-Dec-10 13:24:03

Ah yes, I'd heard they made changes to the CAPES this year. I think it means you have to have the equivalent of an honours degree to do the CAPES? (AULDALLIANCE or anyone else out there able to inform more on this, please?) Also I heard the formation was gone, so instead of preparing you for life in class they just throw you straight in with a helpful DVD about how to deal with misbehaviour!
Agree with what you said about difficulty of moving around- seems very much a 'job for life' kind of mentality and people who 'move around' are frowned on? I could be mistaken, just my impression.

FingonTheValiant Sat 04-Dec-10 13:27:45

Very interested in info on teaching. I've decided to prepare for the CRPE for next September. I've got a British Masters, and the uni local to our house in France actually advertises its CRPE preparation course in English, which makes me think it's open to foreigners, but it's a real pain trying to find definitive answers anywhere!

furryboots you need to practise writing French-style essay answers etc even if your French is fluent. I know from other friends that they are really picky about the way you answer. And I know several Brits and Americans who have failed the exam to teach English because of exam technique.

Also, the CAPES used to mean you could be sent to teach anywhere in France, it wouldn't guarantee you could stay in the SW. The CAFEP would keep you in the area you want.

Frakkin totally agree about that. Everything is so specific and franco-centric. My very good and otherwise highly transferable degree is basically worthless in France!

furrybootsnotjandals Sat 04-Dec-10 14:43:17

Fingon, what is the CAFEP? have tried the websites but find them really confusing to navigate. I did get the book that prepared you for the CAPES and they mentioned that the style of writing was quite exact. I wonder if you can do a course on this or how you can otherwise prepare? I know they do a distance learning with the CAPES and a separate module that prepares you beforehand, but not sure if they would cover this if it is more aimed at native speakers?
Apparently they will give preference to you if you are married to stay in your area when you put up your 3 choices of where to be posted- but somehow I doubt this, as I suspect they want to place as many as possible in Parisian schools.
Would be interested to hear more about the CAFEP and CRPE?

FingonTheValiant Sat 04-Dec-10 16:04:07

The CAFEP is to teach in private, ie Catholic, schools. It used to be pretty much the same exam (if not the exact same one), so the prep shouldn't be different. The major selling point is that you stay within your département.

The CRPE is the exam for primary school. I looked at the CAPES/CAFEP but decided I'd rather teach both younger children and a range of subjects, so it seemed more appealing. It'll take more effort though as you have to learn the French syllabus for history, geography, science and technology, maths and ethics, as well as be able to teach French grammar etc. I do love a challenge

Was your dh educated in France, particularly uni level? If so he should be able to produce the "standard" French essay. See if you can get him to write a couple and just copy the style, that would be a good starting point. Amazon have lots of prep books available, I've picked up a load for the CRPE as I can't get to prep classes. There should be some with mock essays etc.

I think the distance course is aimed at native speakers, it's also quite pricey.

Married friends of mine were indeed shipped off to Paris, and northern departments in general, and they were from Provence!

I guess you're doing the English exam - don't be fooled that the English oral will be easy - it's a really bizarre exam and again needs special techniques. Almost a memory test in some parts. Definitely try to find some practise for that if you can.

furrybootsnotjandals Sat 04-Dec-10 16:20:00

Doh, I didn't even think of asking DH!! He has been out of the country since graduating though, but I'm sure he will remember.
My sister in law is a directrice at an ecole maternelle and she had to study a huge range of topics (science mainly) to qualify, and found it really intensive, and my inlaws are retired primary school teachers.
Will look into the CAFEP-does it matter if you aren't a Catholic? (or is that a stupid question?!)

FingonTheValiant Sat 04-Dec-10 16:27:23

I dont think you have to be Catholic, but I'm not sure to be honest. I know some friends are not practising and took it, but they may have been baptised. Sorry to be no help there.

Yes, I'm a bit scared about how much I have to learn, but I've done a bit of language teaching and I'm not sure I want to do it full time, so I'm going to give it a go!

AuldAlliance Sun 05-Dec-10 12:55:37

V long, v garbled reply follows, as I am surrounded by DCs.

Caveat: I used to be in charge of the CAPES courses in my uni. I resigned from that responsibility last yr for reasons of principle. So I am no longer as knowledgable as I was. Nor am I able to be very positive about the new system, I am afraid.

You need to have an M2 (Masters, 2nd yr level) to validate yr CAPES now, so even if you pass the CAPES w/o it, you won't get the benefit of yr concours until you pass the M2.

Yes, stagiaires are now thrown in at the deep end, teaching full time with little to no help. Many are cracking up.

CAFEP used to have same syllabus as CAPES, I presume that is still the case. One key difference in the new CAPES is that there is now no real syllabus, so IMO it is even harder, because more random, to prepare for than before.
No need to be RC to take the CAFEP, though it might help with the cultural aspects of integrating a RC French school.
There are, however, VERY few posts available for the CAFEP, so it's much tougher to pass in statistical terms, IYSWIM.

You do indeed need to know how to approach, structure, present things the French academic way, so in fact doing an M1/M2 might help with that. The CNED course will not give any info for non-native French candidates, it's sink or swim. The CNED course is also sometime a bit hit and miss, IME.

The calendar is now bonkers, so you have to take the CAPES written papers in Nov, prepare for the orals and do mini- stages in schools over winter/spring, take the orals (if admitted) in late spring, as well as writing your M2 mémoire, all in the same year.

Yes, you can be posted abslolutely anywhere; for newly qualified teachers, that is often the grimmer Parisian suburbs, but it can be the North, or sometimes remote rural areas too. Rapprochement de conjoints is meant to work, but the rectorat often refuses it (it happened to us when we moved from a DOM for me to take up a lectureship in SE France: they expected my DH to remain in the DOM, although we had a 4mth-old baby).

In response to your original query, I moved to France (well, a DOM), after my MA in the UK, did a DEA, then took the CAPES and Agrégation, followed by a doctorate. It is possible to integrate, many a British person has, but l'Education nationale is complex and you need to know your way around it, I think.

Fingon, I suspect yr uni in France advertises its courses because one outcome of the reform is that they are now all in competition, trying to get people to take 'their' Masters rather than the neighbouring university's one. Given the complete balls-up of the way the reform was led, and the deteriorating working conditions for teachers, student numbers are plummeting, and if the Masters courses die, University depts will die too, so the heat is on. I don't know if it means it's actually easier for foreigners to take the course at that university.

If you have any other queries, I am around tomorrow and it'll be quieter.

PS. have you looked at teacher's pay in France?

FingonTheValiant Sun 05-Dec-10 13:34:34

Thanks for all that AuldAlliance!

God, yes, the pay is hideous compared to the UK! But I have to have a job when we finally upsticks and go full time as DH will be finishing his training to be a notaire and I've got to be the earner! Unfortunately my degree etc is in Classics, which is about as useful as a chocolate teapot in France, so I've got to retrain in something.

I cant believe how difficult it is to cross the channel!

furrybootsnotjandals Sun 05-Dec-10 18:00:01

Thanks for that AuldAlliance, that is really helpful, I had no idea that you had to have a Masters degree, I thought an honours degree was all that was needed, and from what you have described it sounds like it would be a complete nightmare, I'm surprised they don't have huge teacher shortages!
DH wants to move back to France after being in NZ for 15 years and I am just not sure what I can do- he seemed to think that I would have no worries doing the CAPES, but from what you have described, and with young children I'm not so sure-it seems more of a longer term concept, and given the rates of pay and hours of work/lack of flexibility on placements, and the fact that at 37 I am possibly at the older range for a student.. I think I am going to have to seriously consider my options.
I guess another option would be working at a Uni teaching English (I have a TESOL/TEFL and teaching experience.) Hmm, it has really given me something to think about. Thanks for all your advice.

FingonTheValiant Sun 05-Dec-10 18:21:09

Oh my goodness, outrageous use of !s in my post above blush

furryboots, I think the French themselves massively underestimate how difficult it is for foreigners to get work. My BIL and SIL have just moved back to France and DSIL is American. She can't find ANY work at all, it's a nightmare. And DH has been really shocked about how hard it'll be for me.

BTW, how many children do you have? I only ask because in truly French style if you have 3 or more you don't have to have a Masters to become a teacher. DH suggested we look into that, but DS1 is 8 weeks old, so we'd be pushing it a bit to manage three in the next couple of years

furrybootsnotjandals Sun 05-Dec-10 19:39:23

laughing at the 3 children bit grin I had heard that too, you just jogged my memory a bit, we have 2 and funnily enough, we were thinking about starting number 3... but then again, how realistic would it be to cram the placements and study etc in with 3 children- PLUS my DH saying that I need to do it before I am 40 or they won't take me!! Agh!
Totally agree with what you have said about finding work- I really think I will be struggling and have pointed out to DH that much as I love France, I don't want to be working on the checkout at LeClerc for the rest of my days shock

AuldAlliance Sun 05-Dec-10 19:56:45

The Masters is new; it is claimed that it brings France in line with the rest of the EU. The motives lie elsewhere.

If you have a 4-yr degree, you would very likely be accepted into M2, and could therefore prepare both the CAPES and the Masters together, along with lots of otehr students. So you'd be in the same situation time-wise as someone previously who arrived in France with a degree from the UK and spent a year preparing the CAPES.

There is a huge teacher shortage, mainly because the gvmt has scrapped thousands of posts to save money. You could probably get "work" teaching, as the rectorats are all desperate; each rentrée they send us desperate messages to pass on to our students, asking for anyone with a Licence to do contract hours in schools. Spot the hypocrisy. You need a Masters to get a full-time job, because the gvmt says teachers need to be better qualified, but in fact a huge number of classes are currently taught by hugely under-qualified students.
SI'm not sure I'd call it a job, as there is no security and I don't know how often you get paid. Might help you get a glimpse of the work involved, make contacts, etc, but whether you could live off it is another matter.

Yes, if you have raised 3 kids, the entrance requirements for the concours are waived. Ditto if you are a sportif de haut niveau. You still have to pass the CAPES, obv.

Teaching in the uni is not that easy to get into either, as jobs are like gold dust. You can get hours as a vacataire, but as the social contributions employers pay are so high, the university asks vacataires to have an emploi principal, so someone else pays those contributions. You can get round that by being self-employed (i.e. paying them yourself) - you'd need to have a fair bit of other work than just the teaching hours to make it viable.

I'm sorry to be so negative, but I don't know how many people even inside France realise how tight things are in the education system just now. Public services are being dismantled at an incredible speed. Whether you agree with the economics of it is a whole other argument, but the effects on the population are increasingly tangible.

When I arrived 15 yrs ago, it was quite easy to get into teaching, if you were a basically academic type prepared to learn for the CAPES. It's way harder now, I think, though it is doable. Every year I have seen people from the UK arriving, often with a degree not in languages or Arts, and if they worked hard they got the CAPES. Since this is the 1st year of the Masterisation [sic], I don't know how things compare now for that type of candidate.

You can often get teaching work at the Chambre de Commerce. They tend to have a reputation as being stingy and exploitative, but I don't know how true that actually is. Might be worth looking into. Ditto all the private language institutes offering English lessons to businessmen, etc.

AuldAlliance Sun 05-Dec-10 19:59:15

Sorry, my posts are horrendously long. blush

furrybootsnotjandals Sun 05-Dec-10 20:12:09

It is all such a state of flux at the moment, really difficult to know where things are headed under the current Gvmt, but this has given me some excellent food for thought- (especially as I thought I would need to do the CNED first). It is making me feel less inclined to leave NZ permanently as I really enjoy my job and work/life balance there and am now wondering whether it would be a mistake to basically give that all up and start again?confused

FingonTheValiant Sun 05-Dec-10 20:33:07

Right, I think I'm going to email the UFM and see whether I have the right qualifications to enter the concours, and if not what options are available to fix it. It's going to be hard enough preparing the concours with a baby, I'm not sure I can manage M2 on top

I have no idea where else to look for a job that ill cover the mortgage. As you say furryboots, working at LeClerc doesn't quite cut it!

furrybootsnotjandals Sun 05-Dec-10 20:44:10

Fingers crossed for you Fingon- let us know how you get on!

Bonsoir Sun 05-Dec-10 20:45:31

I have no idea about SW France, but I don't think it is particularly hard for degree-educated English-speaking people with working papers to get jobs in Paris and la région parisienne. Teaching is badly paid and very hard work, IMO. You would get a lot more money (sitting down) in international business - you might have to start as a secretary but, if you network properly, you can worm your way into translation/marketing assistant/comms and events type work.

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