As you may or may not know, I’ll be moving to a tiny town on the Spanish border called Ceret for 7 months to teach English through the French government’s TAPIF program! France is notorious for their bureaucracy, but I think I’m more or less prepared for my departure in a few weeks. If you’re thinking of applying to TAPIF, here’s a snapshot of my pre-departure checklist.
Receive arreté de nomination
This is your work contract. It tells you where you’ll be teaching (sometimes in more than one place!) and for how many hours. I’m scheduled for 12 hours a week at a high school. It took me a while to sign the contract and email back a copy because I was applying to extend my Fulbright grant in Uzbekistan, but I didn’t end up getting accepted. 😦 Still, it was with a sense of relief and finality that I finally signed the contract and sent it in.
Apply for visa
I was an idiot and forgot my passport to my visa appointment! So I had to go back the next week and apply, passport safely in hand. Fortunately, my first time at the VFS office (a lot of EU countries no longer do visas through their consulates but through a third-party company), my officer was able to look through my other documents and make sure I had everything I needed. 🙂 When I went back the second time, it was smooth and pleasant; my officer was French and happy I could speak it basically fluently, and the officer next to mine had studied a bit of Catalan and was excited to speak it with me!
I chose a flight with a layover in Dublin (woohoo! A new country for me to visit during the 7 hours I have there), the final destination being Barcelona because Ceret is much closer to Barcelona than it is even to Montpellier, let alone Paris. I figured I’d stay a couple days in Barcelona since I’m flying in anyway! I was planning on getting an 8 euro bus to Perpignan, where I could then catch a 1 euro bus to Ceret, but with all my luggage, I decided to book a 40 euro train instead. Painful for my wallet but probably more convenient in the long run!
Book Barcelona accommodations
I booked a hostel but cancelled it the next day because I remembered that I had met a lovely Catalan family in Boston and hit it off with them. I asked them if I could possibly stay with them, and not only did they say yes, they also offered to pick me up from the airport and invited me to their aunt’s 60th birthday party for my first look into a Catalan celebration!! I can’t put into words how touched I am and how people’s generosity makes me want to give even more than I receive. It also shows that no matter how obscure the language, it pays (quite literally!) to study it for the human connections it helps forge. The family and I wouldn’t have met and talked in Boston if I hadn’t heard them speaking Catalan and been like, “Esteu parlant català?!” They were so shocked that an American even knew about Catalonia, let alone could speak the language, and we formed a bond that has given me this wonderful opportunity even though we spent a total of 20 minutes together.
Book initial Ceret accommodations
We were told not to look into apartments at our sites until we arrived since our school might have prepared something for us, and because it’s better to be able to visit apartments in person. So I just booked an Airbnb for the first two weeks, and I’m so excited for it. I’ll be sharing a space with my landlady, who herself loves traveling and has two dogs!! We’ve already been talking a lot through Airbnb messaging, and she provides breakfast every morning. She said we could get to know each other over coffee and croissants, “à la francaise” 🙂 Some of my best memories in France are with my Parisian host mother, talking about her travels over fresh coffee and warm baguettes with homemade apricot jam, so I’m excited for another “host mom” bonding experience with my Airbnb host!
I initially wasn’t very excited for France because I know the workload is going to be lighter, the impact smaller, and the enthusiasm for learning English lower than it all was in Uzbekistan. But I plan to not only make my own projects and get connected to as many work opportunities as possible, but also to just let myself chill. I can read books. Write in my blog. Study various languages. Go on runs and hikes. Improve my French and Catalan. Explore every corner of Ceret. Take online econ classes in preparation for grad school. Travel Europe and maybe even go back to visit Uzbekistan. Besides, while I’m 99.9% sure my assumptions about my work life will be true, I never know how I may be surprised 🙂