In the end, I still choose France (for now)

Remember that list of reasons why I live in France that I posted a few months ago? Numbers 2, 5, and 8 are really relevant right now. I’ve only worked two days since December 16, and I still have another week off before the second semester starts. The 3 inches of snow we got last week meant I couldn’t use my car to get to work, but I could very easily hop on a bus. During my vacation, I’m trying to focus on German since I will be going there in June and it’s quite nice to be able to switch on the TV to Deutsche Welle and Arte.

So why am I bringing this up now? Various reasons, I suppose. Christmas and winter always make me homesick since I don’t particularly like either of them in France. I’m going to have to renew my residency card this spring and I’m afraid French bureaucracy will continue to screw up, meaning I will be slightly illegal here and I won’t be able to receive my salary. (I’ll leave my rant about why I hate being an immigrant for another day.) And of course, I will be unemployed once again this fall, which is the biggest problem I have with France at the moment. I am beyond tired of temporary jobs with low pay. I have a Master’s degree and 5 years of teaching experience, yet I still can only get jobs as an “assistant” of sorts and not a real teacher. I just feel like I’m worth more than 13k a year, you know?

Once again I’m weighing the pros and cons of living in France vs. the US. But similar to how I felt last summer, I’m sure it’s just a matter of the grass being greener on the other side. Yet every time I cross over to the other side, I find out it’s astroturf and I’m quickly reminded why I wanted to leave in the first place.

Right now I’m struggling most with the money issue. I thought by now I’d have a real career – maybe even a house if I ever decided to stay in one place long enough. Having a fulfilling job and feeling like I’m actually contributing to society is really important to me. I wanted to be able to donate money to charities that empower women and fight against poverty and start a scholarship fund for students learning foreign languages. But I need to earn money in order to give it away. I don’t think I will ever have that opportunity in France.  Even if/when I become a French citizen, starting a career will be just as hard and the salaries will be just as low. Having a job you like isn’t exactly important in French society, and changing your career even once is rarely done – not to mention few French people donate to charities because they don’t have the money and they assume the government will take care of people anyway.

Career-wise, I really don’t see how I can ever be happy in France. I will always equate living in France with being poor. Unless I can somehow make a living with my website instead of constantly searching for a job in this country. But getting paid in dollars when you live in the eurozone is just depressing. Even in Germany, salaries are higher even though the government is just as socialist and taxes are just as high. So why does France have to keep its people so poor?

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  • http://travellingamber.blogspot.com/ Amber

    Jennie, this is something that a lot of us who teach have experienced, and I used to feel the same until I started teaching at a private business school, where the salary is ridiculous but the benefits are awful. I may get a pretty good pay check (better than a teacher in the US, that’s for sure), but it’s never on time, and I may never have to work later than six or seven or at all between May and September, but the contract will never be permanent and the kids will always be obnoxious, overpriviledged nouveau-riche brats.
    At the moment, i’ve got two jobs – one, i’m teaching at a training center, and two, I teach at business school. Business school is something I do to have quick, easy cash. It goes in the bank and in a year or two i’ll let it buy me a house. That’s all the attachment I have to that job.
    The second we decide to have kids, i’m quitting. I’d rather work full time with a CDI at a training center making 25k a year with decent work hours and tons of time off than having an inconsistent 40k+ a year.
    I’m confused as to why you are still an assistant after five years. Aren’t you pacs’ed? Don’t you have the right to find a better job and work as if you were French? I know that if you were somewhere like Lille, you’d be making bank if you worked outside of the public sector. There is a huge demand for native speaking teachers with experience in our region, and the ones with masters degrees do even better.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..PhotosNormandie on Flickr =-.

  • http://travellingamber.blogspot.com Amber

    Jennie, this is something that a lot of us who teach have experienced, and I used to feel the same until I started teaching at a private business school, where the salary is ridiculous but the benefits are awful. I may get a pretty good pay check (better than a teacher in the US, that’s for sure), but it’s never on time, and I may never have to work later than six or seven or at all between May and September, but the contract will never be permanent and the kids will always be obnoxious, overpriviledged nouveau-riche brats.
    At the moment, i’ve got two jobs – one, i’m teaching at a training center, and two, I teach at business school. Business school is something I do to have quick, easy cash. It goes in the bank and in a year or two i’ll let it buy me a house. That’s all the attachment I have to that job.
    The second we decide to have kids, i’m quitting. I’d rather work full time with a CDI at a training center making 25k a year with decent work hours and tons of time off than having an inconsistent 40k+ a year.
    I’m confused as to why you are still an assistant after five years. Aren’t you pacs’ed? Don’t you have the right to find a better job and work as if you were French? I know that if you were somewhere like Lille, you’d be making bank if you worked outside of the public sector. There is a huge demand for native speaking teachers with experience in our region, and the ones with masters degrees do even better.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..PhotosNormandie on Flickr =-.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    I’m in my 2nd year as a lectrice, after doing 2 years as an assistante. I do have the right to work in France now with my CDS vie privée, but there are no good jobs around here. The only ones I’m finding pay around 18 euros (brut) an hour. I have no idea if there are jobs in this area that would pay 25k a year. That just doesn’t seem possible to me. And 40k a year is unheard of unless you work in Switzerland, which I don’t have the right to.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie

    I’m in my 2nd year as a lectrice, after doing 2 years as an assistante. I do have the right to work in France now with my CDS vie privée, but there are no good jobs around here. The only ones I’m finding pay around 18 euros (brut) an hour. I have no idea if there are jobs in this area that would pay 25k a year. That just doesn’t seem possible to me. And 40k a year is unheard of unless you work in Switzerland, which I don’t have the right to.

  • http://nouvellevieenfrance.blogspot.com/ Katie

    I know exactly how you feel. I had those same dreams of having an awesome job that I loved and making an awesome salary. And then I moved to France where the only jobs for English speakers is teaching English. But I’m working in the private sector and it’s not so bad. It’s not exactly very stable pay but when you work a lot of hours, it shows. You should attempt the concours for university professors in France. I think they make about 2,000€/month or more. I’m sure you’d have a good chance.
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..Ring in the New Year 2010! =-.

  • http://nouvellevieenfrance.blogspot.com/ Katie

    I know exactly how you feel. I had those same dreams of having an awesome job that I loved and making an awesome salary. And then I moved to France where the only jobs for English speakers is teaching English. But I’m working in the private sector and it’s not so bad. It’s not exactly very stable pay but when you work a lot of hours, it shows. You should attempt the concours for university professors in France. I think they make about 2,000€/month or more. I’m sure you’d have a good chance.
    .-= Katie´s last blog ..Ring in the New Year 2010! =-.

  • Cynthia

    Hi Jennie, I know how you feel about the career thing. I’ve done the lectureship twice. This year I’ve managed to making a living being a vacataire in various private univerities. I haven’t really liked that since it’s a ton of work for what you’re paid and it’s quite stressful learning the ropes of 4-5 different places and keeping everything straight. On top of never knowing if you’re going to have enough work a couple of months from now. (not a great thing for us anxious people) However, I’ve met people (expats) who’ve been doing exactly that for 10+ years. I really don’t want to see myself doing that in 10 years. Recently, since my vacataire hours have dwindled, I started working in a private language school. It barely pays above minimum but I literally have no work to do at home and I don’t have to worry about finding work in the summer. I prefer that for the time being
    I’v started taking an online translation course from a Canadian university to try to obtain some other career skills. Don’t know if that will lead anywhere but I’ve got try something!

    And Amber, you work in a training center and manage to make 25K!!! I’ve got to leave this part of France! Is it a training center specifically for languages???

  • Cynthia

    Hi Jennie, I know how you feel about the career thing. I’ve done the lectureship twice. This year I’ve managed to making a living being a vacataire in various private univerities. I haven’t really liked that since it’s a ton of work for what you’re paid and it’s quite stressful learning the ropes of 4-5 different places and keeping everything straight. On top of never knowing if you’re going to have enough work a couple of months from now. (not a great thing for us anxious people) However, I’ve met people (expats) who’ve been doing exactly that for 10+ years. I really don’t want to see myself doing that in 10 years. Recently, since my vacataire hours have dwindled, I started working in a private language school. It barely pays above minimum but I literally have no work to do at home and I don’t have to worry about finding work in the summer. I prefer that for the time being
    I’v started taking an online translation course from a Canadian university to try to obtain some other career skills. Don’t know if that will lead anywhere but I’ve got try something!

    And Amber, you work in a training center and manage to make 25K!!! I’ve got to leave this part of France! Is it a training center specifically for languages???

  • http://travellingamber.blogspot.com/ Amber

    Jennie, thanks for the clarification. I was never a lectrice, having jumped into the private after nine months as an assistant. I would think that a private uni would snatch you up in a heartbeat with all of your experience and qualifications!

    Cynthia, the training center I work for pays 1700€/month as a starting salary and that is for 25 hrs a week on average — some months are more hours, some are less, but since it’s salaried, you don’t have the normal stress of fulfilling a monthly quota as you would with some training centers. I work 15h/wk with them since I am a vacataire at a business school another 15ish hrs/wk (8 at the moment, just sent half of my little demons abroad). The thing is, the second you go over your contract in a training center (and if business is good, you usually go way over), once you’ve exceeded 20% of your annual quota, you start getting paid time and a half. On my “anniversary”, i’ll get a pay out of all of my overtime hours, which ends up being like a 13th and 14th month. Then, there’s also evolution possibilities, whether you become a production manager, or a responsable pedagogique (what I want to do at a mini-school), or even a responsable de centre one day. It feels more like an actual career.

    I know I must sound like a walking advertisement, but Lille is an awesome place to work. We’ve got at least six business schools (and mine is on the lower-end of the spectrum at 46€/hr (but granted, it’s also a pain)), an engineering school or two that pay just as well, and training centers to pad monthly salaries coming out your ears. There is so much work here and never enough qualified staff. I often receive emails about jobs opening up and regret that I have to turn them down. I count my lucky stars every day that we landed here because there was really nothing for me where we were living before in Normandy.

    So sorry to hijack a little, Jennie. I just feel really passionate about finding good, quality jobs for those of us with real qualifications and experience. I hate hearing about people who are being mistreated or underpaid because they are foreign and I just like to help and share in any way that I can :) Thanks for opening up this topic for discussion!
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..PhotosNormandie on Flickr =-.

  • http://travellingamber.blogspot.com Amber

    Jennie, thanks for the clarification. I was never a lectrice, having jumped into the private after nine months as an assistant. I would think that a private uni would snatch you up in a heartbeat with all of your experience and qualifications!

    Cynthia, the training center I work for pays 1700€/month as a starting salary and that is for 25 hrs a week on average — some months are more hours, some are less, but since it’s salaried, you don’t have the normal stress of fulfilling a monthly quota as you would with some training centers. I work 15h/wk with them since I am a vacataire at a business school another 15ish hrs/wk (8 at the moment, just sent half of my little demons abroad). The thing is, the second you go over your contract in a training center (and if business is good, you usually go way over), once you’ve exceeded 20% of your annual quota, you start getting paid time and a half. On my “anniversary”, i’ll get a pay out of all of my overtime hours, which ends up being like a 13th and 14th month. Then, there’s also evolution possibilities, whether you become a production manager, or a responsable pedagogique (what I want to do at a mini-school), or even a responsable de centre one day. It feels more like an actual career.

    I know I must sound like a walking advertisement, but Lille is an awesome place to work. We’ve got at least six business schools (and mine is on the lower-end of the spectrum at 46€/hr (but granted, it’s also a pain)), an engineering school or two that pay just as well, and training centers to pad monthly salaries coming out your ears. There is so much work here and never enough qualified staff. I often receive emails about jobs opening up and regret that I have to turn them down. I count my lucky stars every day that we landed here because there was really nothing for me where we were living before in Normandy.

    So sorry to hijack a little, Jennie. I just feel really passionate about finding good, quality jobs for those of us with real qualifications and experience. I hate hearing about people who are being mistreated or underpaid because they are foreign and I just like to help and share in any way that I can :) Thanks for opening up this topic for discussion!
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..PhotosNormandie on Flickr =-.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com/ Zhu

    I always equate living in France with being poor, even though I’m French. This is partially why I stayed in Canada. I realized I could actually have decent job opportunities here and not these endless non-paid stages, temp contracts at minimum wage etc.

    For that, my life is much better than in France.
    .-= Zhu´s last blog ..10 Canadian Political Facts =-.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    I always equate living in France with being poor, even though I’m French. This is partially why I stayed in Canada. I realized I could actually have decent job opportunities here and not these endless non-paid stages, temp contracts at minimum wage etc.

    For that, my life is much better than in France.
    .-= Zhu´s last blog ..10 Canadian Political Facts =-.

  • http://paulita-ponderings.blogspot.com/ Paulita

    I have basically the same degree and teach in the U.S. at a community college. I really like the job, but the money isn’t great. That’s why I padded my income by marrying a great guy (JK that’s not why I married him). Seriously though, even working part time at the community college I bring home about $20,000 a year, no benefits. It sounds frustrating to work for so little money, but maybe you can look at it as temporary while you enjoy your adventures in life and settle down later with the larger salary and the endowments for the needy, etc.
    .-= Paulita´s last blog ..What Life Could Have Been =-.

  • http://paulita-ponderings.blogspot.com/ Paulita

    I have basically the same degree and teach in the U.S. at a community college. I really like the job, but the money isn’t great. That’s why I padded my income by marrying a great guy (JK that’s not why I married him). Seriously though, even working part time at the community college I bring home about $20,000 a year, no benefits. It sounds frustrating to work for so little money, but maybe you can look at it as temporary while you enjoy your adventures in life and settle down later with the larger salary and the endowments for the needy, etc.
    .-= Paulita´s last blog ..What Life Could Have Been =-.

  • http://www.parisianspring.blogspot.com/ Tanya

    I sadly have to agree with you and Zhu: I too equate living in France with being poor. The opportunities I researched in Paris for post-grad employment offered temp contracts and strikingly low salaries compared with what I knew I could get in the U.S. It’s possible to make money in France – I have plenty of friends who do – but I never figured out the trick. It just seems so much easier in North America.

  • http://www.parisianspring.blogspot.com Tanya

    I sadly have to agree with you and Zhu: I too equate living in France with being poor. The opportunities I researched in Paris for post-grad employment offered temp contracts and strikingly low salaries compared with what I knew I could get in the U.S. It’s possible to make money in France – I have plenty of friends who do – but I never figured out the trick. It just seems so much easier in North America.

  • Mercedes

    Hi Jennie,

    I came across your wonderful site the other day. We are looking to move to Annecy sometime in the near future (and work in Geneva).

    I met and married my French husband in London. He moved to England after finishing his Master’s degree to start his career (same for me too, I’m from Aruba). What he has achieved in the past 8 years, would never have happened had he stayed in France. A French friend of mine, based in London, hardly earned a good salary as a solicitor in France. The list is endless……

    I know you had totally different plans and are in France because you met your boyfriend.
    Please remember to look after yourself, if he is the one for you, you will be together but I think for you the time has come, to focus on your career which as you’ve put it, it’s not going to happen in France.

    My best wishes and good luck in your future.
    Mercedes

  • Mercedes

    Hi Jennie,

    I came across your wonderful site the other day. We are looking to move to Annecy sometime in the near future (and work in Geneva).

    I met and married my French husband in London. He moved to England after finishing his Master’s degree to start his career (same for me too, I’m from Aruba). What he has achieved in the past 8 years, would never have happened had he stayed in France. A French friend of mine, based in London, hardly earned a good salary as a solicitor in France. The list is endless……

    I know you had totally different plans and are in France because you met your boyfriend.
    Please remember to look after yourself, if he is the one for you, you will be together but I think for you the time has come, to focus on your career which as you’ve put it, it’s not going to happen in France.

    My best wishes and good luck in your future.
    Mercedes

  • http://boeingbleudemer.blogspot.com/ Cynthia

    I am so dreading the day I finish my master here since employment opportunities are not looking so great ! If I am unlucky, I guess I’ll just move back to Canada ;)

    But can’t you work in Switzerland? Many jobs are better paid in that country for that reason.
    .-= Cynthia´s last blog ..Passé et futur =-.

  • http://boeingbleudemer.blogspot.com/ Cynthia

    I am so dreading the day I finish my master here since employment opportunities are not looking so great ! If I am unlucky, I guess I’ll just move back to Canada ;)

    But can’t you work in Switzerland? Many jobs are better paid in that country for that reason.
    .-= Cynthia´s last blog ..Passé et futur =-.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    @Cynthia: Nah, I have to be an EU citizen to work in Switzerland or else try to get a work permit which isn’t exactly easy. Plus the commute from here would drive me insane.

    Thanks to everyone for replying about this. Glad to know I’m not alone!!

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie

    @Cynthia: Nah, I have to be an EU citizen to work in Switzerland or else try to get a work permit which isn’t exactly easy. Plus the commute from here would drive me insane.

    Thanks to everyone for replying about this. Glad to know I’m not alone!!

  • http://www.american-in-france.com/ cynthia in chambery

    Hi, Jennie, yes, after 18 months here and speaking only survival French (no appropriate French classes in Chambery so I have to go to Grenoble for classes), I’ve quickly learned that there are no jobs in Chambery and few good jobs in the region for foreigners. I was a nonprofit CEO and later had a consulting business in LA with a 6-figure salary so this has been a real shock moving here. My industry also does not exist in France since the gov’t takes care of everybody unlike in the US. I have been really struggling to try to find an entrepreneurial niche for myself with no success. And since I want to spend half the year in the US with family and friends someday, that complicates things to the max. I think if we lived in a bigger city in a different region (like Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Marseilles, etc) things would be better but still not great. So for now I keep focusing on what I could do online for work like my grant writing, travel writing, my blog, videos, my French Alps Tours, etc in hopes something will work. I appreciate your struggle and know exactly how you feel. Perhaps David would be open to moving to the US (and probably not Michigan since there are no jobs there either). Cynthia
    .-= cynthia in chambery´s last blog ..The Art and Beauty of Chambery, France: The Towns of France =-.

  • http://www.american-in-france.com cynthia in chambery

    Hi, Jennie, yes, after 18 months here and speaking only survival French (no appropriate French classes in Chambery so I have to go to Grenoble for classes), I’ve quickly learned that there are no jobs in Chambery and few good jobs in the region for foreigners. I was a nonprofit CEO and later had a consulting business in LA with a 6-figure salary so this has been a real shock moving here. My industry also does not exist in France since the gov’t takes care of everybody unlike in the US. I have been really struggling to try to find an entrepreneurial niche for myself with no success. And since I want to spend half the year in the US with family and friends someday, that complicates things to the max. I think if we lived in a bigger city in a different region (like Lille, Bordeaux, Nice, Marseilles, etc) things would be better but still not great. So for now I keep focusing on what I could do online for work like my grant writing, travel writing, my blog, videos, my French Alps Tours, etc in hopes something will work. I appreciate your struggle and know exactly how you feel. Perhaps David would be open to moving to the US (and probably not Michigan since there are no jobs there either). Cynthia
    .-= cynthia in chambery´s last blog ..The Art and Beauty of Chambery, France: The Towns of France =-.

  • http://france-bienvenue.fr/ Anne

    Hi Jennie, it is true that if you want to have a fairly well-paid job as a teacher in France, you have to complete the French degrees required to teach in France – CAPES or even better Agrégation. The Ministry of Education Nationale will never acknowledge your skills and American qualifications. That’s the problem, I know. (But I suppose it is the same thing if a French person wants to teach French in the United States.) As a “certifié” or “agrégé” you have a pretty decent salary, much better apparently than what you get as a teacher in the US according to an American friends of mine. The starting salary if you are “certifié” or “agrégé” is much higher than what you earn as a lectrice and later you make much more money. I have never struggled to make both ends meet as a teacher! Of course you’ll never earn as much as people with senior jobs in companies. Hope you find a way of teaching what you love !

  • http://france-bienvenue.fr Anne

    Hi Jennie, it is true that if you want to have a fairly well-paid job as a teacher in France, you have to complete the French degrees required to teach in France – CAPES or even better Agrégation. The Ministry of Education Nationale will never acknowledge your skills and American qualifications. That’s the problem, I know. (But I suppose it is the same thing if a French person wants to teach French in the United States.) As a “certifié” or “agrégé” you have a pretty decent salary, much better apparently than what you get as a teacher in the US according to an American friends of mine. The starting salary if you are “certifié” or “agrégé” is much higher than what you earn as a lectrice and later you make much more money. I have never struggled to make both ends meet as a teacher! Of course you’ll never earn as much as people with senior jobs in companies. Hope you find a way of teaching what you love !

  • http://casserdoeufs.wordpress.com/ Lindsay

    Hi Jennifer,

    I am a teaching assistant in Poitou Charentes this year and have been following your blog since before I even applied to the program last year. I just have to tell you—and I even mentioned it on my blog—how very helpful your website, advice and experience have been in this whole experience. I didn’t fully appreciate before coming to France how hard it is to be a working foreigner in this country, so I truly do admire you for your decision to stick it out: independence, self-confidence and nerves of steel are imperative to making your own way here. Not to mention how super-organized your website is! I use it for my own studies (French, Italian) and for organizing lesson plans.

    For what it’s worth, you’ve got what it takes for whatever you decide to do in the future. Hang in there.

  • http://casserdoeufs.wordpress.com Lindsay

    Hi Jennifer,

    I am a teaching assistant in Poitou Charentes this year and have been following your blog since before I even applied to the program last year. I just have to tell you—and I even mentioned it on my blog—how very helpful your website, advice and experience have been in this whole experience. I didn’t fully appreciate before coming to France how hard it is to be a working foreigner in this country, so I truly do admire you for your decision to stick it out: independence, self-confidence and nerves of steel are imperative to making your own way here. Not to mention how super-organized your website is! I use it for my own studies (French, Italian) and for organizing lesson plans.

    For what it’s worth, you’ve got what it takes for whatever you decide to do in the future. Hang in there.

  • colin

    Everything will OK in future!self-confidence !
    I am a teaching copywriter in China and have been following your blog since before I got a job in Shenzhen(a rapid growth city of China) the year before last .

  • colin

    Everything will OK in future!self-confidence !
    I am a teaching copywriter in China and have been following your blog since before I got a job in Shenzhen(a rapid growth city of China) the year before last .

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    @Anne: In order to do the CAPES, I would have to be an EU citizen. That’s the main problem I’m having. All the good jobs are reserved for EU people!

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie

    @Anne: In order to do the CAPES, I would have to be an EU citizen. That’s the main problem I’m having. All the good jobs are reserved for EU people!

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Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In January 2010, I started focusing more on teaching and learning languages in general. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at the university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling (though now my trips are usually in Australia) and being an American abroad.

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