In Britain, we have the choice to choose a teaching assistanceship in our chosen country, or to study at a university in our chosen country. I chose the assistanceship option in France which has had it’s advantages and it’s disadvantages. I’m going to break down both in this blog post.
Why you should choose an assistanceship
From my point of view, the most obvious reason why you would opt for an assistanceship is that you get paid. Depending if you choose primary or secondary, you are being paid for practically no work (I will go in to more detail about this later). As twenty-year olds, we’re constantly stressing about money and wether or not we can buy a bottle of vodka for the weekend or we have to stick to cheap, disgusting wine (this decision is easy in France because basically no wine is disgusting). Having money tends to eliminate this problem.
Our parents are also constantly getting on at us to get a job (just mine?) and the assistanceship eliminates the root of their nagging, whilst giving you money! The assistanceship pays (after tax and everything else they want to take away from us poor students) almost €800 per month. I do believe that changes per country so keep that in mind. However, depending on where you live, that is absolutely enough to live off. And chuck a few extra hours of teaching adults English per week and you’re rolling in it!
(For France, the best website to advertise to do extra hours teaching English is leboncoin.fr. I’ve made a fair amount of money from the website averaging at €15 per hour just for speaking English. Not bad!)
2. No exams
The second most obvious advantage of choosing the assistanceship is that you have no exams (or work at all, really) to worry about meaning that your weekends and holidays are entirely yours to enjoy. Everyone knows how stressful exams are, so think of a whole year in a country you adore, being paid to barely work and not having exams!
As I mentioned earlier, you are paid for doing practically no work. As assistants, we moan about our work and how tired we are at the end of the week. However, looking at the bigger picture, we do pretty much nothing. The working week is 12 hours per week and depending on your school, you may work less. Most of my friends certainly do their 12 hours per week (as you would expect) but in the whole six months of working, I did no more than 10 hours per week. I should have been paid a lot less, or they should have given me less hours at one of my schools and more to an other, but I’m not going to complain am I?!
This is a purely personal experience, however, I found that a lot of my teachers simply just didn’t need me a lot of the time (in high school/lycée in France). There was a constant stream of tests/revision for tests/end of semester homework being given/movies that had to be watched by the whole class. The list is endless for the amount of reasons why hours are cancelled at high school.
You might also find that you are given a class where you take three or four students and you simply have to talk to them every week. I had this planned for numerous classes at the beginning and as the year went on, the teacher told me the students had too much work to spend time talking to me and therefore, I was free for another hour during the week.
Also, unless you’re a complete freak about having everything down to a T, the average time you spend on lesson planning for a whole week can be between 1 to 5 hours. I would definitely say that it takes no longer than 5 hours to plan for the whole week. This lesson planning time reduces as you get through the year also as some classes are behind your plan and therefore, you can reuse lessons you’ve already done with some classes.
4. Semester length
This point is specifically tailored to France as I’m not sure about the other countries. If you want to look for the school holiday dates for your country, google can tell you.
In France, the semesters are six weeks (or seven weeks depending on your region) and you have a two week holiday after every one. So literally every six weeks you have a two week holiday. Despite how little we work, by the sixth week we’re all complaining about “how badly we need a holiday”. In reality, we’re too used to being lazy, and what’s so bad about that? The amount of cheese and wine nights you can have with friends is limitless!
5. Time to travel
The result of these short semesters and long holidays mean you can travel a lot. Also, chances are you will have either a Monday or a Friday off, meaning you can travel at weekends! I still have one month left of teaching and here is a list of places I’ve visited:
- Aix-en-Provence (where I live)
- Roque D’Anthèron
- Barrage de Bimont
This has been done in five months. I think you get the point.
(If you want to see a post with my favourite picture from each place, here is the link)
Why you should choose Erasmus
As I mentioned, I am actually on the assistanceship program with the British Council and therefore, I don’t know much about the Erasmus program. However, I do have some friends who are Erasmus and I can take some information from my experience.
1. Relationships with people your age.
The main advantage that I’ve noticed with the Erasmus program is the access to the amount of people who are the same age as you. There are so many Erasmus students, never mind real students, at the university you will be studying at. This gives you tons of opportunities to speak to people, practice the language you’re learning with natives and make bonds with others.
Also, even though I’m in a relatively small city of 140,000 people, there are Facebook events constantly popping up for day trips for Erasmus students for good prices. There are tons of events and activities that Erasmus students can partake in to meet different people and make the most of their year.
2. Language level improves more
Not everyone will agree with me on this one, but depending on your situation, I believe Erasmus students get a better improvement of their language level. I have numerous French friends (and my boyfriend is French) but the Erasmus students do whole days of listening to French people talking in lectures and have to write essays and do presentations in French.
Because I teach in a high school, I now know the slang, and I know talk like a 15 year old French teenager. Whereas, the Erasmus students are learning how to properly articulate the language through essays and through listening to adults talking all day.
Also, and this depends on wether you’re teaching in primary or secondary school, I don’t talk any French during my lessons to my students. Sometimes I have to lightly tell them off in French but apart from that, the class is in full English. Of course, the younger students reply in French to me but that’s the only French I access during the day.
3. You choose where you are
With Erasmus, you can basically choose which University you’d like to go to, depending on different factors of course, but you still know where you are going. With the assistanceship, you have to choose three different geographical areas in the country and these areas include the middle of nowhere. You choose your most preferred location, but this is not guaranteed, and it’s not guaranteed if you will be in a large, medium or small sized city.
I was (incredibly) lucky to be placed in Aix-en-Provence, a relatively large city in France, very close to the second largest city in France, Marseille. However, not everyone is so lucky. Some of my friends who I see every so often are not enjoying their time because they have been placed in a small town.
It’s easy for me to say, but I think it’s what you make of it. I recently went to visit one of my friends in a mountainous, small village at the foot of the Alps and felt insane jealousy for some of the great small town aspects: locals desperately want to talk to you and ask why on earth you’re in such a small town, the views are incredible, there’s a sense of community and, depending on where you are, a lot of opportunities to explore through walks and hikes.
Despite there being success stories (and also some unsuccessful stories), this is a factor you have to consider when deciding if Erasmus or an assistanceship is better for you.
4. It is a one time opportunity
An important point to remember is that the Erasmus opportunity only really comes once, whilst you’re still in University. Of course, you can do a degree in your chosen country after your current degree but it’s really the only Erasmus opportunity. The assistanceship, on the other hand, is available for you to do once you finish university and you are able to do it for several years in a row.
All in all, I’m glad I chose the assistanceship because it tailors more to what I would like to do in the future. Also, I needed to fund myself through the year and getting the teaching experience I need. However, part of me regrets not choosing Erasmus a little bit, because of the connections and activities that are provided for the Erasmus students.
When you are making the decision, think carefully about what is more important to you and what you would like to take from the year, because it is a big decision. But no matter what, I’m sure your year abroad will be incredible and filled with amazing experiences, no matter what you decide to do.