I was 11 years old when I fell madly in love with France. Ten years later, as soon as I graduated with a degree in English and Publishing, I decided to pack up my life in England and move to Paris. Did I just make it sound like it was the easiest decision in the world?
Well, as a matter of fact, the decision to voluntarily leave all behind was, to this day, my hardest choice ever.
To many of you who have moved here from the USA, Canada or Australia, this might not seem like a big deal. After all, England and France are neighbors. But even if the distance wasn’t far, the emotional move was heart-wrenching. I still remember the day I left my warm, comfortable home in Teignmouth, Devon and hugged my sister so tightly that I could barely breathe. I remember wondering if I had made a huge mistake to leave with only a loose work plan in place.
Little did I know, moving to France was no mistake. My unpredictable career path would open unforeseen doors that I never would have expected.
My first opportunity
Originally, I planned to stay in France for only nine months and have the gap year I missed at the age of 18. I also hoped a year abroad would help me clarify what I wanted to do career-wise.
My first job here was working as an au pair for a family in Maisons-Laffitte, a beautiful suburb 30 minutes outside of Paris. Becoming a nanny was easy because there are literally thousands of families out there looking for help. I found my post online. It’s important to find the right family and be sure that working with children is something you want to do. If you don’t love kids, don’t do this job.
Looking back, working as an au pair was the best way to ease into French life and still feel like I had a family taking care of me. My family was extraordinarily supportive in helping me adapt to a foreign country. Au pairing is a great way to experience life in Paris and learn French, as your schedule allows time for school.
However, childcare is only a short-term solution for young people here to experience the city and, as soon as I realized this, I started looking at the job market.
Teaching to Learn
In 2011, after browsing online, I spotted numerous job opportunities in the teaching profession. At first, I thought only people with a teaching degree could apply. Not so. In Paris, you are eligible to teach English as a foreign language if you have either a TEFL or a CELTA qualification. The CELTA is preferable, but even though I only had the TEFL, I was able to find a job. Both certificates can be completed as distance learning courses but do require a short time (a weekend, week or month depending on the course) to finalize the program outside of France. I did the bulk of the course in Paris and completed my qualifications during one weekend back in the UK. There are many companies to choose from to easily find the course that’s right for you.
Paris is always looking for English teachers at foreign language schools such as Wall Street English, Berlitz, Les Petits Bilingues and various independent centers that teach business English. Finding a teaching job here isn’t hard, and it’s ideal for cracking the job market and meeting other expatriates — especially if you don’t speak French! However, teachers of English as a foreign language earn minimum wage with little room for career progression. It’s a good rewarding starter job but, realistically, it’s not a long-term solution.
Moving up the ladder
I loved working as a teacher, but quickly became interested in other roles. I helped out at reception to practice my French, something that I found rather challenging. Speaking on the phone in French was so much more difficult than speaking to someone in person! At first, I couldn’t understand anything and was frustrated by the language barrier, but over time and with a lot of practice, things improved. My colleagues encouraged me to stay calm and to ask someone to repeat if necessary. They also taught me a number of key phrases that I could use to buy time, phrases that are invaluable in any job. So what began as a difficulty translated into a plus for improving my French!
Two years later, at the age of 24, I was promoted to the center’s Service Manager. To land the position, I passed three interviews and was up against 10 other candidates, so it wasn’t an easy feat. Personally, I think it was my good level of French, my positive attitude and dedication to the company that landed me the role.
Still, after two years in management, I became restless. Deep down I knew it wasn’t what I wanted to be doing with my life. I wanted to be a writer. I always had. I had simply lost sight of that dream whilst doing another job. So I had this sort of ‘now or never’ moment looking at my life; I had no kids, no mortgage, no debts of any kind and no constraints at all. Would I ever have this chance again? My mind was made up. I was going to take a leap of faith and see where I ended up.
I was back to square one. How on earth was I going to make enough money as a writer to survive? Even if I could freelance successfully, there is no guaranteed payday or a fixed price for articles.
How was I going to live in the most expensive city in the world with a flimsy income? The dream was quickly looking more like a nightmare…
My solution? I decided to return to being an au pair. I signed back onto the same website I used five years earlier and found myself a new family living in Neuilly-sur-Seine. Being an au pair allowed me free time to write and also provided a rent-free place to live.
So, how easy is it to live as a writer? Well, in all honesty, it’s very, very hard to do. I think if you’re an established writer and get paid regularly for your articles, you can work full-time. Unfortunately, diving straight in is precarious and I definitely learned my lesson the hard way. That’s why, if I can offer any advice about writing full-time it would be TRY IT OUT FIRST. Take some holiday from your current job and pen articles every day to see how you feel about writing 24/7. Personally, I realized that when my passionate hobby became my job, it also became a chore and something that I resented doing. This revelation shocked me.
I also missed going to work. I’m a social butterfly, so the lack of interaction was difficult for me. I found myself craving the office atmosphere. My past experience at Wall Street English school was unique because the company was intent on creating an enjoyable “American” atmosphere. We organized social events, lunches and helped each other to improve our English or French. I missed having my own mini-expatriate community and wanted to go back to work, badly!
Helping expats find work in Paris
Fast forward to 2016. I quickly realized that the job market had changed, with fewer jobs in customer service. More importantly, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I suddenly felt overwhelmed, and that’s where TMI International stepped in. TMI is one of several bilingual recruitment companies in Paris that help people with a good level of French (you don’t have to be 100% bilingual) to find a job. To use their services:
- Apply online and send your CV
- They will contact you for an interview
- You will do a test in French and English to assess your level
- You will be interviewed by the agency
- If they accept your candidature, they start organizing interviews for you immediately
My recruiting counselor was incredibly straightforward and helpful. Tanya advised me on the best steps to advance my career and helped me focus on what kind of job I wanted.
It took less than two weeks for TMI International to organize an interview for me with a big firm in Paris and just two days later, I got the job! TMI even helped organize my meeting with HR to sign my contract, and to top it all off, it didn’t cost me a thing! If you’re in for a career switch or simply searching for a new job, I recommend going through an agency. They do all the hard work for you (finding job offers and planning interviews) and can advise you on career moves.
I have now been in my new post for just over two months and I absolutely love it. The atmosphere in the bureau is fantastic. Our terrace looks out at the Eiffel Tower, and I work with the friendliest mix of people with different nationalities. Best of all, my new job allows me to balance both my work and my blog equally. Six years down the line, I can finally say I’m living and working ma vie en rose.