Thursday, January 30, 2014

Traveling to Every Girl's Dream City

Okay maybe that title's a bit much, after all London is my favorite city, but whatever. I wonder what do native Parisians think of this weird fascination foreigners have with their city. Do they laugh and scoff at all of the little girls with statues of Eiffel Towers in their bedrooms and dreams of sitting in little caf├ęs drinking espresso and eating croissants? 

Any way I am a procrastinator. I don't consider this a bad thing. Because deadlines are the fuel that light my fire and sometimes things come out more brilliantly because I did it in a mad dash (upside thinking) or at least that's what I tell myself to keep from dealing with the fact that this is a real problem, not an asset.

Most people think traveling abroad is really expensive, and it is, don't get me wrong. I put my time in, in order to fund this little excursion. I gave up shopping for almost six months (sort of) and believe me that's really freaking hard. 

But there are ways to get around selling a kidney in order to fund mad dash excursions. Mostly these include shopping around.

Traveling to Europe, in coach (ugh), is going to cost you around $1000. No matter how early you buy that ticket. I used Student Universe and thought I was getting a great deal because they were running a $30 off promo. I was going to end up spending $931. Not bad right? But I procrastinated and Wells Fargo is a really shitty bank and I ended running around trying to buy my plane ticket with only 13 days before my trip and ended up missing out. It wasn't such a big loss though because I ended going to Kayak (thanks to all of those damn commercials on tv invading my subconscious) and found a ticket for $653 on Turkish Airlines. 

I know what you're thinking because I thought it too, what kind of janky airlines only charges $600 for an international flight? Even if it's a winter fare, something in the milk ain't clean. But I was happy to save $300 because I could use it for other things (like handbags and shoes).

The only problem with this magically cheap ticket was that I would have to connect in Turkey and that thought did not appeal to me. I am bougie, and even worse I am a bougie American, the thought of not traveling AirFrance or United did not appeal to me. And being told that I would need to make a stop instead of traveling straight to was even worse. But if you have a long enough layover TA provides a really cool service while you wait. They will take you around Turkey and show you the sights, so you don't have to end up just sitting in the airport, having visited Turkey (technically) without actually seeing it and free hotel stay in a posh Turkish hotel. When you get into the airport look for the information desk so they can get you a place on the tour and shuttle you to your hotel.

I was afraid that after connecting in Turkey and getting on another plane I'd be on something being held together with duck tape and prayer, and I'm an atheist so fat load of luck that would do me, plus we were flying in winter. I've seen enough disaster scenarios to know that ice can fuck shit up. Not to mention I was really worried becuase Texas was having some really weird weather, and I was afraid my flight would be delayed or bumped, and I would be stuck in an airport.

What I've learned is, if you are used to traveling United or Air France for your international flights, it's probably best you avoid a relatively unknown (in the US) like Turkish. The plane was packed to the rafters because a) the ticket price I'm sure and b) because everyone was connecting to another flight in Istanbul, every destination you could imagine was on the flight. The plane itself looked like something out of 1982. And the two douchebgas I was sandwiched inbetween did not help. The flight was uncomfortable, more than most international flights in economy. If you can spring for the upgrade, go for it. I would have myself but I had to pay extra baggage fees because of the weight of my luggage so I had to forgo (I know, gasp, I was actually thinking of my finances).

They feed you two meals and provide wifi so it's not complete slave trade like conditions. And I think every international flight from the US is equipped with headrest screens (I haven't been on one that doesn't) so you can catch up on all of those movies you haven't had time to watch. My Canadian friend said when she flew from Toronto her airline didn't have this and just handed out iPads to make up for it lol). But for the extra $300 you're going to spend for comfort class you can get a regular ticket on Air France or United and get more space and a newer aircraft. 

The stewardesses were nice enough but the planes were freezing. Not having slept much the night before, not getting any sleep on the plane, connecting in Istanbul, having to be shuttled and then walk the tarmac (I didn't know this was still a thing) to get on the plane, the flight being delayed, the gate being changed without warning, the non helpfulness of the gate crew when my passport went missing, it wasn't worth the savings. Frankly pay the $1000 and just get a direct flight with the bigger companies. It's so much easier.

When I was finally picked up at the airport my driver told me that this was the last time he would be picking someone up coming from this airlines because every time he does the airline is always late. So there you have it. 

Oh and for a recommendation regarding car pick up from the airport I suggest Inter Service Prestige. They were only €65 (because it was after 9) and out of the other two, they were the ones nice enough to put up with my neurotic ass (my mother left me at school a few times so I have abandonment issues). And there is nothing nicer than knowing that when you get off the plane, someone is waiting for you. Especially at midnight, in a city where you don't speak the language, you don't know the area, and you don't know anyone. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Madness Driving My Insanity

There are a million blogs about moving to Paris, why add to it? Well I guess because I got tired of reading all of the idealistic blogs where everything seems to go perfectly and thought 'what am I reading a Nora Ephron script?'. Sometimes we need some realism right? You can't live life thinking it's all sunshine and rainbows and then being disappointed when it doesn't end up as perfect as everyone else's expereince. At least one person needs to be like 'this is my experience and it sucked.'

Well let's not jump ahead of ourselves, maybe I'll get lucky and I'll have some Richard Curtis style experience (but you know French instead of British)? Maybe not. I'm a realistic pessimist and that's not going to change.

So Why Paris?

Cedric Dequin

This French guy got the better of me. If you're ever in San Antonio and meet a guy named Cedric he won't tell you this at first (in fact try weeks later), but once he gets you into a vacant hallway, and shoves his hands (or head) up your skirt, and his tongue in your mouth, he'll let you know that he's married. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. I know, how cliche, a cheating Frenchman. 

Any way I got the idea that I needed some fresh scenery, so why not Paris? Actually it was supposed to be Antibes (from previous experience), but then it somehow became Paris because there were more opportunities there, versus in the south of France.

On to the How...

So first off moving to Paris if you're an American sucks. Americans are not a disadvantaged people, we have no reason to move to another first world country. In fact it's pretty damn near impossible. Unless you have lots and lots of money (you can buy Maltese citizenship for €546,000).

Short of marrying a European, or getting a long term visa because you have a really obscure skill (like being Kanye West), you're only going to get about 90 days. If you have tons of cash just itching to be spent you could try living on what you have and applying for a carte sejour. You would just need to make yearly trips to the Prefecture to prove you have enough money to live in the country on your own.

Basically, if you have enough start up money, but not enough to sustain you for months on end, your only other option, if you're not a student, and you don't have a company willing to sponser a visa for you, is to try to become a nanny. If you're like me, and you don't really do children, this can be quite a daunting task. Somehow I doubt its anything like The Nanny portrays it to be. 

There is one more option that is kind of the same but goes by a different name and it's called "cultural exchange tutor", and that's what I applied for. 


I found this website called Interexchange and that's what started off this whole mad journey. They offer tutoring jobs. In exchange for teaching some family English you get room and board. Sounds like a pretty good deal huh? Until you get to the fine print. 

I started my application, and paid the fee, and waited the 4-6 weeks like they asked. Then I heard nothing. So after sitting like a plonker for a few weeks I contacted them to see what the deal was. Turns out my application was incomplete, they needed more. In order for them to begin looking it over I needed childcare references, a collage (like I was in the 6th grade again cutting out pictures from Teen Vogue), and an essay for why I would be a good nanny.

Um what? Hold up. I told them I didn't apply for a nanny job. In fact I had asked for adult learners, but they were like 'it's just a formality'. But they wouldn't process my application without it. Even though I explained that I had no childcare references because I've never worked with children, and have no plans to start, they said 'it has to be turned in if you want to take part in the program'.

And then I started to to think about it... I was giving them $790 for them to find me a host family, the host family was paying them however much to participate as well, interexchange is exploiting both of us, why am I paying them? So I requested my money back and said 'screw it I can do it on my own' (you can but it takes some work).

That's Where TEFL Comes In

So during my research into this tutor thing I learned that there's a huge demand for English speakers to go to non-English speaking countries and teach them English because colonialism rules and England won that war (go English language!) and soon enough everyone will speak English, so people gotta learn. There aren't many countries in Europe who have a demand but low and behold France is one of them (and Italy and Spain) so I found another option.

After some research (Google worked overtime), I ended up deciding on the online version of the TEFL (you save like $1000), and frankly I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible so I could start my new awesome experience. But Murphy's Law rules my world and it wasn't meant to be. 

Before we continue I should probably tell you I am overly inquisitive. I analyze and question and analyze until I'm sure I know what's what. So what did I do with this TEFL thing? I bugged the shit out of them for weeks asking tons of questions. Their site isn't very helpful to be honest and it gives you very flourishy descriptions without actually telling you anything about it. All of the information you need isn't available until after you give them money. It's pretty fucked up. But once I was sure I knew everything I handed them the $240 fee and said "let's do this". 

You go into this online thing thinking, oh it's online I'll just spend every hour of every day on it and finish it in like a day. Um no. This thing caps you. You're only allowed to take 3 tests a day so basically "at your own pace" is really a minimum of 6 days. 

Now teaching English sounds easy enough right? I mean I already speak it how hard can it be? But then you start getting into second grade stuff and it's like fuuucckkk English is really complicated. I really feel for English learners. 

Don't get me wrong, grammar, and tenses, and syntax, and that was one of my favorite things to do growing up. I used to complete those little worksheets like a boss. Future present tense had nothing on me. But after not having paid attention to it in like 20 years I had kind of forgotten the actual basics of what compromises our language and started bombing the hell out of my TEFL tests. At the end of it I got a 74.3%. One of my minors is bloody English! (Ok literature but whatever). 

And I don't even want to teach, I'm just looking for something to supplement my savings, and get me a visa so I can hang out in France for a few months. But any way it's actually more complicated than it seems and they don't exactly tell you that up front. Just an FYI you need a 75% to pass the course. And if you get a low score you can't make up anything. The only option is to take it again and that costs $150. Well you can guess what I told them. 

I can honestly say if teaching isn't your thing, like something you are genuinely passionate about, don't do it. Using it as an avenue to move abroad is not the way to go unless your dream in life has always been to teach. I've read blogs from English teachers in other countries and it sounds like horrible, low paying work. There's a very funny blog by a guy teaching in South Asia that I'll include in the links. 

If you do decide to go the route be very careful about what school you apply to work at and what country you go to. Try being a freelancer (so you can avoid predatory schools), try being knowledgeable in something really obscure (like medical English instead of just plain English) as you'll get paid more, and try to research which countries are less saturated so you don't end up less in demand (remember there are tons of people who are also teaching English as a means to live abroad and what did Economics teach us? Supply and demand. less demand, less $$$). 

I have no plans to be a teacher and I don't think I would have liked being one. I was a teachers assistant one year, which sounds all noble but isn't. I had high grades and high test scores, and I was in honors classes growing up (fancy title which just means your level is more advanced than your grade), so I guess they figured I would be a good candidate, and they offered me the position in exchange for extra credit. FYI just because you're smart, doesn't mean you're going to make a good teacher. I ended up assisting a remedial reading class and it was some Gangsta's Paradise shit without the epiphany. No bueno. 

In the end I decided just to move for the 90 days, have some fun and then come back and finally put an end to my life as a career student. I'm an American Millenial, growing up is hard to do. 

Another Option

So I should mention if children are your thing, and you like taking care of them, becoming an au pair is a good option for you. Most au pairs in Paris have their own studios (yea! No insane Paris rent), you get paid (at least) £80 a week, and you have to take French lessons so you're forced to learn French. It's an easy enough way to live in another country. 

Some sites to try: