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From the grand boulevards of Paris to the palm tree lined beachfront in Nice, France is an incredibly diverse country with plenty of opportunities for those considering a gap year abroad. Whether you are taking in art at the Louvre, visiting majestic castles in the Loire Valley, lounging on the Riviera along the Mediterranean, or hitting the slopes in the Alps, one thing that will never disappoint is the food--France's internationally acclaimed cuisine earned itself a spot on UNESCO's "intangible cultural heritage" list in 2010. Delectable food, charming villages and lively cities, a varying landscape which includes snow-capped mountains, sandy beaches, and rocky cliffs, the center of fashion, and a thriving art scene--these are only a few of the reasons that make France a popular destination to spend a gap year abroad.
For those wanting to take a gap year (or just a few "gap months") learning French, there are a variety of short and long term programs you can choose from in France. Language immersion programs like CESA Languages Abroad and Aspire by API have several kinds of options available and welcome all language levels from total beginner to the more advanced. Some programs last a few weeks while others last a full semester (3-4 months) or a full academic year. While most people may not look beyond Paris, there are programs in many cities around France such as Nice, Grenoble, Cannes, and Montpellier. Pick the program that feels right for you-- don't forget to take into account program length, cost, and location.
Another popular choice for those considering a gap year in France is teaching English. Most places hiring native English speakers in France usually require their employees to have TEFL or TESOL certification. If you do not have TEFL/TESOL certification, you may want to look into taking a course and getting certified. TEFL/TESOL certification courses are offered worldwide and online. There are a number of TEFL certification courses available in various cities in France including Paris, Toulouse, Lyon, Nice, and Montpelier. Once you pass the certification course (which usually lasts about a month), you can start applying for teaching jobs in France. If you do not want to get TEFL certified, you can also apply to the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF) run by the French Ministry of Education which assigns native English speakers a 12 hour per week teaching schedule in elementary or secondary schools. The program runs from October to April and you must have a B1 level of French and be between 20 and 30 years of age. In addition, you can also give private lessons and advertise your services at a local Internet cafe or supermarket or online.
Internships are another great way to improve your French and gain professional experience, not to mention they look very impressive on a resume. Internships are typically reserved for college and grad students and are seldom paid since they are usually done for school credit. Certain organizations like Cultural Embrace by API will help you find an internship placement in your field of interest and will guide you through the application process. If you are considering getting an internship in France, you should have an intermediate to advanced level of French.
Living in France, especially in Paris, can be very expensive. Housing prices in Paris are similar to what you would find in major American cities like New York City. Currently rent prices in Paris are at 25-30 euros per square meter. Expect to pay between 500-600 euros for a one bedroom apartment in France. For utilities, you will probably pay between 60-100 euros a month and for Internet about 30 euros a month (if you aren't living with roommates). Outside of Paris, the cost of living tends to be cheaper. Certain things like clothes and electronics are much more expensive in France, but on the bright side wine and cheese are a lot cheaper!
French people greet each other by doing la bise: greeting each other with a kiss on each cheek. This greeting applies to two girls greeting each other, a guy and a girl, and occasionally two guys will greet each other this way if they are good friends or if they are family. If you are meeting a large group of French people for the first time, you will be expected to do la bise with every single one! If French people come across as distant and cold when first upon meeting them, don't take it personally. It takes awhile for the French to warm up to strangers, but once you have been invited into their homes, you will have made a friend for life. Also, never show up early when invited to a French person's house. It is considered rude to show up on time--arrive about fifteen to twenty minutes late.
Always address people who are not friends or family by the formal "vous." Friends and close acquaintances are addressed by informal "tu."
When entering a store, always greet the employee with a "Bonjour." When you leave, don't forget to say "Au revoir." Avoid wearing sweatpants and leggings in public unless you are going for a run. French people dress with style over comfort in mind, so definitely no wearing your pajamas while running out to buy the newspaper!
Try not to ask, "Do you speak English?" in English. You expect foreign tourists visiting the United States to know a few basic phrases in English, right? The French expect the same of tourists knowing a few basic phrases of French when visiting France.
France is a relatively safe country, but the usual rules apply when traveling to any foreign place: use good judgment and err on the side of caution. Pick-pocketing and residential break-ins are the two most common crimes directed against foreign visitors. Be extra vigilant in heavily frequented tourist sites such as museums, train stations, the subway, and national monuments. Never leave your belongings unattended. Women should especially be careful when walking alone at night--try to walk with a friend if possible. Women should also avoid prolonged eye contact and smiling at men they do not know in the street or on public transportation. Men in France tend to take this as a sign of interest and will use it as an excuse to approach you, which may lead to an uncomfortable situation. For more detailed information about health and safety in France, you can consult the U.S. Department of State's website.
France ranks consistently as the most visited country in the world and for good reason. Unsurpassed opportunities to eat first rate cuisine for foodies, unparalleled art exhibitions for museum lovers, diverse topography that permits sports enthusiasts to challenge their limits, and quintessential European cafes for those that just like to sit and people watch. France has something to offer for everyone--no wonder it is the most visited country!
Amelie Milet is from Rye, New York and first studied abroad in the fall of 2008 in Malaga, Spain. After college, she returned to Spain and lived in Madrid for two years. She loves to travel and you can read about her adventures abroad on her blog at Amelie Says Hola and can also follow @AmelieSaysHola.
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