Bureacracy

Visa Vision

For all of you who have been following my adventures over the past few years, and those of you stumbling upon my blog at a later date, you might have thought that I disappeared into the abyss that is Danbury, CT. That is, I haven’t updated you on my trials and tribulations, my struggles and successes since arriving well over a month ago in the region known as New England.

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Eid al Fitr fun

I’m still alive. I even made friends. From my first few weeks of Spartan living to figuring out the new culture of the corporate world, I have thrived so far in Connecticut – I’ve managed to shape it into the kind of environment I crave wherever I choose to live : diverse, multicultural, full of language and culture and good food and great people. In the span of a few short weeks, I have learned more about Brazil – actually I have learned a ton about Brazil, from my Brazilian colleagues, the Brazilian language trainers I hunt for on the internet and interact with via telephone and email, and the Brazilian exchange student I will soon be big-sistering as a volunteer for my former high school exchange program – and Pakistan, Russia, Azerbaijan, small town upstate New York, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Spain, Italy, and Germany, from the lovely Germans with whom I interact (albeit virtually) on a daily basis.

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This whole time I have begun and finished the month of Ramadan, my third and the hardest yet physically. It’s a beautiful, beautiful month in which to meet people and to sample savory new dishes, to gorge yourself on rich pudding and basboussa. I feel so blessed to have met such wonderful people who invited me to break fast with them for a fabulous last week of Ramadan.

Time's Square... for all of 4 seconds (we're too cool for school)

Time’s Square… for all of 4 seconds (we’re too cool for school)

I visited a dear friend in New York, after seven months apart (despite our 10 minute conversation during my brief stop-over in New York City in June).  We walked everywhere – the High Line, through Central Park, along the Hudson (which I mistook for an ocean, silly me), back and forth throughout Manhattan.  We also witnessed this fun ensemble:

I had another friend drive all the way from New Jersey to come visit me… that’s the Midwesterner in me, thinking that passing through three states is far away – it was only a two-hour drive. We sampled Mediterranean food at a very strange kitsch restaurant. I have gone out with my coworkers, to a diner for delicious breakfast, numerous shopping excursions and trips to Whole Foods with L and M, farewell lunches for those leaving the company at a Chinese restaurant and a new Meatball place (Mima’s Meatballs, the vegetarian meatballs and frittes are fabulous!).

All of this new is somewhat filling in the hole where the old used to be. That is, somewhat. Come Monday, I will begin my first ever “school year” where I am not physically in a school building, listening to professors or grabbing a bite to eat with classmates. I’m still trudging through my MBA classes (economics this session, I’m actually really excited!), but online classes are a result of necessity and convenience, not because of preference or choice. For seventeen or more years, my life had been defined by the rhythm of the school year – summers, back to school, holidays, world travel, study abroad, exams. Now it is subdivided into quarterly earnings, sick leave, vacation time, and metrics.

The biggest aching hole, besides missing the culture, food, and people I left behind (you always leave someone behind somewhere), is what you could call my other half. What’s taking so long? When is Hedi going to arrive? What’s new with Hedi’s visa? Have you set a date for the wedding? The answer is no, no, I don’t know, I wish I did.  We are nearly 75 days into the visa process, with no news. For the K-1 visa, the agony is the waiting, the separation, the not knowing when or where or how. Five months waiting for the NOA-2, assuming we don’t get an RFE (request for evidence, the dreaded horror of all American+international couples trying to emigrate to the United States), probably a month to get our file sent to the National Visa Center and then sent onward to the American Consulate in Tunis, while trying to sort out paperwork, proof of financial sponsorship, medical visits, background checks, tax forms, all while waiting for THE interview that we have been dreading, which he has to do alone.  I’m hoping for a nice birthday surprise for Hedi in November, or an end of the year bonus in December, or a New Year’s blessing come January… the waiting has been driving me insane, and it’s only been three months since this whole journey began.

In the meantime, I’ve been keeping myself busy – two jobs, volunteering, learning Italian and eventually German, Arabic, and Portuguese, taking classes, meeting people, making friends, being an adult. Let’s hope the wait time is a period for growth and for savings, for deepened friendships and new beginnings. Insha’allah.

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Categories: Bureacracy, Daily Life, Repatriation, Visa | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

La Chasse au trésor

Information in France is a precious commodity.  It’s worth its weight in gold.  It’s certainly not a dime a dozen.  [Insert clichéd phrase about how valuable and/or hard to get it is].

Academie_d-Amiens

Over the last five months that I’ve lived in France, and to a lesser extent, my 13 months previously spent in Europe, I’ve discovered that to do well you not only have to know what to ask but who to ask.  Like most labyrinthine bureaucracies and red-taped governments, France has a lot of administrative paperwork and backlogged offices that prevent you from knowing what you want when you want.  Luckily, my information-getting goals have been relatively straightforward since setting my sights on life in France.  In 2011-2012, it involved figuring out how to move to France, via the complicated and long process of applying to Masters programs on the CampusFrance website.  Since arriving in France, I have been trying to figure out the somewhat complicated procedures for becoming a teacher in France and finding a job in general.

With the second semester rentrée de classe underway, I began my job search in earnest, trying to pick up tidbits of information right and left.  My first week back into classes, I responded to online ads for cours particuliers, tutoring, conversation classes, or homework help.  By chance, I had a response to one such ad from a company that sets tutors up with potential students, in a kind of Kaplan learning center.  The woman who called me the next day happened to work for such a company in Amiens and was interested in my profile in general.  Despite the fact that I had applied online to work for them at least twice over the past few months, I finally had caught the attention of someone.  A few days later and a couple of job applications filled out and resumes sent in, I received a phone call from the same company, offering me a one hour a week job teaching English.

On Monday, I stopped by the Center, expecting an interview or some other formality, but as far as the woman was concerned, I was already hired.  She went over procedures and expectations, and I strolled out of the office feeling slightly better about myself.  An extra 12€ a week isn’t much more than what I was making before, but it’s certainly a start.  The only obstacle I was facing was a phone call to the potential student’s parents, in order to confirm our weekly lesson (and I have a horror of phone calls).

I next ventured over to the Rectorat of the Académie d’Amiens, a maze of a building that houses everything to do with education in the entire Picardie region.  I had initially planned on getting information concerning my eligibility to take the CAFEP-CAPES, the teaching exam that allows you to teach in private schools. However, someone had previously mentioned to me that I should ask for an application to become a substitute teacher, which had slipped my mind completely.  I arrived in the massive building and immediately asked for directions.  The woman at l’accueil handed me a slip of paper showing a map of the building and the bureau I needed to find in order to get my answers.  I dutifully took the map and went up in the elevator, crossing the entire length of the building before arriving.  I gave a ten second spiel (“I’m a foreigner looking for info about the CAFEP-CAPES”), and they immediately told me to go to another office.  This office indeed dealt with private schools, and they offered me a job application for substitute teaching, but they had nothing to do with the concours and sent me off to a third office.  By the time I reached this office, I was convinced that I was on some weird and convoluted scavenger hunt – the third office immediately sent me two doors down.  At last, I had the right people to ask about the exam.  They told me, five seconds into my spiel, that I didn’t have to do anything else to take the teaching exam besides prove that I had my undergraduate diploma and was registered in the first year Masters.  No need to request a casier judiciaire, a background check, or any other nonsense until I actually passed the exams.  Furthermore, the “permission” to work as a teacher in France – the initial object of my search – was to be obtained at the Préfecture, not at the Rectorat.  I had walked 200 meters in a circle for no good reason!

Except, I must remind myself, I have obtained some very, very valuable information.

When I met later that day with my unofficial “adviser”, the director of the English teaching Masters in Amiens who’s been helping me sort all this out, she just scoffed – “That’s France for you.”

Q: What is European heaven?
A: The Germans look after administration, the English are the policemen, the French do the cooking and the Italians are the lovers.
Q: And what is European hell?
A: The English do the cooking, the Germans are the lovers, the Italians are the policemen and… the French look after administration.

Categories: Amiens, Bureacracy, France, Working in France | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Manifest’on local

Today feels like a good day for a protest. There’s no sun to cast shadows across my computer screen, just a washed-out gray sky bringing to mind the world of The Giver. It’s not really cold, but there’s a damp chill which creeps into my room, causing mold to sprout on the walls and sealing my envelopes before I have time to send them. My morning is spent in that strange world of translating computer science technicalities into English, and I feel like yelling at someone at the CAF for failing to give me subsidized housing for three straight months. Wanting a brisk stroll, I take my five flights of stairs three steps at time and head to where, normally, the CAF is located. I make it there in record time, passing an unusual number of policemen directing traffic away from la préfecture. Policemen make me nervous, so I give them a wide berth.

The CAF has a sign plastered on the front door, telling me that they’ve moved again. I assume that they are back where they were originally located, a few months ago, and that the interminable travaux have finally been completed. But I’m not too good with street names, so I’m taking a gamble. I gambol along and notice that a lot of the streets have been blocked off and that, again, there’s a lot of policemen. I pass in front of l’armurerie, which is the first I’ve seen here in France. I think of the gun debate that’s taking place in the United States and I shiver in spite of myself. I hear mute pops that sound like gunshots.  There’s a group of people holding signs, marching down the main throughway, followed by a parade of large tractors, flanked by helicopters and motorcycle cops.  I spot les CRS, the riot control forces.  The banner reads, Les jeunes agriculteurs. Is this a protest? A show of pride? There’s currently a national taxi strike going on in the country. I snap a few photos and take a video, feeling slightly subversive.

I reach the CAF, right where I expected it to be located, only to find that on Thursday January 10, exclusively, it closes at 15h45. Five minutes before I arrive at its doors. Police officers are less suitable candidates for yelling at, so I film the manif’ as it progresses along the avenue.

I circle back to my apartment, feeling both rebellious and disappointed.  I’ve just finished reading Everything in this Country Must. I think I’m reading too much about Irish revolutionaries for my own good. I’m channeling Enjolras from Les Miserables. I open my lovely Mac, its face neon in the dim grayness of my room, and discover that yes, I have indeed witnessed a manifestation in the works.

“150 agriculteurs manifestent ce jeudi à Amiens contre une directive européenne qui élargit le périmètre des zones vulnérables. Ces zones pollués ou susceptibles de l’être aux nitrates. Le principal syndicat agricole, la FNSEA estime que cette directive impose trop de contraintes pour un secteur déjà en difficultés.” france bleu

When in France, do as the French do.  And that’s protest.  For Everyone in this Country Must.

Categories: Amiens, Bureacracy, Daily Life, France, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

La grève des bus

“Je ne suis pas en ligne…”

You could see the bright yellow lights on the front of the bus where normally the end of the line would be written.  Sorry, I am not in service… Bus not taking any passengers.  Yes, in what has become a disaster for the average, non-car-owning, bicycle-less, bus-taking college student and foreigner who knows no one who owns a car, la grève des bus me fait vraiment chier. (Pardon my French!)

It happened over a week ago: a bus driver attacked in the troubled North neighborhood of Amiens, a stone (?) thrown at her window, and who knows what else.  Starting on Friday, November 23, the bus drivers went on strike – either refusing to drive their buses or driving them around without taking passengers anywhere.  To make matters worse, you could see the odd bus still doing its job, but usually heading off to a godforsaken part of Amiens you have no reason to see or the very bus you need, but in the opposite direction, with you knowing that it’ll take another hour and a half to turn around.  One bus for every hour, and you see the very one glide away maliciously as you arrive a second late to the bus stop.  Or, even worse, the very bus you need, arriving on time to your bus stop, only to have it pull up beside you and the bus driver get out, with no replacement driver in sight.  To see the buses parked here and there around the city, when you have an exam that day and a forty minute walk uphill in the freezing cold.

It really hasn’t been as bad as I have made it out to be.  Generally, I am rather sympathetic with Socialism as a whole and with the efficacity of unions in France to make their voices heard when things aren’t as they should be.  France is known for its famous grèves, such as the complete shutdown of the university system in the Spring of 2009 (the last time there was a university-led strike; several French people have told me, “We are due for another one soon”), or the standstill of public transportation that can take place on a national or local level, with trains, planes, buses, and metro systems  halted.  It causes chaos, it’s particularly effective, and it gets the point across very very quickly.  If such a thing were to take place in the States, there would be cries of “anarchists” and less of an overall tendency to be in solidarity with those on strike.

The particularly annoying aspect of this strike is that it has lasted over a week, without a clear resolution.  This weekend, the bus drivers and the direction of the bus service (i.e. people in charge) are appearing before a judge.  If you were to have looked on the website concerning the state of our local transportation, the general “sorry, buses will be running again soon” would usually appear inaccurate or misleading, because what the employers wanted was not necessarily what the bus drivers agreed to do.  Over the past week, I must have walked over 25 kilometers.  I walked to pay my rent, walked twice to teach my tutoring session in English, walked three times there and back to the university for class.  I’ve walked to the train station twice, down to Saint Leu a hundred times, and up my five-story apartment (with no elevator) more times than I care to count.  Luckily Amiens is such a walkable city, with whole roads for “pedestrians only.”  But now I am seriously considering renting a bicycle…

bus-ametis

To read more about Amiens on strike:

Courrier picard
Picardie 3
Categories: Amiens, Bureacracy, Daily Life, France | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Visite d’OFII

In the past four years of my life, where I have three times over experienced what it means to be an “other,” someone who does not quite belong, as I have made close and lasting friendships with immigrants both in France and the United States, and as I myself have attempted to emigrate, I have never felt more like a foreigner than when going to the routine “visite d’OFII.”  For those of you who might never have requested a “visa de long séjour” or spent more than three months in France on a visa, you won’t be very familiar with this procedure.  In essence, all visa-holders coming from non-European Union countries are required to declare their presence on the French territory from the moment they arrive in their host city and have their visa stamped at customs.

Within the next three months, l’OFII (The French Office of Immigration and Integration, there’s one in each major French city) will at whim send you a convocation to attend one (or two, this time) rendez-vous in which you will get a shiny sticker on your passport that serves as your titre de séjour (residency permit).  You must pay 58 € in addition to the 50 € paid when you originally requested your visa (not to mention the 70 € I paid for Campus France!), and you must undergo a standard radiograph examination (to make sure you don’t have TB) and a doctor’s visit.  The whole process takes several hours, as they cram at least fifty people into each interview time slot, and you have no say over when the visit will be scheduled.  If you fail to show up the first time, they will send you a warning with another time slot, and then if you still don’t show up, you will not be permitted back into France if you leave l’espace Schengen (the Schengen zone).  And once you have your vignette, you are good to go for the remainder of your visa.  This visit is only required for the first year of a visa/titre de long séjour.

However, if you leave France and come back with another visa de long séjour (as in my case), you are required to attend yet again this uncomfortable and lengthy medical/administrative visit, regardless of the fact that you might be in the same city at the same school with a folder full of radiographs and medical reports from your visit a year ago.  Whatever, it’s another bureaucratic hurdle that I have to overcome in order to live in France.

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t always feel like a foreigner when living in France.  After all, I’m descended from white Europeans, even look relatively “European” (I’m small and brunette and blue-eyed), and I don’t wear the headscarf.  I speak passably fluent French that for the past four years I have been trying to perfect, including my accent.  Although when I speak, a Francophone would be able to identify me as a non-Francophone, he is often not able to pinpoint the country (USA) or even the language group (English-speaker), unless he is very familiar with certain idiosyncracies of the English language (ways of structuring our thoughts, a tendency to speak with the back of our mouth, and, in my case, a lack of consistency in pronouncing the French “u”).  I always take it as a compliment that they might not know where I’m from, as a signal that my French has vastly improved.  My friends tend to be cosmopolitan, prone to travel, and conscious of what it’s like to live, even briefly, in another country, or they are foreigners themselves, in which case I feel like co-conspirators.  But occasionally, even among friends, I am made to feel like an un-invited guest, or as a representative of my country seemingly having all the answers for “why we do what we do” (as if I am responsible for all 312 million U.S. citizens or for the government’s actions worldwide).  Being American abroad makes you both proudly conscious and ashamed of your heritage, with a schizophrenic need to justify something over which you have largely no control.  Neither my Swiss second family nor my multinational group of friends understands why I don’t immediately volunteer “I’m from the U.S.!” upon being acquainted with a stranger or when buying vegetables.  Apparently, being from a different country requires you to constantly wear a name tag that you must pull out on demand.  And to think I wanted to “blend in.”

But despite my whining, I must admit that I really have no idea what I am talking about when it comes to being an immigrant.  Sure, I have to deal with all the incredibly annoying bureaucratic requirements, but so does the majority of people who live in France.  Sure, I have a little accent and grow red when I have to “defend” things that happen in the U.S. that I was never ok with, but I am not a real immigrant.  I am a privileged white American who is here to study a Master’s in France, and I have the luxury of returning to my home country whenever (theoretically) I like.  I chose to come to France, and I did not flee war, terror, poverty, lack of job opportunities, or famine, and France does not place a quota on the number of U.S. citizens who choose to study abroad.  I had been separated from a loved one for only one year.  I might face ignorance or bigotry because of my nationality, but I will not suffer from the implicit racism that most North African Arabs and sub-Saharan Africans perceive on arriving upon French soil.   I speak French and English, the two most highly valued languages for finding a job in France.

As I sat for an hour in a small, cramped room at l’OFII last Friday, my e-reader in hand as I tried to pass the time, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone in the room, myself and one other excluded, was of African or Asian descent.  (Europeans do not have to pass through l’OFII).  As I snuck a look at some of the passports, I remarked that a disproportionate number of individuals came from former French colonies or “areas of influence” such as Senegal or Morocco.  In the post-colonial era, why is it that so many former colonies still educate their young in French?  Why is it that there are so few job opportunities or that so many students try to make a life in France instead of their own country?  Were these all students? Here on exchange or for the full five to eight years of undergraduate-masters-doctors study?  What does this all mean?

I’d appreciate your comments if you have any insight or would like to share your own experiences as an immigrant/emigrant abroad.

Categories: Amiens, Bureacracy, Daily Life, Expats, France, Immigration | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Visa Woes

Exactly a month has gone by since I last posted on Expatlove, and a lot has happened since then.  I want to update you on a few of the key developments in my life before moving on to a topic of interest – obtaining a visa for living in France.

I graduated, summa cum laude, and with one recognition, “Outstanding French Senior.”  I am not sure whether or not this particular degree will come in handy in the future, but it was a journey, an education, and a mostly positive experience.  I have no regrets.

Graduation

In a way, American university is like a fairy tale compared to the rest of the world’s higher education.  Luxurious, manicured lawns, professors who invite students to their townhouses to talk over dinner about philosophy and politics, fully-equipped fitness centers with swimming pools.  There are sororities and fraternities and honors societies and pre-professional programs that have little to do with Law School or Medical School or Dental School.  It’s the Life of the Mind, and it’s a nice retreat from the real world.  A few of my friends would like to spend the rest of their lives in this environment, as college professors.  Nothing could be a more apt ending than the iconic American graduation ceremony, where with tassel, cap, and gown we stride across a stage to receive an empty diploma case – it’s all symbolic, of course.

Commencement ceremony

I’ve also been doing a bit of local traveling, such as over Memorial Day weekend when I attended a family reunion at my father’s family’s historic residence for over four generations, in the middle of Northern Missouri.  I caught up with cousins and second cousins and first cousins once removed, and I snapped quite a few shots of the family graveyard, which holds the tombstones of my grandfather, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents, and great-great-great-grandparents, the patriach and matriarch of the family.  This man was quite wealthy and made the town into something back in the 1860’s, when he built this big brick house and barn, which are both in sad states of decay.  The façade is worth a peek, though.

Red brick houseI met up with my female friends from college in Chicago, Illinois, and Naperville, Illinois this past weekend.  Besides touring the city, we also ran like crazy painted fools in the Chicago Color Run, where at every few kilometers volunteers throw colored powder at us.  Chicago is one of my absolute favorite cities in the United States, of the few that I have visited.  It has fantastic architecture, lakefront promenades, beautiful parks, and plenty of culture without losing its good-natured Midwestern laissez-faire attitude.

Here’s a snapshot of my favorite café in Chicago, Intelligentsia, which is a specialty coffeehouse that rivals, and in some ways surpasses, the one I work for in St. Louis.  It was the highlight of a trip full of bad to mediocre coffee experiences, after now four weeks of endless cups of free cappuchinos, side cars, pour overs, and espressos under my belt.

Naperville was truly a paradise for a recently-graduated-from-college shopping trip.  Cute little boutiques, bookstores, cafes, William Sonoma (just for ogling), and a nice shady tree for picnicking.

What else have I been doing with my time?  Working non-stop mostly, in order to pay for my upcoming Master’s in France.  And trying to figure out all the items needed for the difficult process of obtaining a French visa.

  • I decided to accept the offer from Amiens, France, to pursue my Master’s in English literature at the Université de Picardie Jules Verne.
  • I bought a one-way plane ticket for the end of August to fly from Chicago to Paris.
  • I pulled out my hair trying to figure out how to come up with the $820 per month that is required to prove my financial support as an independent student.

Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, you might say.  A few clicks of the mouse and I am already on my way to France…  not exactly.

This is the third time I have sought a visa to live for more than three months (which is granted “visa-free” to Americans who choose to travel to Europe) in Europe in the last four years, but this is the only time I have felt the stress and anxiety of the whole process.

Unlike other countries’ consulates, the French consulate of Chicago, which represents the greater Midwest, requires that you arrive in person for a pre-arranged visa appointment.  If you are missing even a single required item, you must return at a later date and rebook an appointment.  Like any great bureaucracy, France requires a multitude of items in order to be granted a visa, and even a student visa is hard to obtain when the student is applying directly to a French university (as opposed to an exchange faciliated by an American program or university).  The scariest element of the process is the unexplicably negative response that you might be given, as you are left feeling helpless and must request an appeal to your visa refusal before ever setting foot in France.  And the waiting as the verdict is delivered.

Okay, so I am exaggerating a bit, and no, I have not yet received my visa for this Fall.  I have an appointment booked for later in the summer.  Next post, I will walk you through the steps of applying for a visa along with an explanation of the types of visas that you might encounter if you choose to live in France.

Has anyone else experienced applying for a student visa in France?  What was the experience like for you?

Categories: Bureacracy, France, Immigration, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

How to Move to France

Salut.  Despite the thirteen months that I’ve lived abroad in France and Switzerland, I have never been faced with the conundrum of immigrating to Europe all on my own. Little by little I’ve been tossed over into the sea of chaos that is the French bureaucracy and the red tape of immigration paperwork.  My first two experiences abroad were facilitated by student exchange programs, one for high school students who depended completely on host families to take care of them, the second cushioned by my university’s study abroad office.  My four-month stay in France was not the typical American “study abroad” – the direct-exchange threw many Americans for a loop, accustomed to a style of education where everything is delivered to them on a platter. Nevertheless, the paperwork and hurdles one faces as a student independently applying to a French graduate school program center around one daunting online process: CampusFrance.usa.

In short, moving to France as a young, inexperienced American is easier said than done.  First of all, there are two important factors to keep in mind: money and visas.  Compared to the high cost of funding an education in the U.S., the extremely reduced price tag of Master’s programs seems like a hoax.  However, there are many invisible costs that make such a reality less attainable if you are funding yourself independent of family support.  First of all, you will rarely be eligible for government-subsidized loans from either the U.S. (you’re not applying to a U.S. graduate school after all) or the French government.  The application process itself involves many hidden expenses.  And then you must have a substantial amount saved to even be eligible for a student visa.  Don’t expect to hop off the boat and “pay your way.”

Second, there are few options for obtaining a visa if you are a young college graduate from a liberal arts program, no matter how prestigious it might be.  Unless you can prove that you have the assets and skills to start your own business in France, you are eligible for a long-term visa only if A) you are accepted into a French degree-program, B) you will be housed by family members in France or a French significant other who agrees to “Pax” you, or C) a French company agrees to sponsor your work visa.  Which is a pretty tall order if you have little work experience or expertise, as it would be much much cheaper for them to hire your French or European counterpart, who already has the paperwork and the degree they are looking for (not to mention it’s highly discouraged by the French government).

Hence, this post will attempt to explain how to go about applying for a Master’s program via the mandatory avenue of CampusFrance.

Here’s the instructions they give:  Applying to a French Institution at the Graduate School Level.

Image

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of CampusFrance for now, but here’s a brief overview of what my past year looked like:

May 2011: Leave France a month earlier than most French universities finish for the semester in order to accommodate an American university schedule of summer school classes.

July 2011: Send emails to professors at different universities inquiring about the requirements for different programs.  NB: The French school system places law school and medical school at the undergraduate level, eliminating the need for “pre-law” or “pre-med” designations.  Which means that those who wish to pursue law or medicine in France must apply for an undergraduate degree, a whole other can of worms.

With my background in literature and languages, I looked into French literature, English literature, and LEA (Langues étrangères appliquées) Master’s programs, discovering to my dismay that I wasn’t especially qualified for any of them.  My university’s French program is nowhere near on par with the level of undergraduate programs in France, and it would be rather ludicrous to look into teaching jobs in France as a non-native speaker.  In order to graduate in three years, I opted out of double-majoring in English, despite being an avid reader and writer.  As for LEA, you must demonstrate that you have studied two foreign languages (in addition to French/English) since high school and are near fluent in both in order to pursue a Master’s degree – not to mention a background in economics, foreign relations, and/or law.  My years of mastering French, although well beyond the par of most Americans, was not enough to pursue programs in translation or applied language training.

So I opted for a degree in English in France, with an undergraduate background in French in the U.S.  Maybe the negatives will cancel each other out to equal a strong candidate for teaching English as a foreign language to French high school students.  Or maybe I’ll look like I’ve always opted for an easy path.

August 2011: Convince CampusFrance to “reset” my application from when I had to apply for a visa to study abroad.  For those who do choose to study abroad from an American university, CampusFrance is a (somewhat) less painful ordeal involving a mere third of the steps.  After numerous emails and much coaxing, my dossier was reset.  I was not able to create a new Pastel account, however, as it would show two entries for my passport ID number, a definite visa no-no.

October 2011: Take the TCF (Test de connaissance du français) at the Alliance Française de Chicago, the only place offering the exam in the greater Midwest Region, only offered on one Friday for the entirety of Fall 2011.  As I was applying “Hors DAP” (DAP is a requirement for licence 1 and licence 2 applications), I decided to opt for the additional Speaking and Writing portions of the exam.  Luckily I did, for I found out when applying that some schools require that you demonstrate written proficiency in order to qualify for their program.  The minimum requirement is a score of B1 or B2 in some programs.  I received a C2 in the required tests, with a C1 in Oral expression and B2 in Written expression.  Other exams qualify such as the DELF and DALF.  The October TCF was the only exam that would allow me to have my results early enough for when I wanted to begin the application (end of December).  The exam came to a grand total of $300.

November 2011: Have all my transcripts from high school through undergraduate translated, since I had not graduated before applying for a Master’s program. Unlike in France, which gives degrees each year of undergraduate and a qualifying high school diploma called the Baccalauréat, I had to have all coursework over a period of seven years translated into French by a professional translator and then certified by the French Consulate of Chicago.  I stopped by the consulate in October when I took the TCF asking for the name of a translator.  I am glad I used one of their official English-French translators, for she was able to get the Consulate to certify it for free.  Nevertheless, with both transcripts and my high school diploma translated on a per word basis, the cost came to $180 – and this doesn’t include my need to eventually have my completed college transcript, diploma, and birth certificate translated for registration and immigration purposes in France.

December 2011: Travel to France over the Winter Holiday, visiting friends in France and taking an opportunity to talk to the International Office at my former university in Amiens.  I spoke with the scolarité and the exchange coordinator in order to make sure I was properly going about the online process.  Unfortunately, due to Christmas recess and first semester exams, I was not able to meet with professors of the program to which I was applying.  Even more valuable than university staff, however, was the information I picked up from Tunisian friends who had gone through a similar application process in applying for Master’s programs.  I also began to fill out the required sections of the CampusFrance forms and struggled to convert my jpeg images of transcripts into a small enough format to submit on the online application.

January 2012: Pick out the French universities I wanted to apply to – initially too many, the maximum of 15, until I was told during my interview that most applicants apply to only 6-7.  I ended up with eight: two schools in Paris, and a school in Amiens, Lyons, Lille, Rennes, Nantes, and Tours.  I then submitted my online form and sent a paper copy of the application along with my money order of $140 to CampusFrance in Washington, D.C.  They acknowledge the receipt of my money order on January 30.

February 2012: Wait, wait, wait, wait….. I waited for two weeks for them to acknowledge my paper application and to let them know that my online application was complete.  No response.  I finally received the name of the woman responsable for overseeing my application.  I scheduled an interview, only to have her tell me to reschedule it after March 10, as she was too busy working on the DAP applications.  Mind you, the deadline for our application is March 31.  I agonized over the fact that I couldn’t reschedule as the online Pastel site no longer let me “cancel” my interview since my responsable notified me after the scheduled time.

March 2012: Finish the application – Finally, after a few weeks of ignored emails, I called back the French woman working on my file (or not working on it more precisely) and had her reschedule an interview for March 22.  The interview went just dandy, thirty-odd minutes of talking about yourself in French and about your future aspirations.  Make sure to think through what you want to say, and do not mention that you might plan (*cough*) to indefinitely settle down in France or Europe.  My responsable then winnowed down the number of requests to universities (at my behest), and the next week, (almost) everything on my online account went green.  I was in the clear, a day before the deadline.

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And so now, what’s left? Waiting, waiting, and more waiting.  Universities are technically able to respond, via CampusFrance, any time now, but they have until June 30 to respond.  Most won’t start sending responses back until at least the end of April.  My friends have already declared their final choices for U.S. graduate schools, and I will still be waiting for eight odd schools to decide my future.  Wish me luck!

Categories: Bureacracy, France, Immigration | Tags: , , , , | 9 Comments

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