Immigration

Let the Job Search Begin!

I often get so wrapped up in my schooling that I forget the whole purpose of my pursuing a Masters in France – to find a job!    It’s so easy to relegate everything else to the background when you are balancing a myriad of classes, activities, homework assignments, and thesis-related research.  My first semester, I made a valiant effort to find a job.  That’s to say, I submitted four different applications to the University libraries (already staffed by the time they looked at my application), filled out some information on babysitting websites, dropped off a couple resumes at the few English-language schools in Amiens, and randomly responded to an online ad for cours particuliers in English.  Only the last one ended up happening, but I was too busy worrying about my grades, my group of friends, and my Sunday night cooking extravaganzas.  Which is all good and well, but only a few trees out of the forest.

Since returning from the United States, I’ve had to think differently about my strategy here in France.  One glance at my bank account is enough to convince me that I am no longer a study abroad student, an Erasmus, an American on exchange.  I am living full-time in France without student aid, access to loans, or social benefits, neither from the United States or France.  Now is the time to begin the job search in earnest.

This past week, I’ve been running to and fro between classes and trying to figure out how to find a job – a part-time job, a summer job, and full-time future job, a job for now, a job for next year…  It’s not the easiest thing to do, let alone in a foreign country.  And so I have begun anew, scanning the online advertisements, making phone calls (how I dread that), dropping off resumes, networking with friends, emailing contacts, showing up for an infinitude of classes in the hopes that now or soon or later something will come my way.  And in the meantime, trying to do my best at doing everything well – school, friends, thesis, CAPES preparations.  Certainly a rather tall order.

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For all my fellow expats/foreign traveler and workers, if you have any insights or ideas on working abroad, feel free to chip in your two cents!

Categories: Expats, France, Immigration | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Reverse Culture Shock

Home musings…

You’ve all heard of culture shock.  Moving to a new country where things are done differently, where they speak a different language, where cultural norms and social mores are so… different.  Some people get it really bad (and these are the people who don’t end up staying for long), but others get in a serious of sudden, spontaneous homesicknesses.  Not because the new is bad, but because you miss the old.

There’s also something called reverse culture shock.  Potentially more lethal.  When you come back to your home country, you start to miss all the things that you liked about living abroad, and sometimes you had no choice about coming back.  Your visa expired.  You ran out of money.  You don’t have the same rights in your foreign country, or maybe you find it impossible to be with the person of your dreams unless you come home.  In that case, reverse culture shock can be severe.  You are in the place you grew up in, but it’s all these reasons that prompted you to leave that are digging that thorn even deeper.  When your home away from home is no longer your home.  And home isn’t really home any more.

I feel somewhat blessed, in the way a chameleon is blessed in turning green and yellow and brown.  My culture shock has always been minimal, and I re-adapt to living in the United States without a second thought.  Is it weird to be back home? I am asked.  I mean, I guess it’s weird to do your shopping a bit differently, your cooking, your (non)walking, your talking.  But, as I’ve lived in Switzerland and then the United States, France and then the United States and then France again – visiting again in the United States is like traveling to see loved ones, camping out there for a week or two, and then moving on to the next destination.

But then again, I don’t really know what settling down somewhere is like.  I have perpetually been a student, studied abroad as a student, moved here and there as a student, but I have not yet worked somewhere abroad, picked out my apartment, and truly made a life.  I’d love to have that opportunity arise, but whether that will be soon or far off is hard to say.

My Christmas presents from my oldest, dearest friends? Arm & Hammer baking soda and cake mixes.

I don’t think I’ll be missing home anytime soon.

Categories: Daily Life, Immigration | 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

Evaluating CampusFrance

Over the past week and a half, I have gone through what many might call an enlightening experience.  For those of you who don’t know, I wrote about my previous experiences with CampusFrance – the online website and processing tool for those wanting to study in France – here in a rather frustrated albeit ultimately satisfying account of my trials.  This experience, however, was unexpected and altogether new.  But first, let me explain.

In early April, shortly after I completed my online application, I was contacted by CampusFrance to see if I wanted to participate in an online survey of the CampusFrance experience.  Here is what they asked:

“We are currently working on a survey aiming at understanding better the foreign students choosing France as the destination for their higher education studies. To carry out this survey, we need to interview students from USA, Brasil, Russia, China, India, Germany, Senegal and Morocco.

– Goal:  to improve our services to foreign students

– Concept: 11 days online survey (16-27th of April). If you are selected by the French survey agency, you’ll have to be online 1h/day and share your point of view on CampusFrancetools and services.

– Practical details: for the students who agree, are selected by the survey agency , and follow it until the end, they will receive a 100€ coupon (Amazon.com)”

Now of course you might be saying to yourself that I was immediately swept away by the external gratification of a 100€ Amazon coupon, but that only comes to about 10€ a day for a long period of time , and surveys are often far from thrilling.  No, something tugged at me that proved to be much more persuasive than the promise of a reward.  Here I was, scratching my head on April 4, wondering to myself, how did they know?  Only days earlier, I had published my frustrations with my own online process, and all of a sudden I receive an invitation out of the blue asking me to voice my complaints.  What gave it away?  My obsessive compulsion to finish my application on time? My early submission of all the required material?  Bad mental vibes?

I have no idea how many Americans they emailed to complete the survey, but they wanted to guarantee that we were “motivated” enough to spend an hour online for eleven days.  Or maybe they wanted to evaluate our “blogging” abilities.  Anyways, I had to pass a test in order to qualify for the survey. They asked for a very detailed response: a 100-150 word essay about how motivated I feel to participate in this survey (no joke!) as well as an image of my own of something that represents this feeling and an image pulled from the internet.  Thus I have included for your reading pleasure my litmus test:

     “I have been planning and eager to pursue a Master’s degree in France for over a year now.  After completing all the different steps of the CampusFrance application process, I now feel energized and excited to participate in this survey.  I feel I have a lot to contribute in evaluating the CampusFrance application process and that I could explain both its benefits and shortcomings.  Because I have spent a lot of time getting to know the CampusFrance process, including using it to study abroad in 2011, I am super energized by my recent completion of the application process and am willing to do all I can to improve it for future years.”

Obviously, I was selected as one of three Americans, with one girl from California and a guy who was currently living in Argentina after having already studied in Switzerland and French-speaking Canada.  To my surprise, I found myself once again in a welcoming international community that has so often been my mainstay in my experiences abroad. There were, as mentioned in the invitation, Chinese, Senegalese, Brazilians, Germans (I am not sure why, as they are European, but they were very enthusiastic), Moroccans, Indians, and Russians that participated.  We came from all different walks of life and were looking into many different programs: Erasmus, Licence, Master, Doctorat.

I had imagined that we would be filling out a survey à l’américaine, that’s to say, clicking bubbles on whether our experience was agreeable or disagreeable from a given range between 1 and 5.  In other words, mind numbing psychological screening on a wide range of topics.  Instead, we were encouraged to introduce ourselves, post on “blogs” and “forums” about the content and structure of the website, the CampusFrance videos, and informational flyers.  Most fascinating of all was that we were instructed to compare other countries’ websites for inviting foreigners to come.  It was somewhat an experience of split-personality disorder: here was France visibly doing its best to encourage foreign students to come study in its institutions, shelling out close to a thousand euros for a survey and going to intricate details in the layout and formatting of their website – all the while the politicians are continuing to foist immigration into the public discourse any time they think there might be a popular protest against the economy.

It was quite an enjoyable experience, and I ended up spending a considerable amount of time on the website when I could have been preparing for final exams or working on papers.  I also discovered a lot of useful information that I wasn’t even aware of beforehand, such as detail documents explaining how to find housing or whether a student is eligible to work part-time.  The most fascinating “ticket” that we wrote about was the different students’ “Image of France.”  I cannot risk disclosing personal information from the website, but I can share a few images that the different students posted concerning their view of France.  It centered on the economic might, cultural legacy, colonial legacy.  The country of Romance and fine cuisine next to the country of bureaucracy and anti-immigrant sentiment.  It was a mixture of the old and the new, the unexpected and the delightful, and it sure made me re-evaluate my own experience with CampusFrance and with my own perception of France itself.

What is your own image of France?  Have you ever had any experiences with the CampusFrance website?
Categories: France, Immigration | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

French Politics on Immigration

Today the French vote in the first round of presidential elections, which could have a very profound impact on my future.  I’ve been watching with growing alarm as immigration has become the hot-button issue, to distract increasingly agitated voters from the dismal state of the economy.  The anti-immigrant rhetoric in France is nothing new – previously lax immigration policies have long since been tightening – but, as Al Jazeera aptly puts it, immigration is the “bread and butter” of the right.  Serving as a convenient scapegoat, immigrants are an easy target in the land of liberté, égalité, fraternité, where in many cases, sadly, these rules only apply to French or EU citizens.

To get a better idea of how the political landscape on immigration can change in these upcoming months, I turn to an interactive article furnished by Al Jazeera English in which they evaluate the top four candidates on such issues: Where do France’s Election Candidates Stand?

Nicolas Sarkozy, the incumbent president has drawn the ire of both French and immigrant alike with his handling of his first-term as president as well as his progressively vitriolic campaign rhetoric.  Ironically, he himself is the son of a Hungarian immigrant, and his personal style of politics and first-term as president go against the established norm on how a French president should behave and on what policies the center-right UMP (Union du Mouvement Populaire) should enact.

Nicolas Sarkozy

His suave demeanor and break with convention served him well as the most energetic and inspiring candidate in 2007, but he’s taken a decidedly harsh approach to immigration as well as antagonized the large Muslim population in France, turning seemingly innocuous and well-established traditions such as ritual slaughter, halal, into battlegrounds for France’s fierce secularism.  Under Sarkozy, the center right has veered farther right than under Jacques Chirac, following a growing pan-European trend.

According to Al Jazeera, “Sarkozy promises to crackdown on immigration in his second term, and has hardened his tone as the presidential election draws closer. He would reduce immigration by nearly 50 per cent, he says. More migrants would be deported to their countries of origins. Development assistance for the countries where migrants are coming from would be conditional on those countries’ willingness to accept deportees.”

Immigration policies have already hardened on all fronts, epitomized by the much-loathed and illogical “Circulaire du 31 Mai” 2011.  Once a country in need of large amounts of unskilled workers, France has limited access to a mere fourteen highly-specialized trades declared “en tension,” that is, having any likelihood of leading to a work visa or a change of status.  As many engaged couples or newlyweds can attest, the notorious French bureaucracy greatly belabors the process of accompanying your non-French (non-European) citizen spouse to France.  With the “doors-open” EU and Schengen accords, this belt-tightening has mostly affected third-party countries, in particular North African countries, China, India, and countries of South America, where competitive students still look to France as a model of higher education (with good reason!)

Most controversial, however, is the recent bout of laws (or less-binding but easily implemented circulaires) trying to diminish the number of the 200,000 or so of these foreign students who arrive annually – a mere trickle of the actual immigration figures, which consist primarily of refugee repatriation, especially of former colonies, and family reunification – who pass from a student visa to work visa.  This group of highly qualified students earn bachelors and masters in France at some of the top French schools (École Normale Supérieure, Sciences Po) and are already hired by some of the top companies and firms when their change of status is denied.  To protest this reverse-braindrain – and to prevent losing some of the best and the brightest who choose to study at France over top international destinations such as the US, the UK, and Australia – a group of students, international and French alike have joined together in a Collectif du 31 Mai, a protest movement akin to the famous French grève.  The May 31st circular was effectively repealed by the 12 January 2012 amendment, which specified that this harsh policy would not affect those with an M2 or higher.  Granted, the correlation between reducing legal immigration of those with degrees in higher education from France’s own institutions and the near 10% rate of unemployment was a tenuous one – unemployment hit harshest the sectors such as industry and populations without college or high school degrees (let alone a Master’s), and there is little likelihood that an immigrant would be replaced by a similarly qualified French person when there are Master’s programs where foreigners outnumber the French 10 to 1.  Certain sectors of skilled, information-based employment are practically begging foreigners to fill in the gap left by the French.  This new wave of highly-skilled, hardworking expats could easily turn to more inviting countries such as Canada or Australia, where they will transform their expertise in information technology, medical treatments, and innovative sciences into real futures.  Finally, the rejection of work permits happens only after French companies have gone to the great expense and trouble of proving that not only was there no equally or better qualified French person to fill this job application, there was also no equally or better qualified European in the field of applicants.

François Hollande

François Hollande is currently, according to the polls anyway, in the lead, and his election – cutting Sarkozy’s presidential career to one term – would finally put the Socialist Party in power for the first time since 1994.  He represents for me an apt example of the “anti-Sarkozy” – not for his dramatically different views on politics or policies but because many individuals (myself included, if I had a vote) are voting for him in order to ensure that Sarkozy isn’t reelected.

Nevertheless, this candidate does offer a different face to the immigration debate, one distinctly less hostile: he thinks his opponents are “exaggerating the problem of immigration.”  This sobering perspective is summarized by Al Jazeera, “Hollande has called for immigration to be discussed in rational terms, arguing that Sarkozy and Le Pen are exaggerating the issue. He promises to fight unauthorised immigration and illegal employment. Residency should be granted on a case-by-case basis. Foreigners who have lived in France for more than five years should be granted the right to vote.”

To contrast that with the surprise-candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left Front de Gauche candidate who has increasingly consolidated a more and more vocal left:

“In Mélenchon’s view, France’s immigrant population contributes culturally and economically to the country. He would respect the right of refugees to seek asylum in France and shut down detention centres. French nationality would become a right after five years of residency. The series of amendments to immigration law that have been introduced since 2002 would be repealed under Mélenchon” (Al Jazeera, see above link).

The real fear-rousing hasn’t been conducted by Nicolas Sarkozy but rather masterfully executed by far-right candidate Marine Le Pen of the Front National.  Behind her French débutante appearance, she remains the first to point fingers at immigrants and minority communities alike, such as vilifying the entire French Muslim community after the recent Toulouse shooting by French-born Mohammed Merah, who is of Algerian-descent.

 Her campaign champions and is bolstered by a rising anti-immigrant sentiment that is insidiously infiltrating Western Europe, as the EU financial crisis continues to rage on.  Quoting Al Jazeera, “Opposition to immigration and multiculturalism is the National Front’s bread and butter. Le Pen promises to reduce the number of immigrants arriving in France by a dramatic 95 per cent. She would abolish family reunification and drastically reduce the number of asylum seekers accepted every year. France would “take back” the policing of its borders, throwing out the EU policy of freedom of movement between member states.”

A chilling prospect for someone who fell in love with the diverse, vibrant, multicultural France of today…  I will have to stay tuned for today’s results and the second round of elections come May.

What are your thoughts on the current Presidential Elections in France?

For Nicolas Sarkozy’s “scorecard,” take a peek here.

Categories: France, Immigration, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

They said yes!

For those of you who need an English translation: “We’d like to inform you that the institution of the University of Picardy Jules Verne, Amiens – Department of foreign languages and culture has accepted your demand to be enrolled as regards your initiative in the Master of research, Arts, Humanities, Languages with a degree in literature and language, specializing in foreign literature (English).  You can now if you so choose declare your final choice for this institution.”

Categories: France, Immigration | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

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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