Perpetual Student

If you know me well, you know that I’ve spent a heck of a lot of time learning things that I haven’t necessarily parlayed into gainful employment. I graduated from a high school specializing in science and math, but I didn’t become a scientist or a mathematician. Then I went off to college to study architecture, but didn’t become an architect. In fact, I changed my major to political science, but I didn’t become a political scientist either — even after following up with a degree in foreign affairs. Instead, I ended up working as the marketing director for — of all things — a professional society of pension actuaries! I guess the only time I’ve actually put all that book-learnin’ to practical use was after law school when I became a lawyer for seven years. Thank goodness for that, too, because my savings from that time in my life helped me move to France without a job and start a new chapter here as … <drumroll> …

a student.

This time, for obvious reasons, I became a student of French. After all, when I moved to France in 2010, I only remembered a smattering of the French I’d studied two decades earlier in high school. Initially, I anticipated a year of French courses and then, of course, I’d be gainfully employed in France doing … something. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, though. I even got certified to teach English back in March, but I’m still looking for what I’ve started to describe as “the ever-elusive teaching gig.” As a non-EU citizen, I need to find an employer who’s willing to sponsor me for a work visa, but no one wants to jump through the hoops of French bureaucracy when a qualified EU citizen can do the job just as well. Another option is to become an independent contractor, but that involves a complicated process that isn’t guaranteed a positive resolution. I’m keeping all options on the table, though. In any case, don’t worry about me too much. I do have a few irons in the fire at the moment, so keep your fingers crossed.

In the meantime, of course, I have to renew my residency permit every year, and the easiest way to do that is just to go back to school. So, last Thursday, I showed up for yet another semester of French grammar, literature, phonetics, and cultural seminars at the Cours de Civilisation Française de la Sorbonne. Now, I really can’t complain about being in school again; I actually do enjoy it. It’s invigorating and rejuvenating to be back in a classroom with students from countries as disparate as Japan, Ukraine, and Brazil, most of which are young enough to be my kids. I’m very pleased, as well, to have the same professor I had for the last two semesters at CCFS. He’s a real linguist and, like me, he enjoys sharing the intriguing history of how we ended up saying things the way we say them. I’m also looking forward to my seminars this time around: “The History of Paris from its Origins to the French Revolution,” where I’ll delve once again into one of my favorite subjects, and “French Cinema,” where I’ll (presumably) spend an hour a week watching classic French movies. Not bad, huh? The only part I’m not really looking forward to is my phonetics class. I mean, there really is nothing more torturous than spending five hours every other week listening to your own voice repeating French sentences over … and over … and over. Well, the fourth time around, my accent has to have gotten better, right?

Fourth time around?” you ask. Yes, this will be my fourth semester at this fine institution — the third time at the same level (niveau supérieur). CCFS doesn’t seem to have any qualms about letting me come back again and again, and neither does the prefecture … at least for the moment. Nevertheless, CCFS isn’t the cheapest school in Paris, and I simply can’t afford to do it again. To renew my residency permit, though, I have to enroll for two semesters each academic year so, on November 12, I’m planning to enroll at Université Sorbonne Nouvelle — Paris 3 for the spring semester. Hopefully I’ll place into their highest level and graduate in May with a diploma that will help me … get into another French university where I can study … Anglo-Norman and French medieval history?

Yeah, I need to win the lottery.

© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved

21 thoughts on “Perpetual Student

  1. Surely you can give private English lessons, right? have you checked into being an “English assistant” in a college or lycée?

    1. I’ve got a few things I’m looking into, but I can’t really give private lessons … not legally. I’d have to an auto-entrepreneur to do it legally, which requires a different visa and approval by the chambre de commerce. It’s a little complicated … definitely not as straightforward as I’d hoped.

      1. I can’t risk it, though. I have to do everything by the book … it’s part my nature, and part my desire not to risk getting deported. Michel would kill me … and he’d do it before they ever put me on the deportation flight! LOL

  2. I find myself in a similar situation. Married to an EU citizen, but waiting months for my C de S now ( long story). Have been offered a job teaching business English with a language school nearby, but they can’t legally take me on without my Carte. Want to take private students through A/E but can’t without my Carte. Also need a lottery win. On verra. Great how you’ve gone back to school in France!

  3. hi, i just recently came across your blog and i second tutoring english. although you want to go by the book in regards to work, aren’t you allowed to work part-time with a student visa? that would allow you to be an independent english tutor, wouldn’t it? also, it would be highly unlikely that you would be deported for doing so. if it were to ever happen, it would take forever because of the bureaucratic nightmare that france is.

    1. Yes, with a student visa, you’re allowed to work up to (approximately) 20 hours a week, but with a “titre accessoire” meaning that your employer has to notify the prefecture that you’re employed. That’s not an onerous requirement, of course, but it does mean that you can’t work independently. To work independently, you have to be an auto-entrepreneur
      which requires a different visa type. I do have to do this by the book (working and paying taxes, etc.) because I’m married to someone here and I can’t risk a problem with my right to remain in France.

  4. I plan on registering for a CCFS Sorbonne course in Spring of 2013. My diploma is from an American school. Does it need to be translated into French before I submit it?

    1. You do NOT have to have your diploma translated if it’s in English (or a few other languages). Here’s a link so you can be confident and not just take my word for it: 🙂

      Also, do you have your visa already? If you’re applying for your visa while you’re in the U.S. (which I assume is the case — in fact, it might be mandatory), your documents for that don’t have to be translated either because the consular authorities at the Embassy (or consulate) process things in English. Here’s a link to the visa section of the French Embassy in Washington:

      The one thing you should get translated into French (before you you come to France if possible) is your birth certificate. You will need a translated copy of that to apply for Sécurité Sociale (the French health system) once you get here. Now, sometimes the French administration will say that you need a translation “assermentée” (which means that’s been translated and “notarized” by a translator sworn before the Court of Appeals of Paris). If that’s the case for any document, you’ll need to do that once you get here in Paris, and the prices are relatively high. I’ve had to get some documents translated after getting here and I use Cabinet Fields (a law firm with sworn translators): Usually birth certificates and diplomas and such cost 50 euros or so, but the work is good and they’re very quick (usually just a few days).

      I hope that helps! Feel free to ask me anything else about CCFS or the immigration process. I feel like I’ve lived it all!

      Bonne chance !

      1. Wow! Meric beaucoup for the information. I don’t need a visa since I am an EU citizen and I just got my birth certificate translated just in case I need it. I am now trying to figure out which session I want to take- Cours Complet, Course Classique, Cours Intensif or one of the variations of those. Have you been taking the same sessioin over again or have you tried different ones? What can you say about the hrs/per week and how much free time you have for running around Paris and travelling?

      2. Pas de soucis! You’re very welcome. You’re also very lucky to be an EU citizen and not have to deal with student visas! It will make your life so much simpler! Yes, perhaps surprisingly, I have been taking the same session (cours complet) since I got here (and this is my third time at the C1 level). So far, neither the préfecture nor CCFS seems to mind, but I am planning on going to Paris 3 next semester. In fact, I have pré-inscription tomorrow morning for that.

        As for time to investigate Paris and France, you should have plenty of time for that even with a cours complet. The maximum number of hours you’ll have a week with a cours complet is 19 hours during weeks with phonetics and 14 hours during weeks without phonetics.

        Good luck with everything and keep us posted! 🙂

  5. Hey Michael!

    I’ve been following your blog for a while now. 🙂 My boyfriend and I are planning to move to France in 2014, and hopefully go to CCFS as well. We’ve been trying to learn French since the beginning of the year but our French are still very elementary. Hopefully by the time we move to Paris, it’ll be better. Anyway, I wanted to ask you how much your French improved during your studies at CCFS (I know you have actually written about it a little bit that after 2 semesters, you are short of being fluent). How was your French when you first came and how much better is it now in your fourth semester of French?

    Merry Christmas to you and Michel! 🙂

    1. Hi Kris, CCFS is a great French program even if it is a but pricey by Paris standards. I honestly wouldn’t have traded my first 2 semesters there for anything! When I first met Michel, I barely spoke any French. I’d taken 4 years in high school, but that was almost 20 years earlier, and I’d taken German, Turkish and a little bit of Arabic in college and grad school. So, French was a hazy memory in 2009. I studied a bit on my own (Rosetta Stone) and then Alliance Francaise in DC for a short course before coming to Paris. I took a placement test (obligatory) at CCFS and placed into niveau avancé (B2 – if you’re familiar with the European language skills rubric – or the second highest they have at CCFS). I was surprised, but I handled it well and I learned an amazing amount of French during my first two semesters. Of course, just living in France does wonders for your French as well! All that’s to say that, the experience is different for everyone, but CCFS can take you at ANY level you currently have and I will guarantee you that you’ll improve, especially if you’re truly into your studies.

      In any case, do keep in touch and feel free to contact me with any other questions about applying or the visa process, etc. I’m happy to help a fellow Francophile out! 🙂

    2. And I’d say that my level of improvement was steep during the first two semesters (rapid, dramatic improvement), and since then its been more gradual (refinement of my accent and learning nuances).

      Oh, and Merry Christmas to you and your boyfriend, too! JOYEUX NOËL!

      1. Awww. Merci Michael for your quick response! So CCFS is expensive by Paris standard? What schools would you recommend that aren’t as pricey? I am unable to find any that are cheaper except for one that you mentioned about already: Université Sorbonne Nouvelle — Paris 3. Another that I’ve been looking at is L’institut Catholique but it’s a little bit more expensive the CCFS. The private French language schools seems all expensive.

        Right now, my boyfriend and I are trying to save as much money as we can so we can afford to move to Paris (but it’s a lot more difficult than we first thought). Hopefully, by 2014 we can move to France with our cat (that also seems like a nightmare, moving with the cat).

      2. Yeah, Paris 3 is probably the only other one I’d recommend (based on what I know). It’s a solid program and about 60-65% the cost of CCFS, but I’m still partial to CCFS. It really is a great school. I’m only going to Paris 3 in the spring because I can theoretically advance one more level in my French there. Looks like I might register for a real university program after that (maybe in history) on the off chance that marriage equality doesn’t pass and I can’t apply for a family visa. French universities are SO cheap! Something like 300€ a YEAR! Can you believe it?

        As for living in Paris, it definitely isn’t cheap. Rent can be eye-popping for what you get, but that’s like any really big city, I guess. The ouch factor is worse though when you’re paying for it after converting from money you earned in dollars. Oy!

  6. Yeah, it’s crazy cheap! We’re hoping that after 1 year or maybe a year and a half of french studies that we would know enough to enter a university program in French. 🙂

    I hope marriage equality finally passes in France and it looks like it will!

    Thanks again Michael! I will probably bug you a lot with more questions! 😉

  7. Hi Michael,

    Just came across your blog. Hope you’re doing well and still around. I did the pre-inscription for a semester course (DULF) at Paris 3 and I am expected to be there to take a sitting exam this September.

    I’ve tried looking for later entries about your experience at Paris 3 but couldn’t find any. I suppose you already got your diplôme and perhaps another degree.

    After all, would you recommend the French program at Paris 3 (quality, teachers, resources, etc.)? In fact, I am still deciding as the school said even I already pre-registered, it doesn’t guarantee a place for me. They will evaluate candidates from the exam result and the interview. Do you have any idea about this?

    Thank you so much!

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