Experiences as an ELA (Part II)

The second of three accounts of a year spent in France under the British Council’s English Language Assistantship scheme, this time from Colm who spent his year near Montpellier:

‘Around this time last year I was on my way to the beach in the South of France. I was living over near Montpellier and working in a Lycée as an English Language Assistant. Truthfully, I chose to take a year out firstly to improve my French as it seemed like a great way to get immersed in the language and culture but mainly, who doesn’t want a yearlong holiday? However, professionally I have no idea what I want to do after I graduate and teaching has always been an option so spending a year – or 7 months – working in a school would be the perfect opportunity to try out working with kids.

2016 Harvey Marseillan Plage

When I first arrived a week or so before the classes started of course I was nervous but who wouldn’t be? Unfortunately the airport where I arrived wasn’t well connected to the village I was going to live in. Although I had been warned taxis in France are expensive, I thought they wouldn’t be much more than back home. I was wrong. About 90€ and 30 minutes later I arrived at my new home.

Fortunately, the school had helped me with accommodation and had given me the details of a woman who rented her spare rooms out to the assistants. So that’s how I came to live with Marianne – the most helpful French person I’ve ever met, and Maria – the Spanish assistant. This was great as straight away there was another person in the same position so we could complain about work, catch the wrong bus and travel. A lot.

This was probably my favourite part of the job; every 6 weeks we had 2 weeks holidays and even when we were “working” it was only for 12 hours a week. Basically, this means lots and lots of free time. Throughout the year I probably saw more of France than a lot of my new French friends – Paris, Nice, Strasbourg, Bordeaux, Lyon, Toulouse. French trains are a lot better and quicker than Scottish trains, I was only 3 hours from both Paris and Barcelona, and with a carte jeune (50€ to buy) the discount was amazing.

2016 Harvey Lyon


At the school the strangest thing I noticed was that if the teacher wasn’t there for whatever reason neither were the pupils, that resulted in me turning up to school to find I actually had no class. Again another benefit of living in the village and only 2 minutes from the school. However, when I did actually have to teach the work was quite enjoyable – depending on the class – and very varied. With one teacher I had to do a practice speaking exam with her pupils one by one while another teacher told me “They’re studying Australia right now so plan something on that.” Quite vague but at least it gave me the freedom to do more what I wanted.

2016 Harvey Night at Hospital
Night in the hospital


Unfortunately, it wasn’t all a blast. Last November I got mugged while in Montpellier. In hindsight I was just in the wrong place and not being that careful. Yet, every cloud has a silver lining; I got to spend a whole night in the hospital with my friends and experience first hand French bureaucracy which is extremely complicated. There are 2 types of police depending on the crime, everything has to be copied at least 20 times, and if you’re foreign it just gets even worse. This is the same for CAF (housing benefits), sécurité sociale and anything else you can think of. Do you want to eat at the school canteen? Paperwork. Register at the gym? More paperwork.

Despite all this I had the best time. I even found some jobs and stayed for an extra 4 months (I only came back because I had to start 3rd year again). Yes, the paperwork is tiring and soul crushingly tedious, and I got a black eye in the process but I wouldn’t change it for the world, as clichéd as that sounds.

Take me back!’