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Teaching English in the French Caribbean (Martinique)

Teach English in the Caribbean

Join a French-Government Supported Program in Guadeloupe

For recent college graduates with a degree in French or experience with the French language, working as an English language assistant through the program administered by the French Ministry of National Education is a popular route. Placed in either primary, secondary schools, or Instituts universitaires de formation des maîtres (IUFMs) with 12 hours of class time per week, this job allows for an application for one’s own native language but also an immersion in French culture. Requirements for the program are a relative proficiency in French (about three college semester’s worth) and an age limit of between 20 to 30.

The program also allows for placement in one of several French overseas departments (known as DOMs to the French): Guadeloupe, Martinique, and Réunion. I am currently situated in Guadeloupe. The experience is very different from working in France. Applicants have a choice in where they are placed, although they can end up with their second or third choice.

Going to Guadeloupe may sound like a Caribbean holiday. On the contrary, it is a lesson in culture and understanding. I work with several different classes of students ages eight to 11, providing them with conversational English lessons. The ultimate goal defined by the French Ministry of Education is to connect the students with a native speaker of English who will bring colloquial expressions and a different culture to the classroom. I prepare lesson plans and interact with teachers to provide for the best needs of my classrooms, yet I find that my everyday experience is much more than that.

One finds a mélange of cultural elements, making the work experience vast on many levels. The program allows speakers of French access to several Francophone areas, as well as all of metropolitan France, where local cultures are always varied.

The assumption that life functions here in Guadeloupe as it does in France is one that quickly falls by the wayside. Buses, for example, do not function on timetables or have tickets, instead one waits on the street and flags one down. The fare is paid when getting off the bus and is dependant on what the driver feels like charging that day until you make it clear that you are not a tourist and you know the system.

In Caribbean culture the stress level is low, and as many Guadeloupe locals have pointed out to me, they in no way want their lifestyle to be like that of the French. Here there is an appreciation for doing things at a leisurely pace.

With a population of around 500,000, it is no surprise that it often feels that everyone knows one another. As the only English assistant in the village where I live I often get a “bonjour” or “salut,” while walking down the street.

Although living costs are higher (most food is imported from France, and rent is equal to if not more than in France) and I sometimes struggle to find a place where I fit in, I have come to appreciate the beauty of the land and the culture that has welcomed me since the beginning. French and Caribbean culture are intertwined here, providing for a space where there is both a smooth combination and sometimes a clash of two cultures, but in spite of this, the country never skips a beat.

The net salary in Guadeloupe is €1,080 (approximately US$1,420, but always check current Euro to USD currency conversion rates), as the living costs are slightly higher in the DOM, as opposed to about €725 in France. Room and board is not provided, but many academies offer cheaper student housing. Placements vary from six to nine months, depending on what level of school one is working in. It is recommended to have about $1,500-$2,000 upon arrival to pay for security deposits on apartments and to cover costs until the first salary payment, which usually comes at the end of November. Students often purchase cars in Guadeloupe, because public transportation is less reliable and it can make access to work easier.

Information on the general program (both in France and the DOMs) can be found on the site of Le Centre International d’Etudes Pedagogiques, www.ciep.fr. Information specific to American citizens can be found at frenchculture.org. Perspectives from past and current assistants can also be accessed through the open forum at www.assistantsinfrance.com.