Feb 022010
Hey, my name is Sergio, 16 from Austin, Texas and I was reading your blog…neat stuff.

I’m actually a Francophile, meaning I literally have an obsession with learning the French language. I am Mexican-American, obviously speaking both English and Spanish as my native languages and trying to learn French. I was actually wondering if it would be difficult for me to live in France, as an English or Spanish teacher or a civil engineer. I have already read Lola’s e-mail, but my question is different because I have not been exposed to Europe or to European culture. I have a deep yearning to learn French, and maybe becoming a French citizen.

Do you think my skills in both languages would help me?

I’m still in High School and I am planning to study here in the United States. Can I keep my American citizenship and become a French citizen?

Is there any demand for Spanish speakers?

What cultural gaps or similarities do French people have or differ with Latin Americans or Americans? My culture is both Mexican and American. I am a foreigner in Mexico and in the US, so moving to France would not bring me any “culture shock”

I hope this topic is interesting…hopefully you know how to answer my questions! (My parents think I’m crazy!)
Hi Sergio,
Wow, you seem pretty motivated and have a pretty set plan for somebody your age; and seeing that you’re only 16, my first two pieces of advice about your future big move to France are: be patient, and stay in school as long as you can, do not rush anything.
Now, your answers:
-Would it be difficult to live in France? I don’t know, but it’ll depend more on you, who you are as a person, your personality, tastes, adaptability to different cultures and those things, rather as what job you’ll have or whether you’ve been exposed to Europe before or not.
And I can’t really give you advice for the job market, as it will be different when you’re finally out of school and ready to look for that job in France.
Keep in mind one thing though: you’ll need a visa to stay in France, there are several ways to get a visa (search through this blog, you’ll find more details on the topic).
If you become a language teacher, being able to teach both English and Spanish may help you, but keep in mind that if you don’t already have that visa, you won’t get one because of that, lots of Brits and Spaniards will apply for that job too and they won’t need a visa, so they’ll most likely be chosen over you.
But there’s always the option of being an language assistant which is one of the best way to get your feet wet into a new country. I’m sure some readers will gladly give you more advice on that issue, as I personally have no idea about how one become an English or Spanish assistant in France (I could look it up, but if I can, you can too).
Also your skills in both languages can help you as a language teacher, but only if your degree is somewhat related to both languages, sometimes in France one can have all the skills and experience in the word, if one doesn’t have the degree, one will have a hard time to get that job. And if you need to keep only one of those languages (I mean, for that degree of course), keep English, English teachers will always be in demand anywhere in France. Spanish teachers on the other hand…
Concerning citizenship:
I often hear Americans or other foreigners (but mostly Americans) thinking that settling in France means getting French citizenship. Those are two separate things.
One can live in France their whole life without ever becoming a citizen. On the other hand I assume it’s possible to become French and not live in France (although I doubt it, but who knows there are always loopholes).
Most foreigners immigrating to France don’t get French citizenship. Back in the days it was really easy, nowadays things have changed and are changing as I speak with your current government that loves foreigners so much (irony inside). But that doesn’t mean one cannot get a resident card (more or less the equivalent of a green card in the US). Here too, readers are welcome to pitch in with their own experiences, the only one I sort of know in details in the “spouse visa”.
But let’s say you really want to become a citizen after all of those years in France (yeah, can’t happen after many years in France anyways), can you keep your US nationality. I’ve always been under the impression that you couldn’t, but I’ve recently heard of several people who did, so I guess you can. But if you’re also a Mexican citizen (are you?) I think it’s almost impossible to have three nationalities (but who knows?)
Concerning cultural gaps and similarities with Latin Americans:
I’m not too sure. I’ve met a few Latin Americans in the US (even dated two) and their culture was quite different from the French one. Truth to be told, I felt like the US culture was closer to mine than the Latin American ones. Don’t get fooled by the fact that France has a “Latin” culture. The word Latin in that last statement, has a very different meaning from the one it has in America, the word “Mediterranean” is more accurate maybe. Also, that’s true only for some parts of France (roughly the South East, and the Eastern part of the South West).
That being said, I’ve met a few Latin Americans in France (but I never was close to any of them) and they seemed to have an easier time to adapt to the French culture at first, but on the longer term, I feel Anglos adapt more, as if the Latin Americans’ adaptation was just superficial. But I really don’t have enough knowledge on the topic to draw any conclusion, and my observations may even be quite erroneous.
Culture shock now.
I know what you mean by feeling a foreigner both in Mexico and in the US, the same goes for many people that live abroad (I went through that phase when I lived in the US) or that are the children of immigrants (and for them it is usually not a phase), but don’t fool yourself about not experiencing culture shock if you move to France.
You may feel like a foreigner in both of your countries, but fact is, you do have a culture (the Mexican-American culture) and that culture is not the French one. So wherever you go, you’ll have a culture shock, everybody does, regardless of their situation at home. Culture shock means that you encounter a culture that you don’t understand, from the most insignificant every day life things to the deeper more complicated and philosophical ones. Some will be dealt with in a matter of days. Some never will.
I guess I answered everything. If you have follow-up questions, do not hesitate to comment, as well as anybody that has more information to share.

More Questions Answered:

  10 Responses to “Sergio wants to move to France, but he’s only in High School, can we all help him?”

  1. Thank you, Sergio, for this question. It has helped me a lot! I am 18 and i want to move to France as well. In continuation to this question, I was just wondering in order to be a physician in France, can I become one with an American medical degree? Sorry I don't have much to add, but I am just curious. Applying for visa as I am typing this…=P

  2. *You could post it or forward it to Sergio if you like.
    As a fellow Mexicoamericano, I understand the difficulty in finding a "niche" for yourself. True their is a Chicano culture, but that might not necessarily be yours; it isn't mine.
    I too have been obsessed with French culture since I was a little girl; when I went to high school I learned French. Through out my life I have also learned the similarities between French and Mexican culture. (Particularly in our cuisine, bolillo is a distant relative of baguette.)
    From experience I can tell you, your Mexican side will have more ease assimilating to French culture, your American side will not. There are certain cultural contridiction between the States, that even your parents probably complain about.
    My main tip is that if you really want to go to live in France, is learn the language. Don't study being a language teacher for the sake of going to France. After all you could be a waiter or a doctor in France.
    Second of all, go to your local French alliance (http://www.afaustin.org/) Definitely make good use of their library, speakers, film screening, cooking classes. Also watch French movies, both modern and older. This will in no way give you an absolute knowledge of French culture, but it does help cushion the culture shock.
    Citizenship takes years and gets extremely, I suggest a simple student or work visa first.

    On a side note: I know that you feel like your on the outs with both American and Mexican culture, and I hope that this is more of on a personal level. There is no way you will 'survive' enveloping yourself in a totally different culture, if you're not comfortable with your own (being comfortable and agreeing or understanding aren't the same things.) I hate to be that blunt but it's true.
    *Remember you could live in France the rest of your life and never be solely french, embrace and love your cultural history (because all cultures are beautiful), because it's what's made you…you.
    On another side note: You should know that I am an american (who has a roman/zaftig nose) of mexican parents (who are tracibly more spanish) , who grew up in a polish neighborhood, spent her childhood in a german children's choir,listening to english bands and learning and loving the french.

  3. I don't know that it's necessarily that *difficult* to get French citizenship - it just takes time (minimum: 5 years - or 4 if you're married to a French citizen - plus 18-24 months to go through the application process). I just became a French citizen a few months ago, and 7 of my friends have also been naturalized in the past six months, so it is definitely still possible. I think the biggest key is having a stable job - it's only normal that the French gov wants to make sure you're not going to be a drain on their system (they've already got enough French-born nationals doing that themselves LOL).

    And to be honest, it was actually easier for me to just apply for citizenship than it was to get the 10 year residency card (which I never ended up getting).

    I also know a couple people who have three nationalities - it is definitely possible as long as none of the countries have laws against holding multiple citizenships.

  4. Very interesting topic. My advice to you would be to do your studies in the US. While in college, look for an academic exchange program with a French school. That would be a good first step. Also, work during the year, save up your money and back pack through France during a summer. It's not the same as actually living somewhere but at least it will give some ideas as to whether you can actually see yourself living there!

    In terms of teaching languages, I have no idea how any of that works. But if ever you do plan on becoming an engineer, I'm thinking it be tough to get work here rigth after your studies. France still produces tons of engineers with very solid academic backgrounds. And then you have the whole Grande Ecole reality to take into account… I have no idea how an undergrad american degree would be perceived here. Maybe the best would be to do an engineering degree back in the US and to do a Masters here in France. I've known people who did it that way and had no trouble setting up succesful careers for themselves in France.

    I've met some South Americans here in France and they had no easier time than any other cultures to get adapted. French is my first language and I still had a hard time in adapting to French culture. You have to give yourself at least 12-18 months to go through the emotional roller coaster of living in a new country.

    But your project sounds nice! I think it's worth pursuing! Good luck!

  5. Hi Sergio,

    I'm currently a language assistant here in France & it is indeed a relatively easy way to experience life in France (easy in that, if you're accepted, the visa and employment is taken care of. Things like finding an apartment may or may not be your responsibility, and the whole organisation seems somewhat shoddy at times, but hey). I believe applications have closed orare about to close for the 2010-2011 year, but you're too young in any case. I'm not American, so there are many questions about the application process (varies from country to country) I would be unable to answer, but if you have any questions on the general experience, I would be happy to help.
    This website: http://www.assistantsinfrance.com/forums is a useful source of information on anything to do with the programme and you can ask any questions you have there as well. Note that it is not an official website for the programme. As David said, you can look that up yourself.

    Bon courage et bonne continuation de tes études!

  6. Contrary to common belief more than 100 000 people get their French citizenship every year so it's far from impossible to become French. Although you go through a lot of hell every year to renew your visa.

    Anyways, my advice to Sergio is to visit France before even thinking about moving here since France always seems much better than it is in your dreams.

  7. -Amelie Jones: No idea, but I assume you can. I'm sure this out there on the web, but get your M.D. first.

    -CC: "There is no way you will 'survive' enveloping yourself in a totally different culture, if you're not comfortable with your own"
    I guess it really depends on different individuals. I've really met both kinds, some bi-cultural people embracing totally the third culture because they felt "foreigners" everywhere, so that was easy, on the other hand I've also met people never embracing any culture for the same reason. So in the end, I assume it has to do more about personalities.

    -Ksam (and Cynthia): Difficult (or even "more difficult than before") never meant "impossible", it means a lot of time, paperwork and certain conditions, if those are fulfilled, of course it works, but you just don't show up randomly and apply for citizenship.

    "They've already got enough French-born nationals doing that themselves LOL"

    Hum, hum, you may have a French ID, but apparently, you still don't get everything about what France is about. :-/

    -Quebecparis: My take on the Grandes Ecoles: "Grandes Ecoles, Schmgrandes Schmecoles".
    An undergraduate American degree is perceived pretty much like a French undergraduate degree (it depends to whom really).
    But to be an engineer, you need to have a graduate degree don't you?

    -Gwan: thanks for the info.

  8. Hum hum yourself David, as apparently you're the only one allowed to make tongue-in-cheek jokes about other cultures here.

  9. Well, if that was humor it's quite insensitive and not very funny these days.

  10. Hello - I see I'm quite late to respond but I may have some helpful information. I've been living in France for 2 years and battling with my visa status since I got here, so I've become rather knowledgeable about the subject, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view.

    The easiest way to get to move to France is through your studies. But just studying abroad in an exchange program won't help you on the long-term (though this is a great way to test out your plan to make sure this is where you want to end up). The way most people I know who've immigrated to France have gotten here is through completing a Master's in France, then getting an internship, and then being hired by the company who gave them the internship (there's a special visa process for people who follow this path). You can also do long studies here, and after 5 years of residency you can ask for (though not necessarily get) permanent resident status. Or you can pursue your Ph.D, and I think a lot of doors would open up for you in terms of research, professor positions, etc.

    As a language teacher, you can come for a year as an assistant, then you can renew your contract for one more year, but it's only part-time work, and most language schools have a policy about not sponsoring non-Europeans for regular work visas. So you can't stay long-term this way, unless you get very, very, very lucky. Still, it never hurts to send out resumes (especially to universities, but you'll need more qualifications), but be frank about your visa needs.

    Another, more difficult way is to have your own business or to be an artist who lives off his craft, as they have special, loophole-y visa processes.

    Marriage, civil unions, or Irish uncles you never knew you had are also good ways to get to France, but difficult to plan on.

    Good luck!

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