Moving A Child to France 2: School

I made the first inquiry in March about how to get my son enrolled in high school in France. They told me to call back the end of August.

They weren’t kidding. August 30 is when everything opened back up after the summer holidays, and school started just a few days later. So I thought a visit to the school, a few papers, and within a few days he’s ready to go to French school.

No, I didn’t really think that. This is Southern France.

During August the entire country (I exaggerate only slightly) is on holiday and nearly everything that resembles administration of any kind is closed. With school only a few weeks away, I was surprised and frustrated that I could not find one person available to answer questions about where to start–until Aug. 30. And then there was an exam to be taken to determine his level. The exam was scheduled for Sept. 14. School started Sept. 5.

Yep. Thats about how it goes here. I mean why should I expect that he would start school on the first day? much less in the first week? Because after the exam, then they have to find a school. Oh, yes. It’s not as simple as going to the local high school.

On the day he took the exam, the examiner told me to local high school was full. We’d have to find another in a town somewhere close, hopefully. This was from the man who runs CASNAV, and organization with the goal of helping children newly arrived in France get adjusted, settled and enrolled in school.

You’ve got to be kidding me, I thought. But I was ahead of the game. While waiting for the exam, I had been working to get him into a private school.

I’m happy to report that he was accepted to an excellent school, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Education in France is free, including universities; of course, private schools are not. Because France has this mentality of education for all, even private schools here, or at least the one’s I’ve seen, are relatively inexpensive compared to private education in the States. 110€ per month for tuition, and another 93€ per month for him to eat everyday in the canteen. I don’t think I could feed him at home for the cost of tuition and lunch at the school.

I’m not sure if the public school would have required different paperwork, but I think this is standard: vaccinations, proof of residence in France, and liability insurance.

All students in France need liability insurance in case something happens to another student as a result of some action, like another kid trips in the aisle over your kid’s foot. Bizarre, I know. But it was only 13€ for a year, so I didn’t even groan.

And so, he boards the bus every morning at 7 and gets off the bus every evening at 7. Schools in France have longer days than American schools, but more and longer holidays. School usually starts around 8 am and end around 5 pm, except on Wednesdays, when most schools close at noon. There are lots of breaks in the day because classes seem to work more like an American university with regards to their schedules. On Thursday mornings he has a 2-hour break, so that’s when he takes private French lessons.

He had one year of basic French in the States. Not enough, but at least it was an introduction. If we hadn’t worked out a certain type of arrangement with the school, he probably would have had to start back a year or two, at least until he picked up the language. He’s doing ok in physics and math, but the philosophy may as well be taught in Greek. He doesn’t understand a word. But then again, he says the French students in the class don’t understand a word of it either. English is, of course, is easiest subject, and I think they like having an American in the class. It enhances the other kids’ English studies.

So in the end it worked out better than expected. And Friday night he spent his first night out with his new friends. They threw him a birthday party.

 

Moving a child to France 1: No Visa

It’s been three months (at least) since I posted on the saga of trying to get my teenaged son to France. It’s been a busy three months, but I wanted to continue to share this “interesting” process of bringing a minor into the country to live with HIS MOTHER!

To recap, the French Consulate in Washington DC would not give him a Visa because I, his mother, live in France. If I did not live here, he could get a student Visa to come live with a stranger and go to school. OFII offered Family Regroupment, but I’m not yet eligible until December to apply and then it could take a year for an answer. They told me to get the student Visa (back to DC). In short, we spent months going in circles. An international lawyer from Marseille advised us to bring him over on his passport. She said they can’t expel him from France because he is a minor.

So that’s what we did. Finding no proper paperwork solution available, we bought him a ticket and he arrived this summer.

First, I would like to say that once he arrived, all of the frustrations disappeared, for the most part. He is here, and that’s all that matters now. I’ve seen my son three times in the past year. He was living with his father in the U.S. and planning to finish high school there. But circumstances caused a change in that plan and he’s going to finish school here in France, and live with me.

Second, I would like to break from the saga (I’ll continue in the next post) of getting him here, and write about what it’s like to leave a child behind in another country. I’ve avoided this topic, because it’s too painful.

I married a Frenchman, and without going into details now about the reasons why, besides the obvious, I moved here. My kids, both teens and at a stage when they were rarely around, urged me to move to France. They thought it would be good for me after some very difficult years. And of course, they knew I was in love with this charming Frenchman and they saw that he absolutely adored me. For a long time I resisted, for many reasons, but in January 2011, my kids both looked at me one night and said, “Mom, just go.” To be honest, I was miserable, and I think I was making them miserable, as much as I was trying to make a good life as a single mom for the first time in 20 years. I was divorced.

And so, I quit my wonderful job as a faculty member at the university, and I headed to France. I was married in May 2011. The kids came for six weeks that summer and then went back to the States to finish school. I went to the U.S. for a few weeks in January 2012, my son came to France for a few weeks in March, and my daughter spent an entire month in France this last May, 2012. So, I’ve seen them fairly frequently, and they’ve had the wonderful opportunity to spend a good deal of time in France.

But if you’re a mother, you can imagine what it’s like not to see them on a daily basis. We Skype, thanks to the magic of the Internet. But it’s not the same. As happy as I was to be with my new husband and as much as I love France, my heart breaks everyday that I am not with my kids.

My daughter graduated from high school. She’s living and working in D.C. and plans to start school there soon. This is a normal breaking process, I’m aware. And so, with her, it’s different. I’m experiencing the usual “empty nest” emotions. Things could have very well been the opposite: she could have moved to France to study and I may have seen her less in the past year than I have.

But with my son, who is now 17, it’s different. He still needs his mom. And no, I’m not being sappy. He’s admitted the same. He’s missed me. There are still many reasons why a 16-year-old boy needs a mom around.

This is a very difficult post for me to write, because there’s a great deal of guilt associated with my decision to move to France. Did I do the right thing? I still don’t know the answer, but I’ve stopped asking the question. Life throws curves, and we deal with them the best we can. Maybe in years to come, when I look back on these years, I’ll know the answer. I’m hoping that we’ll find these were difficult years, but worth it.

And so, we’ve had a wonderful summer together. He loves France, too. He says it’s like living in a post card everyday. He appreciates the beauty of Camargue. And he’s staying. He’s decided to finish school here.

He started school in France last week. His start date was a few weeks behind everyone else because of the school saga (next post), but he’s installed and loving it!

I don’t usually write such personal posts, but as one of the topics in my blog is moving and living in France, it seemed only right that I should share this part of my experience. I’ve met many people in person and online who are strangers here, like me. We all have different stories and circumstances. But I’ve learned that behind the joys of living abroad, there are often some sacrifices and hardships that we endure.

So, what’s next? I’m still not sure what comes next. I still don’t know what I need to do as far as paperwork goes. I’ll probably have to work with that international lawyer to keep my son here. But he’s here. And I’m one very happy mom.

I’m having this good sensation that it’s all going to work out and be worth it.

France Resources

This page is for you. I’ve included resources about France, everything from moving to traveling. Books to apps. If I find anything that may be useful, I’ll post it here. Click the link or image to get your copy of the item.

Note: I have either used or researched these resources to make sure they are top quality. If you access a link that has a problem or tries to spam you, please let me know so I can investigate or remove it! Some are FREE: some you have to buy. Many are downloadable.

Learn French

DuoLingoThis is the best FREE online language learning program I have found. It’s a cool concept and fun. With Duolingo you learn a language for free while helping to translate the Web. Create an account, join a community of learners, speak, write, conjugate. You can sort of compete with other learners as you reach levels.

 

eBooks

I’ve come to love eBooks. They are a convenient resource and entertainment. Living in France, I had difficulty finding books in English, so I resorted to eBooks. Now, I’m an eBook fanatic. Check out these eBooks.

Taking Root in Provence (October 2011) Authors:  Simons, Anne-Marie and Grenier, Pierre ISBN-13: 9781937667009

French Riviera Marco Polo Travel Guide: Travel With Insider Tips (March 2012) Author: Bausch, Peter ISBN-13: 9783829780100

A Castle in the Backyard: A Dream of a House in France (Sept 2002) Author: Draine, Betsy and Hinden, Michael ISBN-13: 9780299179434

French Dirt (Feb 2012) Author:  Goodman, Richard ISBN-13: 9781565127401

Apps

I have an iphone and I use apps like a maniac. When traveling, I download apps to learn about the area. I use apps to navigate. I use apps to communicate FREE with my family and friends in the States. Here are some great apps for you.

IMPORTANT: Before you download apps, make sure they work on your device(s). Read descriptions carefully. These are mostly iphone apps and require an iTunes account to download. Some work on iPods and iPads. Many have an Android version (search the Android store). Some are FREE; some cost a few bucks.

iTunes download: “La Marseillaise” The National Anthem of France Ok, maybe not the most useful app, but if you’re going to  live in France, you should learn the French National Anthem.

iTunes download: “100 Fromages de France” This cool app gives you recipes French cheese. Ok, so you don’t want to make your own; but how about learning the history of each cheese? The region it comes from? or what kind of milk it’s made with?

iTunes download: 123 Color HD: Talking Coloring Book (English, Spanish, French and German Voice-Overs Included) This is great for introducing kids to language. Was an iTunes staff pick, New York Times feature, and Woman’s Day #1 travel app for kids.

iTunes download: Air France Mobile If you are flying Air France, which I frequently do, you can download this app to your iphone to buy tickets, but more important, to get updates on flight info.

iTunes download: Airports // GOinside If you travel Europe frequently, or not so frequently, you’ve got to have this app. Go Inside gives you airport maps for all of the major airports when you’re flying in and out of Europe. That’s really important when you have a connecting flight and need to quickly get to the next gate. There’s also info on all food and services in the airports, AND it gives you up-to-date flight info so you can track if your flights are on time.

iTunes download: Avertisseur de Radars France Warning Radars. Here’s another app you’ve got to have. You need a gps installed on your iphone. This app tracks the radars, fixed and mobile, real-time. You can set it to do some other speed control things, too, but the radar tracker is worth it.

iTunes download: FRANCE BLEU Do you listen to France Blue? Me, too! Listen on your iphone. This app finds your location and directs you to your local station. You can even download podcasts to listen offline.

Hardcopy Books

For those of you who prefer to hold something in your hands…

I love Rick Steves’ travel books. It’s like taking along a top-notch tour guide.

Rick Steves' French

Julia ChildI can relate to Julia Child. She moved to France unable to speak French and not a clue how to cook. My Life in France tells her story of becoming French.

Le Road Trip: A Traveler’s Journal of Love and France
by Vivian Swift is like a children’s book for adults, with watercolor images based around a traveler’s log.

Fête de Theatre Avignon

Gallery

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Street performers line Avignon’s main thoroughfare that leads from the city gates to the Palace of Popes. Flyers advertise free and paid theater products. It’s a week of celebration of theater and dance. Continue reading