By Molly Noble, English Language Assistant

10 January 2024 - 11:00

Three young women smile at the camera. Paris and the Eiffel Tower can be seen in the background.
Molly (right) and friends in Paris ©

Molly Noble

What’s it like to relocate 500 miles from home to work? Molly Noble, an English Language Assistant (ELA) in Nantes, France, explains how embracing the French lifestyle and living like a local has been the best way to make the most of the experience.  

Life in France vs life in the UK

Despite only being across the channel, I certainly found life in France was often rather different from the UK. There is a much stronger emphasis on work-life balance, with a heavy preference for the life part! In France, for the majority, it is against the law to work on Sundays and they have a 'right to disconnect' and cannot be expected to answer emails outside work hours. Plus, most people take a one to two-hour lunch break, and many cafes and restaurants close between 2 and 6 pm - which can be very shocking as a tourist when you want something to eat! I also felt there were strong social bonds between friends and colleagues, who often find themselves at a bar in the city for an ‘after work’ drink, and it was a very wholesome experience.

How to meet locals and make friends

In Nantes, I used Facebook and WhatsApp groups to connect with other English Language Assistants, which was the best decision as they became not only my best friends, but a very good emotional support network when discussing our schools and colleagues, as we had shared knowledge and experience of being an assistant. 

The best way to find local people your age to connect with is through events such as ‘language exchange cafés’ where bars and cafés host ‘English nights’ for French people to practise their English. Also, simply being open to a good chat helps, even if you’re nervous that your French isn’t the best, as the locals will appreciate the effort.

Eat well, spend wisely, and chat, chat, chat!

To live like a local, I think you must really embrace the locality. In France, every small corner of a city and every town has weekly markets with cheap, fresh produce, so check your local area website, and of course, make use of the boulangeries (bakeries) with their supply of amazing fresh pastries and bread. 

You should also make use of any local passes you can get, such as transport or cultural passes which will save you lots of money and hassle in the future; for example, in Nantes, there was a Pass Musées which granted free entry into every museum in the city for an entire year. Always feel free to check out events such as live music nights and ask local people and other ELAs about any fun events you could attend. 

If I had to make a slogan for living like a French local, it would be ‘eat well, spend wisely, and chat, chat, chat!’

The biggest change in my lifestyle was...

A huge and positive change to my lifestyle was becoming more confident and outgoing. At first, I was apprehensive to teach, but I slowly grew very fond of my classes and teaching, and my ambitions for the future developed - to travel again and teach English. It felt so rewarding not only for me but also for the children, I could see learning about my culture and language was amazing for them.

When you only work 12 hours a week, you have lots of free time to make plans and I loved hosting gatherings (such as a Galette de Roi party for Easter, a New Year’s Brunch and a Ramen Night - French people love their Japanese food!).

Making the most out of your experience as an English Language Assistant

As an English Language Assistant, you really should make the most of your salary and free time to fall in love with your area and the rest of France. France offers such an abundance of scenery to explore, from snowy mountains to seascapes, to the sunny Cote d’Azur so no matter where you are placed you are in a country that has a lot of beauty to offer. My personal favourite was the French Alps, you don’t even need to be able to ski - just admire the pretty mountains on hiking routes, and drink lots of hot chocolate! 

Also, say ‘Yes!’ to new social situations. To understand the pace of life in your new town or city get to know the traditions, and the locals, and make new friends, even if you are a little hesitant, I would encourage you to try new things.

Bringing France back to the United Kingdom

The main thing I have brought back is myself - a more confident and more ambitious me! I feel more willing to try new things, for example, a few years ago I would have never wanted to host a language class, but now I love tutoring at my university. 

Whilst I wish I could have brought my local bakery back to the UK with me, I have definitely brought back an appreciation for good food (making ‘planches’ and cute cheeseboards back in my Manchester flat) and on my year abroad as an ELA I have learned to embrace the French work-life balance, which I hope to get back to one day! 

 Find out more about teaching abroad as an English Language Assistant.


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