I have a 16 year old son, educated here since age 11, who's been totally distraught about his prospects recently. He left Lycee after a year of doing a Bac Pro Electrotech. He'd chosen this Bac because his friends were doing the same and because he couldn't think of anything else he was interested in. I know...we did warn him.
By christmas, he'd had enough of sitting in a classroom and was desperate to get a taste of practical experience at what he called "just *0#~@%!! doing something" and although he just scraped through the first year with enough of a note to be offered a place on the premiere level of the 3 year course, it was plain to see, he'd had more than he could stomach of the French school system. It was also plain he'd chosen a subject that didn't interest him.
He was miserable. He continually complained about it being too classroom based and often compared it with his 5 months experience at a UK school aged 12, where he said he felt engaged, interested and valued instead of bullied, pillaried and bored.
His 4 years experience here at college didn't set him up well at all . He was mercilessly picked on by a local gang of travellers and after I complained of racism, and inaction from the headmaster, M. Entrialgo, he admitted to me that he purposely treated foreigners differently/more harshly , he argued "because they are foreigners. They need to become tougher". What a load of old crap. I felt it was a pointless argument. I couldn't express myself clearly enough to argue with him and he held all the power. We'd pinned our hopes on the Lycee being a bit more interesting.
My son was also desperate to have a list of additional subjects to choose from, with more practical applications and creative input..media, theatre, music, sport etc..which seems totally unavailable here as part of a school curiculum. It certainly wasn't there at College Gerard Phillip Chauvigny.
He's been desperate to "go home" and, I have to say, so have I...if only we could afford to move I think we probably would have done.
We've lived near Chauvigny for about 5 years now and a large portion (about half, I'd say) of those times have been fraught with self-doubt, uncomfortable living conditions and financial worries. Now thankfully alleviated due to Allocation Lodgement. La Crise hasn't been at all kind to us, culminating 18 months ago, in me loosing my UK home, a good temporary UK job and a car all in one week, therby going as mad as a box of frogs and ending up needing hospital care in the UK for 5 weeks instead.
For me as a mental health professional, this would have been a very interesting experience... if I'd been reading about how it had happened to someone else.
Since then my lad has struggled on through desperate times. Whilst I recovered, and built my career as a renovator back from ashes, he languished at Lycee.
Becoming more and more bored, finding excitement smoking and drinking behind the bike sheds, getting suspended and caught by the gendarmes trying to steal some rum with a friend and finishing by declaring he was finished with school and had wasted a whole year of his life. He was "useless and he wasn't ever going to find a real job. What was the point? There's nothing going. Everyone says so". He felt he'd be better off in England and he just wanted to go to a "proper" school all along, where he could relax and speak English again.
Perhaps he was right. I felt so bad that we'd dragged him across here, just before a recession, to become trapped in a foreign land with no prospects. I made him go to a totally foreign school with no knowledge of French, a useless Principal and virtually no knowledge of the culture. I expected him to live in a cold, tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere while we struggled to find work in an increasing hostile marketplace. When 2 years ago, we finally gave in and admitted defeat, asked for benefits and found a nice warm flat in town with running water it was a huge, welcomed relief. I had hoped that this might be enough to boost my lad into enthusiasm for some sort of metier. On reflection I think this was expecting a bit much, too soon.
The summer's been a worrying time. My lad's watched his friends go back to Lycee or work and met lots who are on the dole. He's continued to feel desperate and hopeless and he's missed going back to the UK for a visit. It's all started to seem, even to my optimists eye, as if the French "apprentissage" system is a bit of a sham..offering placements to those lucky few who know someone in the trade or who have the highest notes from lycee.Things continued to drag on.
His brother visited us for a few days, and at the start of October, the french Mission Locale found him a placement on a small local scheme to help les Jeunes find their metier. He started enthusiastically enough but then quickly realised he wasn't eligable for any of the promised benefits, being still only 16 and not the obligatory 18. Plus, he'd not been unemployed for 12 months yet..He made noises about it being a waste of time. Just a way to fill in time until the 12 months unemployment made him eligable for more help.
'oh bugger', I thought, 'it's all going to stay pear-shaped'.
Then the people on the course gave their 'trainees' an ultimatum. He had to find a 2 week "stage" (work experience) doing anything. For free. A week's break then another stage. He chose to go to a local restaurant and found a second stage at another, slightly more "cordonbleu" place. I thought it was genius. He rather enjoyed himself. He loves eating..it's his favourite hobby next to music. His brother's a chef at Carluccios in Norwich. The 2 weeks of activity were excactly what we'd been hoping for..a taste of real daily task-fulfilment. Achievement on a plate. he started talking about finding other stages. A slight set-back came when he thought he'd get no help for transport but we told him to ask and the result was positive.
On Thursday he came bursting in and announced he had an interview in Poitiers for a restaurant looking for an apprentice.
On Friday I took him to meet the owner and he was offered the place. Excited but daunted by the need to find him lodgement we then struggled through an afternoon of semi-desperate searching for help.
The Maison de Formation,(his future employers) had not one jot of useful advice about how any 16 year old might find accommodation in their city to do their apprenticship. We were given the classic runaround...
Advisor at maison de formation. " go to the mairie, they will help"
Receptionist at maire "sorry I don't know why you've been sent here, try the Regional offices"
Regional Offices "sorry we don't have anything to do with accommodation, I don't understand why you've been sent here"
Mother intervenes..nice receptionist at Regional office offers to ring poitiers Mission Locale and explain why we're here. No luck.Son wants to give in or punch someone. He becomes desperately upset and beleives he's going to be unemployed forever.
Mother intervenes again, we drive to mission locale Poitiers and explain face-to face, ask for use of telephone to contact mission local Chauvigny... Everyone's gone home for a weeks holiday (3.30pm)leaving nice, but impotent receptionist.
On the way out of Mission locale, with glum expressions, a nice lady near the desk asks if everything OK. Mother says 'non, pas vraiment' and son attempts embarrassed exit. Mother stops him and says 'don't be in a hurry to turn down any offer of help..don't give up' Nice lady explains about the office "Centre des Information pour Jeunes in Poitiers" and we dash round to receive best advice yet. He will be eligable for Aide lodgement and we can go monday to ask CAF for forms and see a concierge on a huge housing estate.
Saturday arrives and I drive him back to the restaurant in the evening for a trial shift. The restaurant is gorgeous. It's inside a cave of an historic munument underneath a new building.
While he does this I walk down the street and I think 'I know, I'll spend my time trying to find a local studi for rent' 10 metres along the road, I spot a notice saying "chambre, studio T1" I knock and I meet the nicest landlady, who has a CAF registered studio flat, empty and ready to move in and another room ready on 9th Nov.. I buy a newspaper and spot another studio, further away but possibly cheaper.
Tomorrow is monday. We're going to speak, face-to-face to the CAF and to negotiate with the lovely landlady. Then if he can't afford the rent we can offer we'll find another place that we can afford. We're taking our bikes so we can cover more ground if needs be.
I'm so happy. I think things are finally working out for my son and it's so good to see him being enthusiastic about something. It's such a relief. He's going to be training with a group of nice people running a well-esthablished, award-winning restaurant in the middle of a beautiful french city. When he's done, he'll have a diploma and the ability to work anywhere he choses. He can already speak 2 languages and he's managed to pull himself through an unfriendly, underfunded (apparently) foreign school system without needing to repeat any of his school years.
He's still only 16 and he'll need a lot of support. I think he'll be a bit out of his depth at times, so far from us, in a city environment and alone, but I'm planning to move us all nearby as soon as it's practical.
This is a whole new chapter in our French life and I'm still glad we came. I'm not giving up herefor several reasons. Mainly, because I cant afford to go anywhere else but secondly even if I suddenly had the resources, I think I'd choose to stay because we've worked so hard through such a difficult time. We're still here and we still have a lot to offer.
In fact the longer we stick it out, the more we seem to have to offer. We can help other people through the same stuff.
So, if there are any other desperate anglo-french teenage jo-seekers out there, I just want to say to you please don't give up, and try not to feel as if the UK has all the answers. When things go wrong it's very easy to imagine life being better over there, but I can't honestly say that it was for us. I think France is not necessarily a better place to live with, all the answers, but it's not a bad place and there's an awful lot to choose from. There is no magic wand but there is grim determination and hard graft. Above all, keep asking for help and consider all advice.
I also just want to say to my boy, well done and good luck with your new job. I can't wait to visit you in your new studio for the first cuppa tea. I'm packing a box up ready.
If anyone fancies a high quality restaurant experience in Poitiers you could try my son's employers..it's a 10min walk from the Hotel de ville. There followed a link to my son's new restaurant workplace."Restaurant ********** "
Read on for the rest of my blog about what happened next..............