Being a Stagiaire in France is much like being an intern in America- long hours, low pay, brain and back breaking work... except I have been lucky enough to be accepted for an Intern at the AmCham. Even though the pay is still the minimum required by France (436,05€ a month), I have the possibility to meet and network for my job hunt coming up in October of this year.
So what's it like? Well I'm sure every internship is different, according to the sector, mine is a development and membership focused internship. Basically I have to meet important people, do some member retention, fundraising challenges.. every day is a little different but always interested and down my path.
Of course, being a Stagiaire I am on the "stagiaire diet", meaning because I can pretty much only afford my rent and groceries, eating out is not an option nor a luxury.. so I end up eating:
|My poor intern lunch, 1,50€|
Because Universités in France are so intense, most students don't end up working during school sessions. In the States I pulled a full-time job in order to pay for rent and food, but in France it's impossible. Believe me, I tried, last year when I started the program I was working 20 hours a week, it was impossible. School is about studying, intensive and repetitive classes, unclear professors... because the culture is not one that provides "books", the information is pulled from going to the classes themselves.
Thus, students tend to pick up summer jobs to get some pocket money- and then in their 4th and 5th year rely on internships to get professional experience. That is a big problem as well, since most jobs after University have a paradox (you need experience to work, but you need to work for experience), so many French graduates work a few years in terrible positions in order to build the experience.
"Ouais, je n'y resterai pas, j'y quitterai dans quelques années après je ramasse suffisamment d'éxperience..."
Now for those of you who aren't from the expensive schools that will hold your hand and find you an internship, here are some sources of internships, I'm not sure how it works overseas, but through a French université it is required to be paid if it's more than 3 months. Also, internship cannot be a direct copy of a salaried position (meaning interns can't be receptionists).
Here are some sources:
http://www.directetudiant.com/theme/stage - Stage source, in French
http://www.stage.fr/page/accueil.aspx - Stage offers, in French
http://www.frenchamericancenter.com/english/internship.asp - American Internship resource, in English
One Last Thing...
Even though I hear about a lot of Americans hopping planes and installing themselves in Paris because they believe that it's so "international" French isn't obligatory.. it is. Every position you will be in will expect a level of French. I've seen many American wives (usually the ones that end up dragged over) stuck because they can't find work. Some of them don't need work, their husbands tend to make enough, but they feel useless. (Like Julia Child says, "All these wives, they do NOTHING here, it's terrible") So if you find yourself in this position, enroll IMMEDIATELY in French classes. Learn the language or else your career won't advance.