An abridged version of the post below originally appeared on my Instagram feed. It got a positive response so I am republishing a longer version here.
I enjoy living in France. The truth is, though, if I weren’t married to a French guy, I wouldn’t be living here in the long term. I had my first living abroad experience back in 2009-2010 when I first came to France alone for a 7-month teaching contract. I went back to the USA after getting a taste of life in France and that was enough to scratch the itch. I came, I learned, I lived.
I was satisfied.
Then a couple of years later, after getting married, Tom and I made the decision together to live in France for a bit. Eight years in, we’re still here and we’ve never regretted it. Yes, there have been a lot of hard days when I’ve doubted myself and my choices. Sometimes the bad days have to do with France, but most of the time France is just the backdrop that adds a layer of stress to life problems that could happen anywhere.
For so many reasons, moving to France has been one of the best choices of my life although it’s not without its challenges. There are so many pluses about life in France to balance it out — affordable healthcare and vet care, work/life balance, the food and wine scene, etc. We adapt the best we can while keeping our eyes open to what’s happening around us. I even catch myself acting a little French in my mannerisms and attitude. It makes me smile.
Yet I stubbornly cling to silly little things that remind me who I am, like keeping my phone in English and the temperatures in Fahrenheit, as if changing them over would surrender a piece of me that I’m desperate to hold onto… something familiar. Something mine.
Without a native partner in crime to share the ups and downs with, I don’t think I’d be able to deal. Support is everything. Life abroad is not a permanent vacation. I say that loud and often because it’s the truth. I want you to know that it’s OK to be having a hard time and it’s OK to talk about the less-than-ideal aspects of making a major life change and choosing to live in a place that’ll never truly feel like home.
We idealize life somewhere else and it goes both ways. People who want to live abroad think life in France is a dream come true and a 24/7 vacation where life is perfect. People who live abroad think about how so many things would be easier back home. On our worst days, we yearn for everything comfortable and easy…. unable to see in that moment that nowhere is perfect.
Life is always a trade-off. We can’t be everywhere at once. We can’t have it all. Doesn’t life have a funny way of getting more complicated the older we get? I sometimes think maybe if I’d never moved abroad that I’d have a closer relationship with my brother and his family, including my nephew who I didn’t even meet face to face until he was a year old. I’d see old friends more. Certain relationships wouldn’t have dissolved. I’d do this and that. But we do the best we can and settle for short visits and calls via a screen. That has to be enough.
I remind myself that I lived in the USA for years and didn’t always pick up the phone or see people in person. We think we’d be better versions of ourselves if we had never left. It’s easier to tell ourselves that. Maybe we would be better people, but sometimes we just want a neat little box in our minds where only black and white exist… no shades of gray.
But what I’ve learned is that life abroad is all about the gray. It’s not cut and dry. It’s not easy or hard. It’s not something I can easily classify with binaries. It’s life. And it’s mine… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Living in France has come with so much personal growth and that’s one of the things I’ll cherish the most. It’s forced me to examine my home country and culture through a different lens. It’s made me reconsider how I think and act. It pushes me well outside of my comfort zone…. still, at 8 years in. It’s taught me a new language (that I’ll be forever learning). It’s given me some amazing opportunities. And most of all, it’s allowed me to connect with people like you…. sharing my experience and hearing yours.
Thank you for being here.