I moved abroad for the first time in 2009. I came for work and there was a very clear end date at the end of my contract. It meant I’d cram in as much as I could in those 7 months abroad in terms of culture, language, and living the French life. But then, I’d abruptly have to pack up my things, thank France for the experience, and be on my way back to the USA. It was freeing, in a way, to know I had a set period of time to live life abroad. I was ready to take advantage of everything in front of me and took comfort in the fact that my time was 100% mine. My life abroad in France was to be short-lived and I was ready to soak up every minute.
And I did soak it up.
Then life took hold and my plans changed. It was time for round 2 of my life abroad in France. After marrying Tom, I officially moved back to France for the long haul. We’re not in a major city and we don’t live a sparkly, jet-setter lifestyle. Where we live is probably a lot like where you live in a lot of ways.
There comes a point when living abroad just becomes living. Life in France is life.
My time in France doesn’t have a defined end date. We bought a house. We work. We have a little dog. At some point over the years, living abroad became my new normal. It sneaks up on you in the quiet moments when you’re barely paying attention. You don’t realize you’ve adapted to the French way of life.
I speak the language. I do the everyday things that you do like running errands, hitting the gym, paying the bills. Sometimes we go on vacation, but my life has a regular rhythm and routine. I cling to that rhythm and routine, even more so when things get tough.
The first couple of years abroad, everything is shiny and new. You’re distracted, almost drunk off distraction. And sometimes quite literally, depending on how much of that French wine you drink. 😉
There are so many aspects of living in France that I’ll be forever grateful for. Beyond the wine, cheese, and healthcare afforded to all, I’m most grateful for the struggle and for France teaching me that I am stronger than I think. Language challenges, culture frustrations, life challenges… they come at you hard and fast. When the challenges feel overwhelming, you turn to your support system and hope they’ll help get you through.
I could have learned these lessons at home, but I don’t think they would’ve meant as much. When the backdrop is familiar and comfortable, how much can you really grow?When the backdrop is familiar and comfortable, how much can you really grow? #livingabroad #expatClick To Tweet
But then that “foreignness” becomes the norm. You lose sight of what’s different about life in France. The normal routine abroad becomes your normal routine. There’s nothing wrong with regular life. I guess what I’m trying to say is that living abroad isn’t a constant vacation. Everything isn’t better in France. It’s a real place. Things are different than what you’re used to but you get used to it all.
You adapt to France and not the other way around.
Any way you look at it, life abroad is real life. As time ticks on, you miss people. You miss things. You lose some along the way too. But you also gain so much.
I’m reminded of all the special things about living abroad when someone from home visits. In fact, my parents and aunt, uncle, and cousin just left earlier this week and we had a fabulous time in Provence. I love seeing France for the first time through their eyes, appreciating the newness all over again and reminding myself of what the early days were like.
Through them, everything becomes new to me again and my memories from years past come flooding back. Their comments and observations remind me of differences back home and the things I yearn for when I catch myself remembering my old life. It’s a good thing and I can’t help but smile thinking about them.
It’s incredible to watch as two worlds collide and people from home are treated to a glimpse of life in France. They notice the cultural differences right away since they’re hard to miss… the volets, the store hours, the way the desserts are packaged at the bakery, the bread drawer, the electric kettle….
Their visits help me remember what dazzled me and what frustrated me back when I first arrived. What made me scratch my head and what made me smile.
I catch myself explaining why seemingly annoying things about France are the way they are, almost in its defense. Life is different here.
They take in the French energy and vibe around them and it’s such a treat to be able to see them acclimating to the place I call home. Because that’s what France is to me now. It’s home.
Home is comfortable. Normal. Fun. Routine. A place to escape from and a place to escape to.
France has become real life for me a little over time. So yes, I live abroad in France, but these days, I change the phrasing. “I live in France,” I tell people. It’s my home. At some point, living abroad dissolves into just living. And France is a wonderful place to do it.