Life has not been the same since I permanently changed my address (to a new country).
It’s been an emotional roller-coaster for sure. And the person who hopped in the ride is not the same as the one who’s in the middle of it—and the one who gets down at the end will be completely transformed.
Leaving the country that was my home all my life has changed me in ways that I never thought possible. Ever since we started planning to move, I began to nurture expectations on how my life here would be. I pictured myself learning French in two months, making lots of friends and getting an amazing job while enjoying a more calm, easy family life. I figured that all the stories I’d heard about how hard can it be to become an expat would not apply to me.
Life was about to teach me a lesson—or several of them.
When I arrived here, I became “the other,” the foreigner, the stranger. I am sure that in a big city such as Paris, the story would have been different, but I arrived to a really (and I mean really) small town. Yet somehow, I stuck out. It made me anxious, which also triggered in me a really heavy need to fit in. It was like I was reliving high school. (Not the greatest experience for me, by the way). Fitting into a community is hard when you don’t speak the language, which may seem obvious, but for me it was like a slap in the face.
My progress with French has not been nearly as fast as I imagined. My 10-year-old son was speaking like a local in three months, but I am not 10 anymore. So now he really enjoys correcting me all the time. The first big lesson came in the form of cultivating my capacity to be humble, acknowledging my shortcomings and asking for help.
Lesson number two was about gratitude. Living close to my friends and family always felt so natural, and now that we have an ocean between us, I am extremely grateful for the bonds that continue over time and distance. I cherish every visit and every phone call and every letter or email. I am grateful for the amazing technology that allows us to see each other and communicate in real time.
Lesson number three is about awe. Because let me tell you, this place is just beautiful. And the wine—and the cheese—and the pastries! (Okay, I can get a little bit carried away when it comes to food.) When I had just arrived, I felt in awe all the time. And then, with my daily struggles with language and relationships and money, it just began to fade away. At some point I understood that if I wanted to make the most of this experience, despite the not-so-easy details, I needed to reclaim that capacity of wonder that I felt in the beginning. Sometimes I needed to force myself—but it works. I can feel the awe of touching an olive tree that’s more than 100 years old or the magic of walking the streets of a medieval town and visiting the ruins of an ancient castle.
Lesson number four is patience. I have to be patient, because things here have a different rhythm. It’s been almost two years and my work permit arrived last month. So you may guess that I still don’t have an amazing job. And—as hard as it has been for me to acknowledge—I still don’t speak perfect French. I can communicate now, but I continue to struggle. So I have to be patient with the system and my surroundings, but I especially need to be patient with myself.
Finally, lesson number five is mindfulness. Which of course, is a moment-to-moment thing. It’s a personal reminder, all the time. Sometimes it comes in the form of a “This sh*t shall pass” moment and sometimes it’s about acknowledging that my children will not be young forever, so I need to be fully present during this beautiful time of their lives. It’s also about knowing that expectations of the future, or dwelling in the past, does not help in any way to make my present situation better. It is what it is. Sometimes amazing, sometimes tiring, sometimes lonely and some other times, it feels like a big, fun party.
The “me” who left my country is not the same person who is writing these words. And the “me” that will go back to visit my friends and family this summer will certainly be different.
So far—even with all the ups and downs—I can say that it has really been a lovely ride.
Author: Jean Pozo
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Photo: Author’s own.