(This is a guest post from our daughter, who recently restarted her life on a new continent and launched a website chronicling her experience: Am I French Yet?)
As a young woman, I never imagined I’d move to France. I had no girlhood obsession with Paris, no special feelings for French culture, no Eiffel Tower prints in my college dorm room. I didn’t even like cheese. But I fell in love with a Frenchman, and we all know how love can completely change the course of your life.
Now here I am in my 30s restarting my life in a foreign country and learning my first foreign language in earnest. I am aware that my current situation is a privilege, and a bit of a dream for many Americans. I also know that I have a leg up in many ways: I have a French husband (and his family), I have the means and time to focus on learning a language and to discover my new country daily through its world-renowned food, culture and landscapes.
However, demolishing your former life and restarting in a foreign land is not always a picnic, no matter where you move. Learning a language means embarrassing yourself daily as you pick up words and phrases bit by bit. Navigating the bureaucracy of another country (in a tongue you barely speak no less) to access banking, visas, and education can be demoralizing.
You lose a lot of the autonomy that naturally comes with being in your native country, speaking the language perfectly and never having to question whether you belong. It is an exercise in challenging your self-esteem and determination.
When deciding whether to move to France this spring, I came across a quote that really resonated with me: “There is no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.” (Side note: I searched for the attribution to this quote and found everything from anonymous to a member of Def Leppard, so let’s just say it’s unknown.)
Sitting in my New York City apartment, I thought about how this quote applied to my situation. NYC is not a city known for being particularly warm and snuggly, but I had carved out a relatively comfortable life there after 11 years. I had a decent apartment (no small feat), a job I was proud of and a social circle of people I adored. Was I ready to give that all up? Did I really know what I was in for moving to another country?
I ramped up French study sessions with my husband. I imagined myself without my family and friends close by. I imagined restarting the career I’d built over the past decade. I tried to prepare myself for the difficult aspects as much as I could without actually standing on French soil.
But I also let myself dream. About finally speaking French comfortably with my in-laws. Introducing my future children to my favorite gardens and museums in Paris. About the experiences and lessons that can only come from taking a big leap out of your comfort zone.
So we did it. We moved to Paris. Now three months in, I’m definitely still out of my comfort zone, but I’ve also expanded it greatly. There have been tears and moments (okay, entire days) of frustration and questioning my decision. But there have also been language breakthroughs, a bottle of 50-year-old wine shared with new and old friends, moments of disbelief I get to live in such a gorgeous place, and the gift of being re-introduced to my husband through his own country.
I started my blog, Am I French Yet?, for a few reasons. First, I want to share the many-sided experience of becoming an immigrant with friends, family and anyone else who was interested. Second, I couldn’t find much practical information about navigating the immigration process in France and figured if I was looking for it, many others must be as well. And finally, because I want to remember these early months and how they feel. Hopefully I’ll be able to look back in a year or five and be proud of myself for getting out of my comfort zone and building a new life, en français.
Charli James is a journalist, writer and GypsyNester daughter currently living in Paris, France.