Nine months ago, I moved over 3,700 miles away to rural France without knowing a single soul. While I am finally starting to acclimate to the pace and rythym of life here, I am about to leave in two short weeks. I thought I might write a post with tips and tricks on how to adjust to a new place.
Even as a natural extrovert, I had difficulty getting settled here in the beginning. I was used to easily striking up conversation, making friends in a snap. Yet, no matter how outgoing you are, in France most people tend to keep to themselves. This was extremely frustrating at times, and in the beginning, a misunderstanding of these social guidelines left me disappointed and confused. My American-self likes instant gratification! It is important to be patient with yourself and with others.
The best advice I can give is to immediately throw yourself into community activities. I was lucky enough to meet a lovely family at church. They invited me to their house for lunch, and after having just one connection I was able to meet lots of other people. After much convincing, I joined the club basketball team in Verdun. Very slowly, it started becoming more social as well as a way to stay in shape. My golden rule is to “never say no”. If I was invited somewhere to do something, I was there. It is rare in French culture to immediately get an invitation from a stranger, so when you do, hang onto it for all it’s worth! This may mean stepping out of your comfort zone, but this might also reap the most beautiful rewards.
I also have been enjoying the surrounding area of where I live. Asking others to participate in runs and walks have helped me to discover the area as well as make new friends. I have also utilized Couchsurfing, which has allowed me to meet up with other young people in neighboring big cities. I also tried WOOFing, and met a lovely family while volunteering on an organic farm in the Vosges.
But on days when I was frustrated – with the language or culture, my anglophone friends here were always willing to listen. Having a solid base of support can be really comforting when you’re having a bad day. Even connecting with others through my blog has made me realize we all go through the same things sometimes.
Overall, I have met some amazing people over this past year, and count each and every person who has helped me adjust to life here as a blessing. But for all of you struggling to move someplace new – remember to have patience. Count each extended invitation as a victory, and in the mean time you can always try to recreate your favorite American baked goods to use as a bribe. Frenchies love cookies. Or muffins! They have a thing for anglophones and muffins.