Back to the USA

I’ve been home for almost two weeks now, although it feels much longer. There were so many things that struck me as odd once setting foot on U.S. soil. Flying into Newark, I was shocked to be charged 5 dollars to use a luggage cart. The day after I got home, I met a friend for dinner near the mall. It was already 7:30, and I couldn’t believe the amount of cars in the parking lot; what is everyone doing here after seven? Aren’t the stores closed? I found the server to be so friendly, I thought it was cheesy. Why is she so enthusiastic about appetizers? At dinner we were served huge portions and then sent home with doggie bags. While running in my town, instead of passing cows, fields, and rivers, I ran by 611, Starbucks, and Wawa.

I forget words in English, which makes it seem like I’m showing off. I want to speak franglais at every opportuntity, which no one arounds me understands. I miss eating dinner with friends, planting ourselves around the table for hours, and talking.

A big smile came over my face when I saw my post on Anne’s blog, Pret A Voyager, this morning. My city, in the big lights! What perfect timing. Take a look at Verdun in summer on her blog, and be sure to check out her fabulous series highlighting all of the arrondissements in Paris.

Why France? Talking with Anne

Happy Saint Patty’s Day! Today we have another amazing guest post from Anne, at Pret à Voyager. In this series, I want to take a look at why people come to France. Everyone has their own personal struggles and triumphs as an expat – but I would love to take a look at patterns and similarities between each individual.

I use Anne’s blog all of the time as a resource when I go to Paris – it’s lovely to see the city from a designer’s point of view! For example, today she posted about busking! Ever heard of it? She also highlights other designers on her series Boarding Pass.

1.)   How did it come about that you moved to France? Did you want to move here? What were your apprehensions?

This is my third time living in France. The first time I was a study abroad student, then I taught English for a year. This time I thought I was going to get a job in France. Ha! Yeah, right! It’s a good thing I found the perfect Master’s program for me – an MA in Global Communications from the American University of Paris.

I never really had apprehensions, but then again, all the blogs and resources online didn’t exist like they do now. Also, I moved around a lot growing up, so I guess it was less scary because of that. But for anyone thinking about taking the plunge, just realize it’s not a walk in the park, but just roll with the punches and you’ll be fine. It makes for great material in writing stories!

2.)   What were your first impressions once you arrived? How did that change as time went on?

The first time I ever stepped foot abroad was my junior year of high school with my family. We stayed with dear family friends in their apartment. Perhaps having the “authentic” experience is what really sold me on this place. Each time I’ve returned though, I think the struggle to find an apartment never ceases to amaze me. Apartments are petite here to say the least, but you learn to love and appreciate that. Now I try to chronicle my impressions of life in Paris through my {Un}Glamorous Paris column, where I try to take a humorous look at the less than perfect sides of living here.

3.)   Do you speak French? How important is language to living abroad?

I’ve been studying French since I was in high school (which was a long time ago now). I don’t know if I’ll ever consider myself 100% fluent, but as I learn the intricacies of the language in an advanced French course I’m currently taking, I’m learning to understand the French a bit more too. Learning a language in school is very different than using it in daily life. While you can easily get by in France from speaking English, for me the true pleasure comes from having exchanges with everyday people here.

4.)   Do you feel integrated into life in France?

When I lived here 8 years ago, I wanted people to think I was French, so I didn’t speak much and was afraid to take risks. Now I fully embrace that I’m an American in Paris (who often gets mistaken for French!). I love going to my regular haunts, and most people know I like to conduct my business in French. I love my crepe man who is Sri Lankan – it’s great speaking with other foreigners because they won’t judge you. For me everyday life is a game, and often a challenge, but that’s where I get the pleasure. As with anywhere I’ve lived, it’s taken me a good year to feel fully settled, but yes, I feel like I have a real life here.

5.)   What do you miss the most about your native country?

The space! It’s funny that the older I get the smaller my apartments get. While I am up to 12m2 (129sf) from last year’s 10m2 (110sf), I miss the wide open spaces of the US. While it can be charming to be quite close to the people sitting next to you at a restaurant here, it’s also nice to have some breathing room. I also really miss Target and Trader Joe’s! Ironically though, you can find most things from home here these days.

 

6.)   What is your favorite thing about living in France?

 

I love the quality of life. It’s taught me to be more balanced. I like that people appreciate taking holiday and vacations (hello, 5-9 weeks per year!), don’t work all the time, spend hours talking over great meals and go to the market every few days. I’m also a huge fan of public transportation.

 

7.)   What is your favorite French wine? I probably could have answered this better 10 years ago, but a Côtes du Rhone is always a safe bet by me. As a designer, I still prefer to shop by prettiest label 😉

Why France? Talking with Lindsey

In this series, I want to take a look at why people come to France. Everyone has their own personal struggles and triumphs as an expat – but I would love to take a look at patterns and similarities between each individual.

Today we’re talking with Lindsey of American Girls Are, whose hysterical blog always leaves me giggling in front of my computer screen. It’s also a great resource for those wanting to move to the City of Lights – she even writes about the best croissants in Paris.

1) How did it come about that you moved to France? Did you want to move here? What were your apprehensions?

In July 2009 my college sweet heart of 6 years (whoa!) was offered a job in Paris. He said, “move to France with me” and I said, “oh la la.” After about five minutes of Amelie running through my head, reality set in–Europe is really, really far away, I don’t speak a lick of French, I have zero jobs lined up in Paris…I turned into a total worry wart and became apprehensive about moving abroad, but after several years of long distance dating I couldn’t imagine hunkering down for a transatlantic relationship. Plus, I was very tempted by all of the yummy food and started counting croissants to fall asleep at night. After hemming and hawing for a few weeks, my (now) husband accepted the job and we started planning our move to the City of Lights.

 

2) What were your first impressions once you arrived? How did that change as time went on?

Gray, gray, gray! I immediately noticed the lack of color and was feeling super silly in my pink Chucks! But now, I appreciate how the Parisians use color to subtly enhance their outfits, their restaurants, their homes and it’s just beautiful. The gray tone of the buildings provides a perfect background for experimenting with color in fun and surprising ways.

 

3) Do you speak French? How important is language to living abroad?

Before August I spoke one word of French–“les incompetents” and I learned that little gem from Home Alone. Pretty impressive. Thankfully I’ve taken several courses and have a grasp of the language (a very loose grasp mind you). Signing up for classes and practicing my French on a daily basis has been the single most important thing I’ve done to make life in Paris easier. Bumbling through a conversation is better than nothing and I really like to rock the awkward Franglish combo.

 

4) Do you feel integrated into life in France?

Not exactly…I live a diluted version of French life. I spend 1 hour on lunch, the French spend 2 hours. I go to the grocery store, the French visit the markets. I eat granola and fat free yogurt, the French eat fresh fruit and fromage blanc. I’m slowly adopting the French way, but it’s a constant work in progress. Each week I’m here, Paris feels more and more like home and not some weird, foreign dreamland. I still haven’t done the butcher business though…I’m working up to that.

 

5) What do you miss the most about your native country?

I miss my family and friends. Cheesy, but true. Of course there are the little things I miss like big jars of peanut butter and free refills, but my heart really pines for nights out with my girlfriends, going to hockey games with my dad, talking walks with my mom, and being silly with my sis. I went from being a 30 minute drive away to 3,000 miles away–a HUGE transition! I’m hoping to get some teleportation skills in the coming months 😉 When you move faraway you realize there’s nothing more important than the people in your life–no matter how much you miss good radio and Sour Patch Kids.

 

6)  What is your favorite thing about living in France?

I want to say pastries, but that makes me sound like Two Ton Tessie. I do indeed love the foodie culture here and eat more buttery goodies than I care to share, but I heart low cost airlines and the ability to travel to and fro throughout the continent with ease. I’m like the modern day Carmen San Diego–France today, Turkey tomorrow. It is awesome!

 

7)   What is your favorite French wine?

Confession: I don’t like wine. Correction: I don’t like wine like the French like wine. This presents a bit of a challenge. I’m sort of a sugar addict and prefer to sip sweet drinks that aren’t appropriate for lunch and dinner a.k.a mojitos. I try to enjoy the wine culture, but I’ll never be a sommelier’s best friend. I usually select wine based on the label…ever heard of Herding Cats? It’s great :)

Why France? Talking with Tuula

In this series, I want to take a look at why people come to France. Everyone has their own personal struggles and triumphs as an expat – but I would love to take a look at patterns and similarities between each individual.Today we have a guest post from Tuula at Le Petit France Blog. She tells us about her big move to the south of France.

1.)  How did it come about that you moved to France? Did you want to move here? What were your apprehensions?
Well, I did a bit of the traditional “fall in love & move to France” thing, except I did it in little of an untraditional way. I was working in Rome, Italy when I met my future husband-to-be and we dated for about one year before his contract ended and we decided to hop across the border to France.
Of course there were apprehensions, but I think quite a lot fewer than if I had moved directly to France from the States. I had a good idea that the first year would be really difficult, and felt better prepared after my Italy-expat experience. I would have to say that my biggest apprehension was learning the language. After investing so much time and energy into learning Italian, it was certainly a big commitment to break open those grammar books again.  

2.)   What were your first impressions once you arrived? How did that change as time went on?

My first impressions were positive. Thankfully my boyfriend has a kind & caring family and a supportive circle of friends. I did expect a lot of the French stereotypes to rear their ugly head when I made the move, but I didn’t find any support in the South for the rude and/or snobbish French people I had heard about.  Of course I’ve had the odd bad experience or two (it’s not a perfect world after all!), but overall my impressions have been about the same since I arrived. I love the French!  

3.)   Do you speak French? How important is language to living abroad?

My French is at a quite good level now as compared to when I first arrived. I put in hours & hours of solo study as well as supplementary courses. I couldn’t stress enough the importance of learning a language when living abroad. Before I used to think that it would only be necessary for getting a job in your host country, but now I believe it’s fundamental to the transition process.

4.)   Do you feel integrated into life in France?

I do feel integrated, but just like my life in Italy, I think it takes several years to really get your life off the ground in another country. It’s like starting your life all over again, and often without the familiar support system (ie. friends & family) that you would have in your home country if you were to move to another city.  It takes time, but, for me, the process of discovery is part of the fun.

5.)   What do you miss the most about your native country?

Well, of course the top of the list would have to be friends & family. But coming in at a very close third is Mexican food – tacos, nachos, burritos and everything in between!

6.)   What is your favorite thing about living in France?

Oh, that’s a tough one! There are really so many great things. Maybe it comes from being located in the South, but I very much appreciate the French lifestyle in the detail & care paid to the enjoyment of daily life. Whether it’s an extended lunch, or shopping at the markets every day for fresh produce, I don’t think it’s a stereotype to say that the French have the pursuit of pleasure down pat.  

7.)   What is your favorite French wine?

That one’s easy – Rose! I never thought I would be such a fan, but nothing beats a chilled glass of Rose during a hot, Provencal summer.

Why France? Talking with Sini

In this series, I want to take a look at why people come to France. Everyone has their own personal struggles and triumphs as an expat – but I would love to take a look at patterns and similarities between each individual.

Today we have a guest post from Sini at Bons Baisers de France. She tells us about her big move from Finland to France.

1.) How did it come about that you moved to France? Did you want to move here? What were your apprehensions?

Since I was kid, I have had a thing for France. Loving the films by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, I was thinking that France must be amazing country and I wanted to move there someday. That was long time before I met my french boyfriend Raphaël. After 2 years together in a long distance relationship, I decided to finally give my dreams a try and I reserved a place at university of Avignon, to learn french, book my flight tickets and resigned from my job. I was relieved when I came, moving here was like coming home.

2.) What were your first impressions once you arrived? How did that change as time went on?

My first impression of France was that people are friendly, so welcoming and they eat much! Really much! Oh mon dieu! Avignon is a beautiful city, I still find it magical and I’m really lucky to live in this kind of place. Now after these years, I’m starting to realise that everything is not like a dream – there are problems too. Now I know how it feels to be a foreigner, I was confronted to bad attitudes after some people realised that I’m not french. Luckily it’s just few ones, most of the people are lovely.

3.) Do you speak French? How important is language to living abroad?

Oh yes, I do now! That is something really important, specially in southern France. Most of the people don’t speak english at all, and the ones who do, have a heavy accent and I have a hard time understanding. I started learning french at the local university, after the first semester I already had improved enough to paddle out in daily situations. Second semester, I was speaking alright and I got my first job in France. It’s important so you can build your own life here.

4.) Do you feel integrated into life in France?

Quite well, it has been a bumpy road but I’m still hanging on. I’m not a quitter, although a few times I felt like leaving back to Finland. Just need to stay positive and try!
But with the support of Raphaël and his family, my family in Finland and all the new friends I have got along the way, I’m happy here.

5.) What do you miss the most about your native country?

My family, everyday more and more. I try to visit them a few times a year, but it’s not much compared to how much time we used to spend together. I miss sauna, the finnish nature with forests and lakes, finnish mid summer and snow at winter.

6.) What is your favorite thing about living in France?

I feel like I’m on holidays, as south France is so different from Finland. All the small boutiques, people, great food and sunshine at summer make me feel good. When driving to north,there are mountains and driving to south, there are amazing beaches. Love this life!

7.) What is your favorite French wine?

I’m a beginner with wines, I didn’t actually drink any when I came here. I do now drink some, only white and rosé. Best ones I like come from Côtes du Ventoux and Châteauneuf du Pape.

Guest Post: Allison from the Sunday Flog

This guest post is from Allison, my friend from high school. I love her passion for traveling and how much she values delicious meals shared with family and friends. She shares that on her blog (warning: after you will want to go over for house for dinner). Here, she captures how challenging it can be to travel to a new country – but how her experience still influences her today.

Hi friends and faithful followers of Brenna’s awesome blog! My name is Allison, and I write at The Sunday Flog where I share big family Sunday dinners, recipes, and other fun things I love.

When Brenna asked me if I would write a guest post while she’s away, I put aside my jealousy of her travels and happily obliged – I jump at any chance I can get to talk about South Africa.

Years ago (sad), I made a wise decision to study abroad for Spring semester 2008. After weighing a few options, I settled on the University of Cape Town, South Africa for a few reasons: 1) I would likely never make it to South Africa without this opportunity (and dad’s wallet), and 2) I could pay a lot for a flight, but live CHEAPLY, as opposed to paying nothing for flight and live on the Euro or Pound. Happily, I applied to UCT, and before I knew it, I was off to The Motherland.

I remember standing in JFK airport, knowing no one, and realizing that we were all in the same boat. We were about to embark on an amazing adventure together, so we had better get to know each other. Fast forward 24 hours. I heard my name called along with two other girls, dragged my huge duffel up 15 steps, and walked into my new flat. I can recall lying in bed that first night and staring around my room thinking, “Well, this is it! This is my life for the next 5 months.” That was the start of the most amazing adventure of my life.

From that first day, I took every moment to “seize the moment” to the fullest. Cape Town was beautiful, and I didn’t want to miss it by sitting in a classroom. Luckily, classes were HUGE, so I skipped out when I could to go on adventures. I frequented the white beaches flanked by the stunning Table Mountain in the background, rode mini-bus taxis all over downtown Cape Town, and even road tripped to Namibia with a bunch of friends. In hindsight, there were many moments in Namibia where I likely could have died, but we all made it home safe and sound.

During Easter holiday, a group of us signed up for a 10 day trip through Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. We rode overland vehicles, slept in tents, woke up in the wee hours of the morning for breathtaking game drives, visited the markets in Zimbabwe, rode elephants, played with lions, and bungee jumped off the bridge at Victoria Falls. I took it all in, every beautiful moment that truly made me feel alive. I wanted to capture this feeling and never forget it.

Studying and living in South Africa truly changed me. I know many people say that when they return from studying abroad, but I actually mean it, even three years later. I came home, immediately hated what I was studying in school, and decided I would not waste a moment of my life. I had been on a crazy adventure and wanted that to continue forever. It made me realize that life is entirely too short to spend it unhappy. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about South Africa, and the friendships I made at UCT – both South African and American – will last forever.

If you have the chance to go abroad, take it. As I sit at my desk job day in and day out, I am so fortunate to have had that experience. Don’t think you will “miss out” on things happening at home, and be concerned that you will miss out on the experience of a lifetime. Happy travels to all!