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5 Lessons I Learned From Moving to France

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From time to time, people ask me what I’m doing all the way in France. The short answer is: My girlfriend is French and I moved to be with her.

It was not a decision that I made immediately after we met. In fact, at first, I honestly believed there was no way I would ever move to France. It was a terrifying thought. I didn’t speak a word of French. I told K that I didn’t think I could deal with living in a country where I didn’t speak the language. I had all these flashbacks to being 10 and trying to learn English properly and kids making fun of me at school because I pronounced things funny and because I didn’t understand half the things that were said to me. I hated that feeling of not knowing what was going on and I couldn’t see how I could ever put myself through that again. So, I put the option to move to France in a little box and locked it away.

K and I spent two years flying back and forth to see each other. And a few things became clear to me during that time:

  1. We weren’t breaking up.
  2. We couldn’t go on like this forever because it sucked.
  3. There was no easy way for K to move to the US.
  4. If I wanted to be happy, I would have to move to France.

From one day to the next, my perspective shifted. There was a moment where I thought, I have to do this. And more than that: I can do this. So I told K that I was ready to move to France. We discussed it a lot. She was worried for a long time – I think up until the day my plane landed in Lyon – that I would change my mind. I knew that I wouldn’t because it felt right. And when something feels right to me, I do it.

When I first told my friends and family that I was moving to France, I got mixed reactions. My grandparents were very much set against it (and still ask me every time we talk when I’m moving back to Puerto Rico). My parents sounded concerned but resigned to the fact that I’d made up my mind. How will you make money? was their main concern. My friends were all supportive, and if they thought I was crazy they never said so. Most said things like, “That’s so romantic!” And, “That’s so brave!” And, “It’s going to be such a great experience for you.”

So, I quit my job. I sold most of my belongings. I signed up for school in France so I could get a student visa for a year. And in August of 2005 I hopped aboard a plane and headed off into the unknown.

So what have I learned in the past five years? Lots of things. Here are but a few:

 

1. Nothing happens the way you planned

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That’s such a cliché. But it’s true. If someone had told me 10 years ago that I’d be moving to France one day, I’d have laughed in their face. You know how people say that they’ve always wanted to live abroad? I never wanted to live abroad. I didn’t really even care to visit Europe. The thought of traveling didn’t excite me. I had no intentions of learning a third language. I was perfectly happy in the US. I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

I moved here thinking that we’d stay for a couple of years until we figured out a way to move to the US together, and for a while that was very much my mentality. I wasn’t homesick, but in my head the move to France was a temporary thing. Then as timed passed, I started to realize that I didn’t just like living here, I loved living here. And it occurred to me that aside from my friends, there was nothing about the US that I missed at all (Okay, I kind of miss Barnes & Noble and Taco Bell).

But I honestly have no intention or desire of ever going back to the US to live. I love Europe. If I can stay here forever, I will. And by “here” I don’t mean just Lyon. I very much would love to live in Spain at some point. I want to travel. I want to see it all.

 

Image2. It pays to follow your heart

When I made the decision to move over here, I knew there were no guarantees that it would be a good idea. K and I had never lived together, so there was no way to know if our relationship would even survive my moving in. I felt ready to move here, but there was no guarantee that I wouldn’t be terribly unhappy not knowing the language and feeling left out of conversations. And there have been many times when I have felt left out of conversations and I have felt unhappy that I couldn’t contribute in the way I’m used to.

But moving here opened the door to different opportunities. For nearly five years, I made my living by writing, something I had always wanted to do and something I intend to do from here on out. I have access to places I never knew I wanted to visit, like Paris. I love Paris. And it’s only a train ride away. I’ve been to Greece. I’ve been to Portugal. I’ve drank wine in Bordeaux. I got to walk around Cannes as they set up for the film festival. I’ve gotten to explore the hidden passageways of Lyon and eat foods I would’ve probably never had the guts to try before (like escargots, which I love with a fiery passion).

I had no idea what to expect from this move, I only knew that it felt like the right thing to do. And I haven’t regretted it for a second.

 

3. Things don’t have to be perfect for you to be happy

ImageLife here isn’t perfect. I lost my job a couple of months ago so now we’re down to one income. We live in a cramped apartment and while we’ve been wanting to move for a long time (and almost did last year) it hasn’t yet worked out. Even though I’ve been here for four and a half years, my French is still mediocre and I have a hell of a time communicating with people. We don’t have any local friends. K has a ridiculously long commute to work which means she gets home between 8pm and 9pm most days. Never mind the stress of visas and stay permits and so on and so forth.

But I’m happy.

I’m happy because my relationship with K is awesome. I’m happy because my parents support my relationship and support me. I’m happy because even if I have no friends in Lyon (something I do hope to change in the near future), I have really amazing friends all over the world. I’m happy because even if the apartment is small and our bedroom looks more like a storage closet with a bed in the center than an actual bedroom, it’s a whole lot more than many other people have. I’m happy because I get to write, which is pretty much the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I’m happy because I have a book published, which is a dream come true.

I’m happy, too, because all the other stuff that isn’t “perfect” can be improved upon. We’ll eventually move. I’ll eventually get an income stream. I plan to head back to school and improve my French in the next couple of months. Once we move, K’s commute will be shorter. Etc. Etc.

 

4. I’ve changed a lot since I was 10 (but that’s not necessarily a good thing)

ImageOne of the things that kept me from making the decision to move to France was the memory of how unhappy I was when I’d moved to the US at the age of 10. The move really affected me. As much as being Puerto Rican makes me technically American, it’s not the same thing at all. Florida was a huge culture shock for me. It was like moving to Mars (I remember being really mystified by sporks because I’d never seen one. My teacher once asked me about Wal-mart and I stared at her blankly. WTF was Wal-mart? There wasn’t a Wal-mart in PR in 1990. Taking your lunch to school in brown paper bags? Deeply mind-boggling).

For many years I just wanted to move back to PR. I was really miserable. But it was a very productive sort of misery. I was unhappy that I didn’t speak English very well and it motivated me to learn it as best I could. I practiced my pronunciation until I lost my accent. I read all the books I could get my hands on. I started writing.

I wish I could get that mentality back. Learning English was all about emotional survival. Everyone around me thought I was stupid because I didn’t speak English very well and being called stupid drove me insane. But with French it doesn’t feel so dire. There’s no kids at school making fun of me. No teachers making me feel dumb. No parents secretly commenting to each other that I didn’t belong in “normal” classes.

The point is, while I have no desire to be my emo 10 year old self again, I really need to get my butt into gear when it comes to learning French. I’m trying to get back in touch with my driven, younger self. It’s not working very well. Yet.

5. Worrying is pointless

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This is one of those things that I know in my head, but that rarely changes anything. I worry. I worry all the time about a plethora of different things. And even though I know it’s pointless, I can’t help but worry.

I spent 2008 in a state of constant panic. I was living in France with an expired visa. My grandparents were both in the hospital. My mom was then in the hospital in critical condition. I couldn’t leave France without potentially getting in trouble, and possibly ruining my chances of ever returning. I thought my grandfather was going to die. I made plans to go to PR in September but my visa situation was still not rectified. I spent my days surfing the Internet and finding horror stories about illegals getting arrested and deported. I thought for sure that was going to be me. I thought K and I would be separated forever. If anything had happened to my grandparents or to my mom and I wasn’t there I’d have never been able to forgive myself. I was, in a word, a mess. I was crying pretty much daily. The rare moments of everything is going to be okay would quickly spiral into worst-case scenarios.

It was not a good year.

But all that worrying I did was for nothing because in the end, my mom was fine. My grandparents are fine. And eventually K and I got my situation here sorted. Thank God. And I say thank God because I prayed and prayed and prayed.

I think this is the first year since moving here that I actually feel relaxed. I don’t have to worry about flying back to FL to renew my visa. I don’t have to worry about a visa at all. And that makes everything else manageable.

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I’ve never really thought of my moving to France as a brave thing. I had money in savings. I had an apartment all ready to welcome me. I had the love of my life here. Given the chance to do it all over again, I would make the same decision in a heartbeat.

If I could travel back in time and tell 25-year-old me anything it would be: Stop worrying. This is the best decision you’ve ever made.

 

All images were taken by me in Lyon, France.

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19 comments… add one
  • Enrico

    Well… your words are helping here!
    I just moved from Italy to Switzerland to be with my love, and believe me, I totally understand some of the things you say. About burocracy, about worrying… but also about how worth it is.
    However, given the distance, you were much braver than me, let’s say it aloud :)

  • Fantastic article! I am in the same situation. But I am living in France and my boyfriend lives in US. I am so glad to find someone who manage to adapt in France from US. I suppose he will move here, eventually. Thank you for sharing this article. You gave me a hope. Greets!

  • Collisi Estelle

    WOW!
    This Post gives me hope, my Boyfriend who is American is planning to come here soon as he has been already there for 3 months a few months ago and had to go back (you already know the 90days struggle ;-) )
    The first plan was to do the pacs (after back n forths to the consulate, thousands of calls and stressed out days) but we decided that getting married was the best (but very quick) decision ! We know that we love and want to live with each other ( we’ll just keep our marriage secret until he proposes when he’ll feel like it …) I am happy for you cause after the storm, the rainbow showed FINALLY ! We are desperatly waiting for our peaceful and organized life to begin, I feel like he has been gone forever even though it has only been 1 month… Wish everybody good luck, patience and Ingrid is right “ITS USELESS TO WORRY” .
    God bless y all
    Xo
    E

  • Yareli Medina

    You are an inspiration. My boyfriend lives in France and I live in the US and we are looking for ways to be together but its hard for him to come here to the US. I want to continue studying but I can’t seem to find a school in France. Do you have any suggestions. Thank you and congrats!

  • I relate SO MUCH to numbers 1-3. My boyfriend I met online–he was from NJ and I was from IN. I’d wanted to move out of state my entire life, but always wanted to head west to Colorado or Arizona. I never dreamed I’d be moving East. In fact, like you never wanted to visit Europe, I never wanted to visit NY–a place I now can’t get enough of (and is only a train ride away)!

    I moved here almost a year ago and it’s been the BEST decision of my life. Things aren’t perfect, like you said, but the thing that aren’t I can improve. But I have the love of my life and I LOVE the city I live in. I wouldn’t change my decision to move here for anything.

    I’m glad you’re happy <3

  • Thanks a lot for sharing this with all folks you really recognize what you’re talking about! Bookmarked. Please also visit my site =). We will have a hyperlink exchange agreement among us

  • Emily

    Just reading this now…I always thought you were super brave and insanely romantic to move to France to be with K. The day DOMA was overturned here I immediately thought of you both and how I this had happened 8 years ago, you two might have been living here. You’re both awesome and it makes me super happy knowing you two are still a couple. So damn cute! Also, it makes my Boston-Philly long distance relationship pale in comparison to how you two stuck it out across an ocean till you could be together!!! Love to you both…just wanted you to know I was thinking about you two.

    • Ingrid Díaz

      Thanks, Emily! Miss you. :) Love back to you!

  • Alejandra

    Siempre pego un paseíto por aquí y leo tus post pero esta es la primera vez que respondo a uno y es por dos razones: te admiro y puedo llegar a comprenderte.
    Te admiro porque, lo creas o no, hace falta mucho valor para dar semejante salto. También tengo que felicitarte porque buena parte de ese gran salto se da cuando uno encuentra a una persona que vale la pena y todo indica que vos lo has hecho.
    ¿Por qué te entiendo? Básicamente porque soy argentina pero a los dieciséis años nos mudamos a España por las razones más básicas, las económicas.
    Pese a compartir el idioma, es curioso lo poco que les entendíamos al principio. He llegado a señalar cosas en el mercado con tal de no tener que abrir la boca porque me sentía… rara. Y no me acordaba cómo se llamaba el producto que quería así que yo como los monos jajaj.
    Para colmo, en plena adolescencia no es un cambio que una desee.
    Ahora bien, en cuanto el tiempo pasa y el dolor va mermando, te das cuenta de la gran oportunidad que se te ofrece y poco a poco todo se va acomodando hasta que te encontrás un día (como hoy mismo, por ejemplo) con 25 años y apenas pensás en aquello que dejaste y tanto echabas de menos.
    No mareo más, simplemente te digo que sos una inspiración y tenés la curiosa y poco común capacidad de llegar a la gente, por lo menos a mí. Ya sea leyendo The blind side of love o tus posts, me engancho sin remedio.
    PD: que casi se me olvida, mi abuela vivió en Lyon desde los 3 ó 4 años hasta los 15 y he oído acerca del lugar desde chiquita. Con mi madre hasta queremos conocerlo por las anécdotas nos han seguido toda la vida.
    Un abrazo y suerte con el francés!!!

  • Mickie

    I’m so pleased to read this blog entry and find it so similar to my own story (living in france these past 5 years).

    Can you please explain what you did to rectify your needing a visa? Let’s just say I know someone in a similar situation and would love to know how to straighten things out for once and all.

    • Hi Mickie! Where in France do you live?

      The visa situation was a very long, long process. I started out on a student visa, which then expired. I went back to the US and renewed it. And then it expired again. Then K and I got PACS’d and applied for a stay permit. It’s not as simple as getting a visa by getting married, but since the PACS is all we’ve got as an option, it worked well enough. The whole thing took forever (lots of paperwork, visits with the police, more paperwork) but it’s nice to finally have all of that stuff sorted. I was really stressed out for a long time over it.

      If I can help or offer more info, let me know! Feel free to email me: idiazsilva@gmail.com

      • Mickie

        Hi Ingrid,

        Thank you for writing back so quickly. I’ve gone ahead and sent an email your way. Thanks again.

  • Bico Bielich

    Nice story… I also wish I could stay in Europe for a while but I’m stuck in the US, frankly I have no idea how time flew and passed me by I dream of going back to South America (Peru) miss everything everyday.

  • Michele

    I really enjoyed this journal entry because I too am a worrier (is that even a word?) I’m trying to get past it and your perspective helps.

  • manu

    hola!

    hm primeramente tengo que confesarte que esto de comunicarme con desconocid@s por internet hace años que no lo hacía, so, mucho gusto, desconocida!

    esta historia de tu salto al vacío cuando te fuiste a francia debo decir que me conmovió tanto como para romper la promesa que me hice a mí misma de no volver a ser la maníaca de internet con conocidos y amistades virtuales que era cuando más joven -ahora tengo 26, pero en algunas situaciones de la vida que no viene al caso detallar eso puede hacerte sentir bastante vieja-.

    básicamente, quería decirte que si te interesa, puedo ayudarte con el francés (bloody french! o langue fascinante et merveilleuse, según sea el caso). me encantaría, y eres absolutamente bienvenida a escribirme lo que se te ocurra y cuando gustes… reviso el correo todos los días.

    hm quizá debería especificar que soy chilena, vivo en chile, y según mi terapeuta no soy ninguna clase de psicópata -ooops, quizá no debí decir eso!- y que por azares del destino hablo francés desde los 5 años, modestia aparte, todo lo bien que pudiera hablarlo quien lo tiene como 2° lengua. de hecho, mi historia con el francés es un poco como la tuya con el inglés, pero quizá un poco menos traumática. el inglés sigue siendo un poco materia pendiente para mí.

    en fin, no te aburro más, la oferta está hecha.

    cuidate, disfruta lyon, que es una ciudad maravillosa por lo que pude conocer, y estaré esperando saber de ti.

    salut, ma belle!

  • Lish

    I love this post. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy. :)

    • schoemene

      Tu écris que tu ne parles pas le français, j’espère que tu le lis parce que je ne sais pas écrire l’anglais.
      Ce que tu écris me rappelle ce que j ai ressenti en quittant pays et travail il y a 10ans (à 22 ans) pour rejoindre D. à Paris, puis ce fut son tour de me suivre à Lyon puis Angers et maintenant nous nous apprêtons (pour son travail) à nous installer à Berlin, où il va falloir réapprendre une autre langue, trouver un travail, un quartier sympa où habiter, un cercle d’amis…
      Comme toi nous n’avions pas l’expérience de vie commune avant de prendre la décision d’habiter ensemble et nos finances ne nous permettant qu’un 12m2 en banlieue, c’était loin d’être gagné…
      Maintenant je ne me souviens même plus que je pouvais vivre sans D. en fait je crois que je ne peux plus et je suis bien persuadée que mon pays c’est là où est D. et réciproquement.
      En tout cas bonne chance à toutes les 2 à Lyon, qui est une de mes villes françaises préférées pour vivre comme pour travailler.

  • That’s a very touching story and very similar to my own. Only I wasn’t the one who did the moving. My partner made the move from the US because there was no way we were able to live together in the US. She didn’t really speak German, she had to leave her family behind, sell her horse, pack her stuff and go. And she did. We had a very brief period when she had doubts and went back to finish college, but it’s been 8 years now, and life has been very very good. We’re happy here in Germany, and I am confident in saying that she loves living here and would not want to live in the US.

    So, thumbs up from another long-distance couple who made that big jump into the icy waters of moving in after a LDR.

  • Me ha gustado leer tu experiencia al mudarte de País, quizá porque se parece mucho a la mía. Cuando tomé la decisión de mudarme a España con mi novia, más o menos mis miedos eran los mismos que los tuyos y pensaba que me iba a morir de nostalgia.

    La realidad es que cada vez amo más Europa y me encanta vivir aquí, en gran parte porque mi chica está conmigo, después de todo, es por ella que terminé de este lado del mundo, pero me he descubierto disfrutando del ambiente y la gente, y hasta las comidas extrañas (aquí otra que ha comido caracoles lol). Y me recuerdo a mi misma un día antes de mudarme y estaba tan nerviosa que me temblaban las manos ante la experiencia, y me veo a mi misma ahora y pienso “tanto preocuparse para nada” LOL

    En fin que mi vida ha resultado ser muy diferente de lo que siempre planifiqué, pero extrañamente creo que ha resultado ser mucho más satisfactoria también :)

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