Today we hear Diane’s expat story. Diane left her American life behind and moved across the Atlantic to France, one of Europe’s most popular countries for expats. Diane adapted to the French way of life fairly easily and now blogs about her expat life over at ouiinfrance.com
What were your first thoughts and feelings on arrival to your new country?
I think I was in awe of everything around me. I was overwhelmed but excited, a bit apprehensive but hopeful. I cycled through a whole range of emotions the first couple of weeks. When I first arrived in France, I felt like my mind was constantly on and trying to just take everything in. From big things like the language and obvious cultural differences to even small things like street signs and discovering new brands of foods at the supermarket, I felt like there was so much to see and do.
Did you suffer from home sickness and/or culture shock? If so, how did you deal with this and overcome it?
I have to say that I luckily did not experience any major homesickness. Sure, it’s only natural to miss things and people from home and feel like you’re missing out but that’s not only an expat problem. I talk to my family back home almost daily and also I feel like I don’t really get homesick because I consider France my home and not just a temporary place I’m visiting for a year or two. I’m now in my husband’s country creating a new home. So I don’t feel like my move to France took me away from my old home but instead helped me to create a new home abroad. It’s a positive thing. For anyone experiencing homesickness, I think it’s important to stay in touch with people from home and to try and find activities to take your mind off of being homesick. Easier said than done, but I find that being active will help turn a homesick mood around, even if it is just a distraction technique. It works!
About culture shock, I think little things have surprised me here and there and as time goes on, I learn more and more about the French. Some things that have surprised me would be seeing horse meat in the grocery store right next to regular old beef, stores closing for lunch and not being open on Sundays and even Mondays in many cases, long Sunday lunches with the family. I think it’s important to keep an open mind and to not view things as automatically wrong. Life will be different in your new country but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
How did you get to know other expats?
My blog has helped connect me with people all over the world, but here in person in Western France, there aren’t many other expats. For meeting people in general, it’s important to put yourself out there and strike up conversations with everyone. A little effort goes a long way toward meeting people. Just being friendly and trying to speak the language even if you’re a beginner is important. Also, joining groups and activities in your area is a must for meeting others. If you don’t have a hobby, get involved in something new. For me, my gym has been a godsend.
Did you fully immerse yourself in your host country’s culture or did you have some home comforts?
I did (and continue to do) a little of both. My husband is French so I was automatically exposed to French culture and the French way of doing things from the start. But I enjoy doing American things like making American breakfasts on the weekends and pumpkin pie around Thanksgiving. I think balance is key to integrating and feeling comfortable. If someone told me I could never speak English again, never make American foods or do American things and had to act French 100% of the time, I would have left a long time ago. Part of being happy in a new place, at least for me, is finding a happy medium between where you’ve come from and where you are and it’s different for everyone. Comforts from home are a must!
Did you cultivate any special friendships that helped ease your transition abroad?
Two things helped me in this area: my blog and my husband. First, my blog serves as an outlet for all things expat related and has connected me with others both in France and around the world. Even if we’ve never met in person, just knowing other people are experiencing similar things helps when you’re having a bad day or are going through a rough patch. Second, my husband Tom has been my lifeline in France and he’s the reason why the transition hasn’t been too difficult for me. Since he’s French and speaks perfect English, whenever I get anxious about something or frustrated with the language, he swoops in to fix everything. For example, if he was American, I know we would have had a lot more stress when buying our house last year. The process, contracts and paperwork are confusing and it was great that he understood everything and could make sure I was clear on what I was signing. When you have someone in your corner no matter where you live, it just makes day-to-day life easier and you feel like you can do anything. His Frenchness has rubbed off on me and I’m sure he’s taken on some American traits as well. If I had come to France alone, I’m not sure I’d still be here today over three years later.