Living abroad to some people sounds like a long-term vacation. I can’t tell you the number of people who tell me how “lucky” I am to be here, as if this opportunity just casually fell into my lap. Let’s be clear: moving to France took months of preparation, a complete upheaval of my life, and a considerable amount of sacrifice. I sold my car, found a place to store the stuff I decided not to get rid of/sell, arranged for someone to take care of my dog, saved up enough money to a.) fly to France b.) survive the first two months without a paycheck c.) continue to pay my U.S. bills while here, etc.
I had to go to San Francisco from Portland, OR to apply for a visa, made the very complicated decision to end a 4.5 year relationship, barely fit everything I thought made sense for the next 7-8 months of my life into a suitcase and a backpack, spent 35 hours in transit, and eventually recovered from a nine hour time difference. Although it may sound like I’m complaining, I would absolutely do it again without a moment’s hesitation. I simply want to highlight some of the specific challenges of deciding to move abroad for an indefinite period of time.
In terms of my life here, parts of it are idyllic. For example, I only spend 12 hours/week teaching, which doesn’t include preparation, but that doesn’t occupy too much of my time. Sure, I’m not paid much, but that’s why I saved up to be here. In many ways, I have been really fortunate: my work contact arranged housing for me, which is significantly less expensive than many of my peers pay; I only teach at one school, which is a 15 minute walk away from my house, whereas other teaching assistants are assigned to up to three schools; and I managed to score the raddest British roommate who helped me get settled, and even gave me a cup of tea and a banana when I got in after my 35 hour voyage.
One of the most difficult transitions since I’ve been here has been finding ways to occupy my time. Wandering around for hours and exploring is always a great option, as well as reading and writing. Still, I went from a life in which I worked close to 50 hours a week and was constantly running around, especially for the last two months before I left, to an open schedule. It’s been unsettling, and frustrating. I am a routine-oriented, driven individual. Having free time is not something I am familiar with. Consequently, I’ve been finding ways to fill my schedule with fun activities, but I also live in a fantastic city, which makes it easy.
Here are some ways I’ve managed to stay occupied:
- I love going for runs and walks in different parts of town and getting semi-lost on side streets. It’s a great way to familiarize myself with where I live and find new things I wouldn’t see on my normal routes.
- I found a rock climbing gym and got a membership. I can go whenever I want and have made a few climbing friends. I’m still working on finding people who climb outdoors, but it’s been a good starting point. I also have a few American climbing partners who have similarly open schedules.
- I got in touch with an ultimate frisbee team and started training with them! If you’ve never played before, many cities have beginners’ leagues, and it’s a wonderful way to make friends – plus Ultimate folks are known for being really welcoming and easygoing.
- Cafes/ Coffee shops – my house is full of distractions, so when I need to concentrate on my writing, or want to read in peace, I go to a cafe. I have a few favorites here in town, and have made friends with the owners of my favorite dedicated gluten free restaurant (one of the two in town) who know to expect me on Friday afternoons with my computer and usually seat me at “my table.”
- Anglophone bookstore – we have a little one called “Le Bookshop” that has lots of books written in English and has a cafe so you can hang out and read. They also have French-English conversation meet ups once a week.
- Dancing! There’s a Cuban restaurant here that has beginner salsa classes twice a week. It’s five euros for entry, or seven gets you a Mojito, too (yum).
- PUBQUIZ! Most of the expat bars in town and a few of the French ones, have a pub quiz, which is a great way to stretch your brain… and winning is pretty fun, too.
There are tons of ways to meet people, fill time productively, and get comfortable in a new place, whether you’re visiting for a week or living for an indefinite period of time.
About the author:
Bethany Huntley is an adventurous gal who has lived in all four corners of the US. She went to middle school and high school in New Hampshire, and still calls it home in the figurative sense, but has spent the last few years living in the Pacific Northwest. She graduated from Willamette University with a degree in English and French. During her college experience, she studied abroad in Martinique, a French overseas department in the Caribbean, and did a semester at Montana State University studying Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems. Her interests include, but are not limited to, food, dogs, France, wine, and adventures.