France is my home country for the last 20 years. Ireland will remain my birth country. I am immensely proud to be a French national while still remembering and loving where I was born and the family that are still there. It is important that we adapt to and integrate to where we live. From my experiences of living abroad, if we do not adapt, then it is difficult to be part of the local community.
This does not mean that you have to lose your identity, your uniqueness while adapting. This is a part of you and your story.
Why did you move abroad?
From a young age, I always knew that I wanted to travel. My father lived and worked abroad. I loved to listen to his stories about life abroad and really envied him each time he took the plane! He initiated me to foreign authors and music. Books and different types of music were my access to the rest of the world, that was until I started packing my own bags and heading off on my own adventures.
It was at the age of 18 that I embarked on my first long trip abroad, still a teenager and without my family. Since, I have rarely stopped travelling, whether it be as an expat, tourist or for work.
At 18, I hadn't the slightest idea of what career I wanted to pursue or what was my life project After completing the first year of an introductory course at University, I decided that I did not want to pursue my career in any of the specializations offered. I did not feel ready or at that stage possessed the determination to continue my studies. It was time to discover the world!
So, I took time out and went travelling. A friend and I packed our rucksacks and headed abroad. We had nothing planned, we had scarce finances, but we did have an open mind and we were not afraid of the 'new'. Wherever we went, we easily found "small jobs" to finance ourselves. During our travels, we met some really interesting people and have plenty of anecdotes from that period. It is going back a few years now, a period where it was much easier and safer to hitchhike and to travel on a shoestring budget! WhatsApp, Skype or email did not exist then, so my family were always extremely relieved and happy to receive that occasional telephone call or letter from me.
After that I had a period of several years between working and studying in Ireland and studies abroad. During an Erasmus exchange in Strasbourg, I met my husband. We kept in touch and I finally moved to France in 2000 to be with him in. For this obvious reason I moved to France. France has also always been a country which I loved to visit. I love the French culture, the French people, the food, the regions, the list is long.
Before the social distancing measures, what did you do to meet people in get familiar with you country?
In 2000, I quickly found work in France. It was easy to build a social network through work colleagues. Back then, my level of French was not the same as now and I found the French very patient and proud that I spoke French and that I wanted to improve my level.
What sort of measures are in place in the country where you live?
All socializing venues are closed, and French people are staying at home in close knit communities. From what I can observe around me, French people are in general really respectful of the restrictions in place. The world over, people are experiencing the same restrictions. We are all in it together and by being collaborative, we will all get out of it together.
I would like to add, that it must be exceedingly difficult for new expats and foreign students who arrived in France during the current sanitary crisis. I guess now that the best means of meeting new people is online, developing the first contact/ conversations online, and when life is back to 'normal' being able to socialize face to face again.
What is a myth about your adopted country?
There are many but here are a few: The French beret, French cuisine, including the baguette, cheese and wine, French chic style, French do not speak English.
Most of these are true, the food is excellent, the French baguette is especially tasty when it has just come out of the oven, there is a huge choice of cheese and wine from the different regions. The French beret is apparently coming back into fashion and French people, in particular Parisienne's are known for their chic all of their own, simple but classy.
I do not completely agree with the last one "French don't speak English". Over the years, I have seen a huge improvement in the level of spoken English in France. A lot of French now move and study abroad, as well as the employees here who are working in international groups.
How do you manage the relationship with your family in your home-country?
Before Covid, it was easy to manage the relationships with family and friends back home as France is geographically not far from Ireland. I went back to Ireland often during the year.
Now, I unfortunately cannot travel back to Ireland. I call regularly, have WhatsApps groups and Aperitifs on-line with my family in Ireland and the UK. In fact, lately, I have more 'virtual'contact with family and friends than I had before. It is important to stay in touch during this period, it is difficult for all. Ireland and UK are currently on a strict lockdown. I also have friends who are expats abroad, some of them are alone. I often keep in contact with them, to keep their moral up.
What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Apart from the initial language barriers and the administration (France has a complex administrative system which can be difficult to navigate through when you first arrive). Overall, France is a country which is quite easy to adapt to and the quality of life is high here.
I haven't found any strange habits apart from the 'eating snails and frogs', which to be honest in over 20 years, I haven't seen many snails or frogs on the menu in restaurants or at home!
What do you miss most?
What I miss most about Ireland is my family and the Atlantic Coast. As a family, we have also lived abroad as Expats. Therefore, what I missed most about France as an expat was the French food: the baguette, cheese, wine and also the frozen food chain "Picard"!
And what's the worst thing about being an expat?
The sense of belonging, where you fit into the new culture. I coined the following term: Third Culture Professionals (TCP). TCP, is an acronym for Third Culture Professional. "A third culture professional is someone who spent part of their life living and/or working outside of their home country and home culture".
When and why did you start your blog?
In 2016, I took a pause in my career as an Executive Search Consultant to follow my husband abroad on expatriation. It was a great experience, to have time for my family and time to train for and run my first marathon.
I founded the blog "Third Culture Professionals" during this period, as from speaking with other "dual career" professionals, I realized that it is sometimes difficult for the partner 'Accompanying Partner' who left their job or took a break in their career to feel completely accomplished during expatriation. Work is often a big part of our identity. After all, most of us spend more waking hours at work than at home. The Accompanying Partner has doubts about finding a job on returning to their home country. The idea of the blog was simply to help and to motivate the Accompanying Partner who wants to return to work. The content is a mix of practical and motivational articles based on my experience as an Expat and Recruitment professional.
How is having a blog been beneficial?
Having this blog is beneficial for many reasons. Foremost, I am a firm believer in sharing knowledge and helping others with whatever expertise or means which we have in our possession. I hope that the content is of use to others.
It has personally helped me "to find my voice", the style of writing that I am comfortable with. I have to be honest, the first few articles which I wrote, took time to write but with practice, we become more comfortable and experienced.
What advice would you give other expats?
The following advice is for Accompanying Partners but can be applied to any Expat. My advice to Accompanying Partners who envisage working after their expat experience, is to firstly enjoy your expat experience. Take this precious time to do what you always wanted to, but never had the time for, while putting in place in stress free mode, the building blocks for a return to work. There is so much to be learned and enjoyed from an expat experience: the opportunity to visit and to discover a new country and culture, as well as acquiring the soft skills of adaptability, resilience, self-awareness, problem solving…
If there are times when you are feeling lonely and miss the family and friends back home, especially during this long period of Covid, get in touch with them. Keeping in contact is now so much easier than when I first started travelling and living abroad. Start a blog with your photos and experiences to share with them. They will really appreciate to see you and it will give them the opportunity to see and experience with you, your new country and culture.
The blog details: Third Culture Professionals
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