Living in a foreign country is an exciting opportunity, as everybody will tell you. But, is is always a dream or sometimes the unique available option?
For us, the answer would certainly be a mix of these two cases.
Double America, 2012 (Glenn Ligon), National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
∼ Explanations ∼
I already had the opportunity to live in a foreign country, but it was always for a limited time (between 5 months and 1 year). I knew that I would go back to France then, and consequently, my goal was to enjoy fully this experience. Also, I lived in close countries (Spain and England) and there always was the possibility to come back if I really needed it.
So, it was a very different experience when I moved to the other side of the Atlantic ocean, without knowing my date of return (which eventually never happened!).
Indeed, during the Spring of 2009, my spouse was looking for a postdoctoral position. There were very few possibility in France, so he opened the search to a foreign country. Obviously, we discussed about this big change of life and I agreed to it. I have always wanted to spend some time in other places. At the beginning of July, he had his interview for a postdoctoral position in… Québec! I did not know much about the French province, neither Canada. “Ah, it is cold there, but how cold?” (Well, forget about it!).
View over Québec city and the Château Frontenac from the city of Lévis.
The interview went so well that his future director offered him the position. We were so happy to hear about it, but when he asked us to move right away, it came as a blow! Well, we needed to prepare our moving boxes, empty our apartment, tel our relatives, do new passports, and a lot of different administrative tasks… In short, this is very difficult to leave everything in a few days. We did not receive much help for our departure as M was not sent to a subsidiary by a French company, as it uses to happen her (and in that case, you receive a lot of help for the international moving, for all the administrative part, bonuses etc… we are quite far from the university world (but we can’t complain as the university paid at least for our visas 😉 ).
Whales in the Bay of Tadoussac
The “ghost”trees in Mont Mégantic, Estrie.
His director was very comprehensive and gave us an additional deadline. while starting our adminsitraive steps, we understood fast that we would need to be recognized as common law spouses in order for me to work legally in Québec. This status gives some rights to non married couples, but you will need to live together for at least a year… we were living together for 11 months at the time. Oops!
Cap Tourmente, Québec
After a last negotiation, we could leave at the beginning of October. So, we have had less than three months to prepare our departure. I consider it as a very short time now, especially when I see the blogs that were created in the meantime and in which people are preparing their departure 6 months to a year before leaving. I even know someone who opened her blog before being in the foreign country! We left to live a new adventure, full of wishes and energy. But, we also left because future in France was barely conceivable for my scientist of husband, which did not give us many alternatives at the time. Fortunately, neither of us have regrets.
Northern gannets, Bonaventure Island, Gaspésie
In the Ice hotel, Québec.
Fall in Québec city (Montcalm neighborhood).
3 years later, my husband’s contract ended with no possibilities to stay (we did not really want to stay longer in Quebec). So, in 2012, we tried to move to the USA. At the opposite of the majority of expatriates who dream of living in a very specific place and do everything in their power to go there, we just wanted to find a position of M, almost everywhere in the USA! And we searched for a very long time. I saw myself living in Massachusetts, then in Tennessee, California, Pennsylvania and Colorado, and we ended up in Florida (I certainly forgot a few places in the listing). So we left Canada and, along with a trailer and our cat, we crossed over 12 American States in 4 days to arrive in Miami (we do not recommend at all this kind of travel!). I will tell you more about our life in the Sunshine State very soon.
One of the several milk-shakes that I have tried since we arrived in the USA.
Brown pelicans in Naples.
Unusual meeting with one of the Key deers.
Gators in the Everglades.
Beautiful sunsets in Naples (west coast of Florida).
My husband got a second postdoctorate position in Florida, so we received the J1 & J2 visas. This type of visa is mainly used in the academic system for exchanges & training programs (as well as for the au pair programs outside of the academic system). With a J2, I could ask for a working permit (the petition must be done from the american territory – more and less a 3 months wait). Then, I found a job that I liked. Our visas were good for 5 years, so, in theory, we should have been fine from there. In theory.
Art-Deco buildings, Ocean Drive, Miami Beach.
At the beginning of 2015, a big change happened for us as my husband finally got a permanent position as a researcher. We gave you more details on our own blog a while ago (in French). We had to change our visas as the J1 was for a short time professional status. Thanks to the help of the university, we quickly obtained the H1B & H4 visas. The unique concern with the change is that the H4 visa doesn’t allow the spouse to work legally in the US (neither to receive any compensation from outside of the country). The immigration services are very strict and someone holding a H1B visa is supposed to meet his family needs alone. Well, well, well. Then, I started a one gap year (a little bit more now) before being authorized to go back to work thanks to the work permit linked with our future Green Card.
Sunset on the bay of Miami (no filter).
∼ A short introspection after 7 years of expatriation ∼
- We met very nice people these last years who are now great friends.
- We traveled a lot and we visited fantastic places, in the USA, in Canada but also outside of North America.
- We learnt so much about ourselves (and about others) and we developed different capacities of adaptation.
- We have the opportunity to speak English and Spanish on a regular basis (well at least I have this opportunity, as Mathieu is still learning Spanish).
- We had unique professional opportunities that would have been pretty hard to get in France, whether it is for M in the research area or for me with the different positions in which I worked without having the good degrees.
- We spent some quality time with the family and friends who visited us here which would not have been exactly the same staying in France.
Lifeguards cabins, South Beach.
Obviously, we got through difficult times too, and after those years, we now have a few certainties:
- The difficulty to live far from our family and friends. We are missing very special moments as weddings or births, we do not see our relatives’ children growing and it is very hard for us, despite of the habit growing with time. We were quite lucky about death during those 7 years (no one from my side, aged grand-parents for M), but this is part of life and we do not know at this time if we would be able to go back to France when it will happen again.
- We see that life goes on for our relatives in France (which is totally legitimate), but we would appreciate to get more news from them because, maybe, some of them do not realize that we are living alone in a foreign country which is not easy everyday. Oh, and we would like to get more visits too (if I have to spread a message 🙂 ).
- We miss the country itself. We see all the events happening in France, and despite political and social problems, we think about French people who have a great transportation system (ah, the TGV…) and can travel easily to the beach or the mountains, to cities or the countryside. We think about our cultural and gastronomic diversity, to a unique health and school system that foreigners are jealous of…In short, France is an outstanding country, and you really acknowledge that when you live far from it.
- Adapting ourselves more and more to the habits and customs of a very different country (well, we will never get weapons at home, even if Florida is the American State with the most armed residents in the USA… which is absolutely crazy!).
Sunset in Hollywood Beach (no filter).
Finally, all these elements together make our experience very unique. After living in 4 different countries, I learnt that there is no place where everything goes well. Each expatriation has its own challenges, and it is essential to be prepared before leaving (at least in your head!), whether it is to make a dream come true or because you do not have any other choice.
We finally found our rhythm by coming back 1 or 2 times a year to France, which gives us the opportunity to see our family and friends and also visiting France (and sometimes even close countries). Maybe we will come back definitely to Europe someday, but certainly not in France as the situation there is not getting better for researchers.
Frangipani tree in our borough
Our cute palm trees (I have to admit that I fond in love with them since we live here 😉 )
Our life is now in Florida, and for at least the next few years. Our feelings about Florida are still mixed for many reasons (I will go back on that soon), but we are very aware of this great opportunity and we are determined to enjoy it fully!
In Delray Beach, Florida
Do you live in a foreign country? If so, where and what do you think about your new life? If not, would that be something that you could try someday?