Paris. The dream vs the reality

Thursday, April 3, 2014

It has been almost 2 months since I have written on this blog. There is good reason. Life has been a little crazy. As to be expected when it rains it pours and as a result I found myself on a train to London just to get away, refresh my soul and reset.

It worked.

Now, I am back in Paris. Things are winding down with school for the year and I am about to embark on my next journey of interning with the French Government for the Summer. I'll keep you posted on how that one goes.

Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to stop and reflect on my life and what it means to be a single woman, in her 30s living in the city of love. Being an Australian in Paris who writes a blog (even if it is somewhat sporadic), I receive quite a few emails, mainly from Aussie women, asking me for advice about moving to Paris. When I receive these emails, I can sense the same hope and excitement I felt before I took the plunge.

There is something alluring about Paris.

Before I moved, I dreamed about living here. A lot.

Since childhood I had a fascination for foreign lands. I wanted to live somewhere I didn't speak the language, somewhere completely different.

So the place that became my focus was France and more specifically Paris. In 2007 I decided that was the place that it was going to be. So for 5 years I dreamed. I signed up for French lessons, googled jobs in Paris, I looked for apartments, found blogs of other young women living in Paris. I did everything I could to find out all I could about this city I so longed to call home. Then one sunny day in August 2011 when I was in Paris for a work conference, I decided now was the time. I had a successful job in Melbourne, I was happy and 29. I could get a working visa for France until I was 30, so it was now or never. I returned home, booked my flight and told my boss of my plans. He was a little shocked and convinced me not to quit my job, but instead take a year of leave without pay. So if this huge gamble didn't work out, I would have something to fall back on.

It was perfect. 

So in May 2012, I said goodbye to Melbourne and hello to Paris.

It is safe to say, that rainy day in May was the day my life changed forever. I moved here knowing no one, with no solid plans and with no real intentions to stay longer than a year and here I am almost 2 years later, still here.

I had this idea in my head when I moved here. That things were going to be like a Disney fairytale. I would find my dream job, meet a French guy, fall in love.... blah blah blah. I read Sarah Turnbull's book "Almost French" so I had an idea it may be little difficult to live here, but never did I think that it would be the hardest thing I have ever done. 

I am someone who can be described as somewhat of a Nomad. I have moved, a lot, and travelled to many countries around the world. Even some places one would say are not exactly on the safe side, but never in my life have I felt like I have living in Paris. 

Moving to France completely changed my life. The first and most notable change was giving up my career. I had been working as a Nurse and in healthcare related jobs since 2005, gaining loads of experience across difference hospitals in both Australia and the UK. So I thought it may be a possibility to work as a nurse here. Turns out because I was not 1. Blessed to have a European Passport, 2. Did not do my nursing training in Europe, and 3. Spoke French like a 2 year old, my nursing degree and 7 years of nursing experience meant absolutely nothing. If I wanted to work as Nurse here, I would firstly have to do a French test to ascertain my French level (which seemed perfectly reasonable) then go back to University and redo my nursing degree (not so reasonable). So just like that, the last 10years of Nursing experience went straight out the window and meant absolutely nothing in France. So I was left to find another solution. I looked into being a Medical Rep, but I would stumble across similar problems. Either my French level was not up to scratch, or they would not be willing to hire me as I was on a one year working holiday visa. So I did the next best thing and became a Tour Guide!

I love working as a Tour Guide as I get to spend time with people who are genuinely pumped to be in Paris, however it was a hard change. All my years of hard work went out the window and suddenly I was on a different path. I had to keep telling myself, it was my choice to move here and learn French and I would do that by any means possible, even if it meant sacrificing my career.  So with this job, came a whole bunch of new friends, many of whom were/are a lot younger than me.

OK, so the first plan of having my dream career didn't really turn out, but it wasn't bad and it was a pretty fun job to have while living in Paris. So I shifted my focus to the French men. 


If you have been a reader of my blog for a while you will know about my folly in French Internet dating. It was like watching a car accident in slow motion over and over again. I didn't walk away so much as traumatised, more so firmly convinced French men it seemed were not for me!

This all wasn't turning out as planned, so I refocused on my French. I took so many lessons, went on so many conversation exchanges I lost track and even took private lessons. After all this, I thought I would be fluent. Nope. Nada. It turns out if you don't have any French friends to practice with, you are not really going to improve. That's another thing about Paris, SUPER tough to break into the French crowd, essentially all my friends here are expats (which is AWESOME by the way) but not so great for the French. So after 10 months, I decided it was time to go home. I had applied to do a Masters degree but in my head thought it as not likely to be a reality so packed up my things and headed back to Australia.

Within a week of being home, I got accepted into the Masters degree. Of course I did. Paris wasn't done with me yet. So in August, I came back. Ready for round 2.

I thought this time around would be much easier as I knew what to expect, and in some ways it was. I knew how to do the simple things like set up my phone and banking but nothing could have prepared me for going back to study after 8 years off at a French University. Being at school 9-5 every day and working  6-10 some evenings and most of the weekends quickly burnt me out and I could find myself losing grip of my never ending happiness. 

Suddenly school and everyone in it became my world and personalities and cultures quickly began colliding. I guess that is what happens when you put over 30 people of all different ages, from 22 different countries in a confined space for a intense period of time. Friendships were quickly formed and almost as soon as some of them began, they seemed to end. I felt myself clinging to some friendships a lot longer than I would have in normal circumstances. I became so consumed by my new school life, I almost forgot I was living in Paris. I no longer had time for work, I rarely went out and saw my old friends and pretty much stopped writing. I felt like my life had become wrapped up in a mini drama in which I had a starring role. 

It temporarily got better in the new year after 2 weeks in Australia, as I had the opportunity to get some sun and the second semester of the course was only every second week. However after a few weeks I felt myself slipping again. I never seemed to have any money (the joys of being a student), I became more concerned about other people than myself and as a result, made myself sick. It was just one thing after another and I quickly began disliking my life in Paris. I became a recluse, always exhausted physically and mentally and then one day I woke up and realised I no longer recognised myself. Something had to be done, so I booked a train ticket and headed to London for some R and R.

Being in London is the next best thing to going home for me, and I spent time with dear friends laughing and chatting about everything BUT my life in Paris. It was perfect. I felt like someone had sat me on the charger and my happiness was on the rise. I spent 4 days focusing on what I had neglected over the last few months and realised only I was able to make the change. I just needed to take the time to have some perspective.

It made me realise that these are the highs and lows of being an expat. We put ourselves in these incredible situations, often nothing like what we are used to and it tests us. Sometimes we feel euphoric, other times we feel depressed. Its the normal highs and lows of life far away from the familiarity of our family and friends.

No, life has not exactly turned out how I expected it would in Paris, but it is pretty impressive none the less. We make ourselves so vulnerable when we make these bold decisions and move across to the other side of the world. Suddenly you are well and truly outside your comfort zone and you find yourself much more open and ready to accept whatever comes your way. Then if you are anything like me, beat yourself up when things get hard and are not turning out exactly as you thought they would. It is so important to keep sight of who you are and keep yourself surrounded with positive energy. 

So, I made a conscious decision when I stepped off the Eurostar at Gare du Nord that things were going to change. I would no longer surround myself with anyone/thing I felt to be toxic. I spent my 20s desperate for people to like me, but now I am in my thirties I have realised, sometimes in life people will just not like you, and you know what? That is OK!! We barely have enough time in our lives for people that we care about, let alone people we don't, so why waste precious time and energy?! 

Some things are out of our control and it is how we react to these things that make us who we really are. 

I guess this takes me back to the point of writing this post in the first place. 

Paris will challenge you to your core. I have yet to meet someone that has lived here and not felt it in some way. There is something about this place, I feel living here is like a relationship between magnets. When you are here it sometime feels like you and Paris are magnets of the same polarity and no matter what you try you don't seem to connect. Then you leave and somewhere along the line one magnet flips and suddenly you feel this uncontrollable force pulling you back towards each other.

So for those dreamers that want to live here, I say do it. You only live once, but be warned. It will not be easy. Trading in your life for Paris means sacrifice and hard work. If you can accept that your life here will not be nothing like it is at home and that a lot of the time you will feel like you are lost in translation, then go for it. It will make the times you can lay on the grass in the sunshine, gazing at the Eiffel Tower feel all the more worth while. 



  1. Bravo, very well-written and insightful! I think us expats always love reading accounts that acknowledge the difficulties, challenges and ups and downs of expat life because it can be a bit irritating to read stuff from people who've spent a weekend somewhere and think living there will be all roses and sunshine. But also great to hear that you're re-energised and have made some positive resolutions for the future. Courage!

    1. Thanks for the comment Gwan!! Yeah, its been on my mind to post this for a while and its so nice to get your feedback! Being an expat is an amazing experience, but not an easy one as you well know! I hope that you are going well too! :)

  2. Very personal post indeed. If it can reassure you, I felt the same way and had a similar experience moving from France to London 8 years ago, then again when I moved from London to Tokyo. Moving to a country where you don't speak fluently the language is the most challenging thing. Culture shock is a roller coaster and although France and Australia are two western countries, society is very different, French kids and aussie kids are not raised the same way nor taught the same values. Both ways are great and fascinating. You might also notice that living abroad helps you learn about your own culture.

    1. Yes definitely! Its been a big learning curve from all aspects! xx

  3. Just stumbled across your blog and I have to say you hit the nail on the head with this post. I moved to Paris back in September to live with my boyfriend (he's French, they're not all bad!) and I still have moments where I can't believe I get to live in such an amazing city. But after six months my French is still crap, and I've found it difficult to socialize - very true what you said about breaking into the French crowd. I don't know how well I would've coped if I'd come here on my own, you're a brave lady and I'm glad it all worked out for you! If you don't mind me asking I'm curious about your job as a tour guide, as I'm looking for a summer job right now.. Did you work for a company?

    1. Hey Grace, sorry to only get back to you now. It's been a while since I have been on here! It's also nice to know I am not alone! I work for a tour company, so the best thing to do is find one you like and get in touch with them to see if they are hiring! :)

  4. Great post - so refreshing to see honesty minus the 'romance' and bullshit. The fact of the matter is that life is tough, no matter what city you're in - even if it is Paris! Keep going strong, these adventures will be wonderful to look back on when you're old and wrinkly. As a fellow Melbourne girl of the same age, I can't wait to visit your new city next month x

  5. Excellent post, that's exactly the experience of the expat in a foreign land..... I've been through it too, but Holland, not France (should've been easier, one could imagine, but it wasn't). Despite it being the most confusing, baffling, stressful and insecure period of my life, it was also, without a doubt, the most valuable (but in a way that can never really be measured). That feeling seems to increase with time. The problem, though, is that knowing how tricky it was, it's giving me prolonged bouts of procrastination trying it again - this time in France. I keep telling myself that those Eurostar trips from London are good enough, but I have that same niggly feeling that some time must, one day, be spent living. Oh dear! Good luck and enjoy all that the experience offers and embrace all the feelings. It's worth it.

    1. Thank you for your comment, yes there are definitely plenty of ups and downs when you are an expat!

  6. So it's normal to feel like this??!?! Thank god! !!
    I'm an Australian, 6 months in (not in Paris, but in Rouen France) my French is elementary, and no good friends to speak of yet.
    At first I could laugh at myself being so lost here, but after a while I seemed to lose my sense of humour about it. It's nice to be reminded about that. :) Thanks for the dose of reassurance you just gave me.
    Good luck with everything.

    1. Yep! totally normal!! I hope that you are settling in more, be patient. It takes time!! :)

  7. Wow so good to read this blog! Thanks for sharing your experience. I am 26 and plan to move to Paris at this end of this year. I work in the Fashion industry in Melbourne and want to try my luck at a job in Paris since it is the fashion capital of the world. I have been learning French for almost 2 years but apparently most fashion jobs require you to have a good level of English so I might just get lucky. My biggest fear is quitting my great job in Melbourne and ending up working at a cafe or something. But I guess we have to face our fears! Good luck with your adventure!

    Amy x

    1. I believe the best things in life happen when we take risks, so jump in and do it!! Just be sure to hang on and enjoy the ride!! Thanks for your comment! :)


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