Updated: February 14, 2014
When Charles Dickens wrote the line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he must have been living abroad. In fact, there’s a strong chance he was working in Paris as an au pair.
Over the past year I’ve learned that expat life certainly has its ups and downs, which somehow feel stronger than the vicissitudes of life back home. When things go wrong, it’s extra frustrating- the French post lost your box of summer clothes, you can’t figure out how to unlock your phone and your banker doesn’t speak a word of English (who, ironically, is the one person in France who wants to speak to you in French). And all the while your family’s across the ocean and it can take a long time to set up a network of friends and acquaintances.
Life abroad can get frustrating and lonely very quickly. (And in those moments, god bless Gchat.)
But the highs are also so much higher. Everything’s new and exciting. What is commonplace to a local, (take for example, going to the bakery each day for a baguette), to you is quaint and so French.
But as always in life, the people are ultimately more important than the place. What I love most about living abroad is the other expats you meet: funny, fascinating individuals from all over the world who are always game for another shot of gin. Who share the same philosophies about life and youth and adventure, and pushing yourself to live live live as much as possible. They’re people with stories more compelling than mine could ever be: engineers and foreign diplomats and journalists working overseas, born in Seoul but raised in Warsaw and London. They’re bankers who dropped everything to be pastry chefs, midwestern girls with big dreams who just wanted to soak up Paris. They get me. I get them.
In darker moments I feel insecure about my choices, especially in comparison to others back home. I don’t have a steady career or a boyfriend or a lease. (And I definitely don’t have a baby.) And what’s worse? I don’t want any of those things just yet. For now, I just want to be free. I want to drink buckets in the streets of Bangkok and slurp oysters fresh from the French Atlantic. I want to look back and regret nothing. I want to be old and wrinkled and realize that even though I made mistakes in life, I can say, “You know what, I lived.” I may have traipsed around the rues of Paris in states unfit for public eyes and told a French boy to “embrasse-moi” in the middle of the road, but damn it, I lived.
Sometimes I find it strange that while I have no money, but I’ve never been happier in my life. My future’s shaky but I don’t really care. I just want to see and roam and drink and soak up all of the life around me. Because you’re only young once- and sadly, this age is so, so short.
On most days, I find myself smiling without noticing. I spend most days doing nothing much at all: writing, reading, practicing my baby French and cooking classic French grandmother recipes. I check out new art exhibitions, I write my newspaper column, I drink sangria in backyards. I sip noisettes in cafés as I writes lists for everything I want my life to be.
Which isn’t to say I’m sick of being the help, and frankly my job drives me absolutely insane on certain occasions. (Living where you work and working 6 days a week? Not so fun.)
My next plan is to go to Asia, as you may have read. I have a one-way ticket booked to Hong Kong and I’ll come home when I run out of money. Beyond that, I have no idea where life will take me. That thrills and scares me at the same time, because I have a fear that Chicago will suck me back in and I will go back to my happy but deeply ordinary life. Ideally I would keep living abroad as an expat, learning about the world one metropolis at a time.
I hope this post doesn’t come off as arrogant- it has taken me a long time to get to this point (let’s just say the winter was very long). But for what it’s worth, I’m loving life in Paris and will be sorry to take the next step.
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