Friday, January 7, 2011

How I got here

More and more, I’m finding that blog readers and people I meet are curious to know how I came to live and work in Paris. Of course my main reason for moving to the City of Lights was because Gui and I picked Paris to live in once we decided to get married. It was either Austin or Paris, and for us at the time, Paris was where we wanted to be.

Admittedly, I jumped into expat life without really considering the consequences of living in a French-speaking country, but living abroad wasn’t a completely foreign concept to me. Despite having grown up in the same town for nearly all of my childhood, I’ve always been pretty much at ease with traveling and adapting to new living environments. As soon as I saved up enough money and was old enough (at the ripe old age of 21), I picked up and moved to England for 3 months to be near friends and to participate in a workshop at the London College of Fashion. It was a mind-blowing experience to live outside of my country for the first time, to see just how different life was on the other side of the globe. I almost immediately fell into the swing of British life: I ate lots of curry, I had a housemate that was never there, I hung out with friends at pubs, took the train to school and back, hauled my groceries on the bus. I lived a totally independent life much like the one I’d been living in Austin, only without a car and full of new places to discover.

Then, a couple of years later, while studying Italian at university, I entered into a student study abroad program. I lived in Rome for a summer with an Italian family and went to language and culture classes every weekday with my professors from back home. I became close friends with some of the other students in the program, and I adapted to the slow-paced, laid-back Italian lifestyle effortlessly (I mean, who wouldn’t be happy taking 2-hour breaks in the afternoon and eating pasta for hours at each meal?). Living in Rome was a totally different experience than living in England, though – there was a slight language barrier and many cultural differences that although I quickly embraced, were far from the norm of English city life. I kept a short livejournal of my time in Rome that you’re welcome to take a peek at.

So, knowing that I'd already done it before, I felt pretty prepared to tackle life in a new and foreign city a little more than 2 years later when I moved to Paris. I've briefly archived the ups and downs of my expat life in Paris on this blog, but suffice it to say that adapting to the French language and culture was far more difficult than it had been for me to do when I was in Rome. I had never studied French before coming here, and I felt defeated enough by it most days to stay holed-up at home in front of the internet and CNN. Eventually, I got over it, and after taking a class at La Sorbonne, I felt fueled with enough knowledge of the language to work on it in earnest in my daily life.

Finding a job proved to be a different story, and I was rejected numerous times for jobs that I was otherwise qualified for in my mother tongue. What's more is that many companies wondered why an American with a degree in political science would want to work doing something non-political. It was tough.

So, the question I'm most often asked ("How did you get your current job?") is arguably the most difficult to answer only because it seemed to happen purely by chance. After acquiring enough French fluency for general conversation, I found a listing for a job matching my skills on cadreemploi.fr and I applied for it immediately. I dedicated hours to coming up with the best script to describe myself and qualifications in French for the interview - every single night up until my interview, Guillaume and I literally practiced a dialogue of possible questions I'd be asked and how I'd answer them. When the big day finally came around, I was more confident about this job interview than previous ones simply because I was well prepared, I knew I was qualified for the position and they had requested my CV in English.

I was also lucky in that I already had the right to work in France as a spouse to a French citizen, which I know is not the case for everyone whose heart is set on moving here. Honestly, I'm not very well-educated on the subject of how to get a work visa independent of being married or "PACS'd. In fact, I only know of one person, my friend Juliet, who was able to have a company sponsor her for a non-English teaching/non-au pair job in France.

So, besides the whole getting married thing, I guess I don't really know I ended up in Paris. I've always been a sort of free spirit, wandering around trying to figure out my little place in this big world. Still, I never would have imagined I'd be living here - I never dreamed about living the French life nor thought much about sitting in a café where great writers once toiled over their lifelong works; I never fantasized about picnicking at the Champs de Mars under the Eiffel Tower, sipping wine and speaking French. Yet, here I am. Even though I never dreamed about having a life in Paris, I've come to appreciate what it means to live in such an envied city and above all, I've discovered another place in this big world to call home.

* * *

Below, I've listed a few resources I found helpful when I moved to Paris, including job search websites and language school info. If you're interested in studying French while living in Paris, either as a beginner or at an advanced level, La Sorbonne offers courses for all levels, some of which, I believe, qualify to obtain a long-stay student visa that also permits students to work part-time while studying. I'm no expert on the subjects of how to move to France, the French visa process, or where to find a job in Paris and I only know what I know from my own personal experience living here. What my experience tells me, though, is that in Paris there there seems to be a decent job market for bilingual (French/English; French/Chinese; French/Italian) administrative assistants, lawyers and accountants. That said, I have Anglophone friends who work as translators, writers, graphic designers and computer programmers in the city, so anything is possible.

If you have a specific question that you think my experience may be relevant to, feel free to leave it in the comments and I'll do my best to answer it or point you in the right direction.


Living in France:
Expatica
AngloInfo
Expat Forum
Transitions Abroad
Getting Married in France
The Katia & Kyliemac expat podcast
The Paris Blog
Chez Loulou has recently written some wonderful tutorials on how to move to France (a must read for any American who wants to live in France)

Job Search sites:
cadreemploi.fr
pole-emploi.fr
Fusac
magazine for anglophones
OECD recruitment site

French classes:
La Sorbonne
Alliance Française

6 comments:

KEF said...

Great post!!

I'd love to add my two cents since I also was able to find a sponsor for my job (admittedly I disliked much of it) in Paris. For me, the key was my "stage" or internship that got me in the front door of the company. Most internships will require that you're already enrolled in school in Paris but once you are, the sky is the limit stage-wise and then you can quickly get to know the people you need to know in the company and go from there.

I think without my stage I wouldn't have been able to convince the company to sponsor me. Just an idea for people looking for another way around all the red tape! It CAN be done!

misplaced texan said...

KEF! How did I not know this?! I guess I just assumed you'd always lived in Paris, as if by magic or something. :) Such good advice! Thanks for posting it!

Loulou in France said...

Thanks for the mention.
I enjoyed reading a bit more about you and wish you all the best in the coming months. Hope I'll get to see you again one of these days.
Happy New Year!

ithinkheaven said...

Thank you for this post. Have you ever heard or met anyone living there on an artist's visa? If so, how hard are those to get? Like, do you need to be a really well-known artist or just engaged in artistic works?

Thanks again.

misplaced texan said...

Loulou, ditto here! Was glad to meet you for once! All my best for a fantastic 2011 for you!

Ithinkheaven, the visa your referring too, I think, is the Compétences et Talents visa that artists, authors, athletes, etc. can apply to. I personally don't know anyone who has succeeded in obtaining this visa, though I do know of those who tried unsuccessfully. It's apparently a very specific visa that's only awarded to a handful of people a year. You can find more info on the visa on the consulate's website (http://www.consulfrance-washington.org/spip.php?article519).
Bon courage and keep me posted - would love to hear if you make your way over to Paris! :)

christine said...

I've been hovering round your blog on and off for months now.

Boy can I relate to living abroad completely blowing your mind. It changes your life and completely opens your perspective.

Have permanent residency in England now...thinking about applying for dual citizenship so I can eventually move to France. I go there so darn much anyway....I'm thinking it might be a transition for me.