Today’s Honest Expat is Karen who emigrated to Paris for two years in 2016 on a career promotion for a big international company after having worked in their SA office for many years.
Here she shares her honest expat story about her experience as an expat in Paris…
What was the catalyst/s for your emigration decision?
Global experience for career acceleration
How long had you thought through the emigration process?
How easy/ complicated was the application process to emigrate and how long did it take? Did it require certain qualifications/ documentation/ finances etc?
It was easy as I have dual citizenship with an EU passport
What was your first year like after emigrating?
An erratic emotional roller coaster!
What have you loved about your new home?
The feeling of safety
The privilege of easy access to travel
Learning and understanding new cultures and traditions
What have you found hard about your new home?
The language barrier (I am struggling to learn French) which leads to daily struggles regarding daily norms (all my friends here are international, none are actually French or from Paris)
Long distance relationship with my fiancé, family and friends, this is an indescribable heartache and has led to the most painful emotions I have ever experienced, it does not get easier!
Feeling of isolation, not many South African’s in Paris, Brits and Australians ar still slightly different
What have you NOT missed about South Africa?
What have you missed about South Africa?
My fiancé, family and friends
Good meat and Braais
South African warmth and friendliness
Opportunity, room for growth
Knowing what you know now – would you emigrate again? To the same place or to a different place?
Definitely, but with my future husband, I do not advise doing it on your own as it is very challenging!
If you could, would you return to South Africa? What would make you consider returning to South Africa?
Yes, I plan to return early next year as I am getting married.
What makes it hard to return to South Africa?
High cost of “safe living” such as private school fees
Lack of public transport
The unknown of the future state of the country
What were the unexpected (good and bad) aspects of emigrating that you’d wished you’d known about before going?
Expensive help – I had a full time domestic helper back home, I have had to revise this to only 3hrs a week as it is just too expensive at 15€ per hour! You learn to realise that domestic assistance back home is grossly undervalued and should be revised.
Loneliness and isolation –I experienced intense expat depression in my first 6 months, this is totally normal and it does get better I promise, just hang in there and take it day by day. Ensure that you make friends with fellow expats in your office and you will quickly make additional friends via friends, this group grows FAST and you soon connect with likeminded women. If no one is worthy at work look to join the numerous expat groups on Facebook in your respective city, I belong to MANY!
Feeling excluded – Friends and families move on post your departure and slowly, but surely, you no longer feature in their lives, you are not kept up to date and you feel like you are “out of the circle” you once were the center of. Stay in touch by creating Whatsapp groups where you update each often with pics, videos and voice notes, this way it does not feel like a chore with scheduled skype calls (lame, tiring and boring)
Inferiority – Most Europeans in my circle of influence speak at least 3 languages fluently, went to the best schools, travelled the world by 21 years old and have an unbelievable level of global general knowledge! No one is actually judging you, it is all in your head so try harder! Do not worry about making a fool of yourself, make more of an effort and get out of your comfort zone and expand your horizons by learning as much as you can as fast as you can.
Adventure – There will be so many new places and things to discover, you see life through a new pair of eyes as every little experience is new. You become more open and understanding to everyone’s differences and you develop a hunger to learn and know more. Be open to new things and ALWAYS say yes to invites and invite yourself if something sounds interesting, no one is going to beg you and no one will mind if you tag along for day trips, weekends away, concerts, events etc
Appreciation – You come to appreciate the little things: the smell of a braai, rusks with Rooibos tea, sunshine or an SA accent. Stop and smell the roses at least once a day
Awakening – Our way of life back home is not necessarily the only way or the right way!
Thanks so much for sharing your story Karen – it’s really so interesting to hear the FULL story and find out more about the 360 experience rather than just one facet.
And i you’re planning a visit to the City of Lights be sure to read this awesome guide for the perfect weekend itinerary in Paris.
If you enjoyed this interview with a South African expat be sure to read the other interviews with South African expats in The Honest Expat series.
If you are (or know) a South African Expat living abroad who would be willing to share their honest experiences in this series please drop me a mail!! email@example.com