The Importance of Expats Supporting Expats (and Supporting Yourself)

In the past, I have explained the importance of befriending locals (in my case, French people!) during your time abroad, instead of only clinging to your group of expat friends. I still agree with this wholeheartedly. Not only does it enrich your overall experience as an expat, but I firmly believe that integrating with locals of your adopted country gives a deeper and more meaningful first-hand experience with language and culture. It also leaves you with life-long friends, helpful tips and hits when combating the bureaucracy, and a reason, one day, to return.

However, with that being said, I would not be a successful expat without the help and support of other expats. Studies show that people gravitate towards those with whom they share similar interests. Being expats in France, whether it be as students, assistants, lecteurs, or just working abroad, it’s normal to want to befriend and connect with people from your own culture or shared language, if only to exchange stories and experiences about living in your adopted country over a glass of red wine.

And really, sometimes (or most of the time), expats just GET IT.

My transition from assistante to lectrice, from the south of France to the north, would not have gone as smoothly as it has if it hadn’t been for the support and genuine kindness from my fellow expats– many of whom I had never met in person. For example; the fellow bloggers and tweeters I have connected with solely based on our past experiences in France, and therefore with whom I almost automatically became friends; the fellow American expat who answered ALL my questions, who set me up with a place to stay until I found one of my own, and met up for coffee with me for the first time when we were both stateside; the British and Brazilian expats who took me in for more than three weeks without knowing me at all, and then without hesitating, welcomed me into their friendship circles; the expats and Frenchies alike who did not hesitate to invite me out for drinks, dinners, and excursions around the region, only knowing me through the words of this blog or the filtered, happy-go-lucky version of my life on social media.

Photo taken by my friend Matt, who's been a life line in Val!
Photo taken by my friend Matt (on my right), who’s been a life line in Val!

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Another lifesaver

These same expats are the ones who helped me when I had everything– and I mean everything, stolen from me last weekend in a Brussels metro station. My passport, along with my new visa, 3 credit cards, (a little) money, my Wisconsin driver’s license, my carte jeune… all taken from my purse in a mere two seconds. It was an expat who called his friend in Brussels to meet and give me, a complete stranger, some money, so that I could cross the border and get back home to France. It was the same expat whom I had met once in the states and just twice in France, who scanned and emailed me all of my documents at a moment’s notice so that I could safely and successfully fill out a police report. It was an expat who gave me advice about where to go next, and how to get the resources I needed in order to fix the whole sans papiers problem as soon as possible, even though we had only met once in person before. It has been expats who have lent me money while my accounts are unreachable, and who have listened to me cry, complain, laugh, and just vent, as I combat la bureaucratie française and attempt to fix this problem. It has been expats who have withheld judgement or various condescending, victim-blaming comments, and instead offer words of encouragement and support, including, “I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

Losing all of my papers has really helped me to profoundly appreciate the importance of relationships and friendships among fellow expats. It’s not always going to be your family members or your best friends from home who are going to be able to be at your side, but sometimes instead, fellow strangers with whom you share a common experience. The expats of the ch’nord have truly been a life-savers over the past week, and I often as a result find myself at a loss for words over the sheer kindness of these strangers whom have become fast friends. I cannot emphasize enough on the importance of maintaining and cherishing these relationships.

Bisous,

Dana

13 thoughts on “The Importance of Expats Supporting Expats (and Supporting Yourself)

  1. This happened to me during my first few months in Spain minus the passports (luckily those were in my apartment) but everything was gone-Spanish debit card, American debit card, US driver’s license, French carte nationale d’identite, nice camera, my apartment keys, Spanish cell phone and US cell phone… Luckily I was with my roommates when it happened and I went directly to the nearest police station to file a report. But I knew I wasn’t getting any of it back. Replacing everything was relatively easy, the biggest hassle was the carte nationale d’identite (of course!) because it involved the French Consulate in NYC. I couldn’t replace my card at the Madrid consulate because my file was in New York and I’d have to make an appointment to transfer all my documents to the Madrid consulate before even getting to replace my CNI. So I had to wait to fly home to NY for xmas to start that process. It was a whole year later before I had my new CNI in my hands. I’m glad you have such a great support network in France! It’s a learning experience, albeit an unfortunate one. It’s been 4 years since it happened to me and I’ve never relaxed my paranoia when it comes to my purse, even in the States. Better safe than sorry.

    1. Ugh, that SUCKS. I’m sorry that happened to you. The worst part is that a woman literally told me at the embassy, “Well it’s just so complicated to do it here in France.” I wanted to respond, “Yes it is complicated, but it’s your JOB.” I really hate this aspect of France, and I just hate that this happened. I’m the same. I’m so paranoid and check my bag like every 3 seconds for my keys, etc. Alas, VIVE LA FRANCE.

    1. It’s been so awful. You’re certainly right that France has taught me to be patient. Right now I’m playing the waiting game for my passport. I literally can’t do anything without it. Then I’ll attempt a go at the Prefecture. It’s just been a mess with OFII. I was not planning to go home for Christmas, but alas if that ends up being the case… unfortunately that would be already past the legal 3-month stay.. argh. We will see! Updates soon!

      1. It’s probably best really that you’re not going home. Otherwise you would be stressed about getting this sorted out in time. But I’m sure that’s not much comfort!

      2. too true! Though I did buy tickets to Poland for October, but with a passport i think I may be okay because it’s Schengen… any insight?

      3. I would guess that since you’ll still be within your three months, they won’t think twice about it. I did have trouble in Poland once because I flew in to Krakow, with no stamp in my passport because of the Schengen zone, and out from Gdansk to Dublin, and they thought that was weird, so they looked at my passport with a fraud detector and then agreed that it was real and let me go.

        Poland is great. I’ll be going back with the 2e in April. Hope you have a fab time and don’t worry too much about the papers…

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