As my non-renewable lectrice contract approaches its final six months, the inevitable question regarding my next move has started to slowly but surely become the bane of my existence. The voices in my head haven’t stopped spinning, buzzing, or asking, “What’s next, what are you going to do next; where are you off to next!?” Do I apply for this, pursue that, settle here, go there, spend this, save that, try this, start over, give up, go home, keep going?
Lately, I’ve become completely overwhelmed with worries and possibilities and opportunities; obsessed with creating pro-con lists and Googling visa requirements and researching different options and punching numbers into a calculator, and feeling completely overwhelmed with various obligations.
Six years ago after study abroad, there was no place better than France. France was the answer to everything– to my everything, at least. But after spending almost three (wonderful!) years working and integrating myself into the country and French society, I’ve become a bit disillusioned. Now don’t get me wrong– I love France. She’s a great country–a beautiful, fascinating, amazing country, and my home. I’ve built a great life and have made life-long friends here. She’s given me experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything, and has taught me more than she could ever know. But France is no longer the magical socialist fairytale utopia I once believed it (and saw it!) to be. It’s a country (just like all others) with flaws and problems and copious amounts of red tape for non-EU/EEA citizens who wish to stay and work and build a life here long term.
I told myself that if I decided to leave France, I wanted to leave on my own terms. Leaving France would be my decision and my decision alone– with no influence from my parents or grandparents or friends. I’ve been trying to search for answers and figure out what I want for myself (heck, I’m not even sure I want to leave France.) Many expats (though certainly not all) who have managed to stay in France (after completing the assistant and lectrice gigs) enroll in graduate school and then find a job (looking at you, lovely Laura), already have two passports, or have French partners. I’m not saying that dual nationality or vie privée status automatically equals employment or makes things any easier in regards to finding stable employment, but in regards to figuring out if and when and how to stay, it can, sometimes, take some of the pressure off.) However, in my situation, none of those options are viable to me; I don’t have European nationality, I don’t have a French partner, and I don’t currently have the desire or funds to get my Master’s Degree in France. More specifically, I don’t want to spend two years pursuing a Master’s degree or studying for a competitive concours exam if they will only be recognized or valid in France (many times the case for aspiring teachers.) I also no longer want to coast along from job to job just for the simple reason of being able to stay in France. I’ve done the assistant thing, I’ve done the lectrice thing; I want to keep pursuing new opportunities and embarking on new sets of challenges. It can sometimes be hard to do that in France. And although it’s definitely not impossible to find sponsored employment in France, it’s certainly not easy, either.
Additionally, as a foreigner in France, it’s disheartening to realize that you will (almost) never be “as good” as a French person when it comes to career opportunities. Living in France includes enduring endless stacks of paperwork and constantly trying to jump through hoops and always having to be two steps ahead of everyone else in order to get your visa and never really being able to nest or feel “settled.” It’s exhausting. I’m not sure if I want to do it anymore. Curiously enough, a few years ago I was the young twenty-something who was absolutely okay with living paycheck to paycheck and not having a permanent home, as long as I had enough money to travel. But now, just a few years later, I’m realizing that I would indeed like to feel a bit settled; I would like to buy a nice piece of furniture, invest in a 401K, make a dent in my student loans, and build a bit of savings, if only to be able to comfortably pay my taxes, occasionally buy nice things, and rely solely on myself in the case of an emergency. Perhaps that’s just apart of growing up. As my roommate and I say, having an American-sized debt and living on a French-sized salary is really tough (it’s doable, and it’s easier if you’re single, but it is tough!)
But despite all of that, I still love France, and I love living in France. I love the European lifestyle I’ve adopted. I love the person I’ve become. I begrudgingly want to have my cake and eat it too.
It’s curious really, how some things simply fall into place and quickly change the course of your life. That’s how my love story with France started, to be honest. Sure, French was always my favorite class in high school and college, but it was never my intention to study abroad or live in France. Few people know or remember this about me, but as cliché as it is, before France, it was London.
Perhaps more connected to my love affair with Harry Potter than I’d care to admit, I’ve always, always had a thing for the British capital. Even before I had ever visited, I was in love and slightly obsessed with the idea of living there. In fact, I used to research international American schools in the UK (and still do), with the dream of eventually working there.
As an undergraduate student, I took it upon myself to research, apply for and get accepted to a study abroad program in London through Wisconsin’s university system back in 2009. I was all geared up and prepared to go, until I had to face the very real reality of the program being too expensive (like, outrageously, ridiculously expensive). I was heartbroken, but still determined to study abroad. And after pursuing programs in French-speaking Canada, I found myself at the last minute accepting a placement on a semester-long language exchange to Caen, France, at an affordable price, and with the verified guarantee of all 14 credits transferring directly back and counting towards my (then) French minor. Everything in regards to Caen fell easily and very gracefully into place, and it was the semester that changed the course of my life. I fell absolutely head over heels in love with France, while also rekindling my love for traveling and for languages (I was originally studying elementary and special education). Upon returning home, I changed my major to French and ESL education, taught English in Japan, and applied to be an assistante (with the secret, internal hope of eventually becoming a lectrice, and eventually getting hired at an international American school in France or the UK. And to date, that’s exactly what has happened.
Since falling in love with France, London was sort of put on the back burner. I visited once in 2010, and decided that although I really liked it, I liked France more. But since moving to Nord-Pas-de-Calais two years ago, befriending handfuls of Brits, and being literally a 1.5 hour train ride away from London, I have found myself going back again and again and again and again, and falling more and more in love with the city each time I go back. So, now the idea of moving to London has been planted in my head; it’s stuck, it’s growing, and it’s not going anywhere. And despite all the foreseen complications, it feels right.
Unfortunately for me, and all other non-EU/EEA nationals alike, David Cameron and his #Brexit posse are raising up the drawbridges to keep out foreigners, immigrants, and refugees faster than you can say God Save the Queen. If you’re not European, or even apart of the Commonwealth, it’s damn near impossible to get a visa and find a job (Britain has even discontinued the post-study work visa for international students.) But because I don’t give up easily, I’ve been doing tons of research (where there’s a will, there’s a way, right?) I am not ready to throw in the towel quite yet. Over the past couple of months, I’ve submitted applications to international American schools, applied for QTS- Qualified Teacher Status (which allows qualified teachers from the United States as well as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada, to exchange their country’s teaching certificates for a UK teaching certificate, and therefore apply for teaching jobs in the UK), and researched graduate schools. Unfortunately, I’ve experienced some setbacks and hit some brick walls (I didn’t hear anything back from any of the international schools I applied to, and I was denied QTS until I complete a Professional Development Plan (PDP)) I’ve since been absent, devastated, and have sort of fallen off the horse– though I’m ready to get back up.
So as of now, that’s where I am. I’d like to go to the UK, and graduate school looks like the best way to do that. Having a Master’s Degree will help me get a foot in the door in some of these international American schools (at least, that’s how I’m going to rationalize it). I’m hoping it will help me if I do decide I’d like to come back to teach again at the university level in France (it’s becoming almost necessary to have a Master’s Degree to do anything in this country). In regards to obtaining QTS, I’m currently in communication, trying to figure out if there’s a way for me to take these years of teaching abroad into account, instead of having to take an additional three years to complete a PDP (I’d welcome advice from any US or WI-based teachers on this one!) Hopefully I can reapply and be awarded QTS within the next year.
I really don’t know what I want to do in the meantime, or if my UK aspirations don’t work out (or heck, if they change). I feel like I’m in limbo. I’m applying for opportunities in France, in New York City, in South Korea, in Prague, in Minneapolis, back in Milwaukee. I’d love to stay in France because I have a life here; I know how to be an adult and do adult things here, like buy health insurance and pay taxes; but as I stated before, I don’t want to just coast. I’d also like to save some money next year, but it’s very hard to do that on a French salary, especially if you’re foreign. Prague sounds great because PRAGUE! but I’m not sure how connected I feel to Eastern European cultures. I’ve always dreamed of living in New York City, and I admit it would be so nice to live in a place that doesn’t require a car (or a visa!). Additionally, after losing both grandfathers, I’ve since felt a strange pull towards relocating to the Midwest, closer to my family and best girlfriends, but I fear I don’t really fit in there anymore. Plus, am I ready to move back to America? (And OMG DONALD TRUMP, ARE YOU SERIOUS, USA?! I can’t even.) In regards to wanting to save a lot of money in so little time, South Korea seems like a no-brainer. Plus, I’ve recently really gotten a particular itch to travel Southeast Asia. Yet the thought of moving somewhere new, where I know no one and don’t speak the language, just sounds exhausting. I’m not sure I’m up for it.
I’ve also been dealing with other personal things; things that have taken steep emotional tolls, and have preoccupied me more than I care to admit. Sometimes, I find it hard to focus and get anything done.
Alas, perhaps my aspirations will change in a year; in six months; next week; within instants of publishing this post. I know I’m young, I’m single, and have only myself to worry about. I have so much life ahead of me. I’ll look back on this in a few years, and give completely different advice to someone who’s in the exact same boat as I am. As scary as it is, I know I can always change my mind and start over or come back. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes. In the meantime, I’ll be searching for signs from the universe, and try to listen to my gut. Usually, if it’s the right thing at the right time, things just magically fall into place.