Notes on a Quarter-Life Identity Crisis

Just over a year ago, I published my most ever-viewed, and definitely most controversial post, When the Grass Isn’t Greener: Falling Out of Love With France. And just over a year ago, The Local France picked up the piece and ran an edited version on their site. And just over a year ago, in response to the words I wrote and the things I had been experiencing at the time, I received a rush of internet trolls on my Facebook page, my blog, and of course the comments section.

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This comment was such a gem: calling me fat, spoiled, and condemning violence against me.

It’s interesting, because every so often, even a year later, I still get the occasional comment, whether it be good or bad. In fact, this past month I even had an internet troll dedicate an entire blog post to their hatred of me, my very wrong opinions, and flawed experiences from last year (I will not link the post so as to avoid giving this person the attention they so clearly want.)  That’s not to say that what I wrote didn’t deserve any critique– I recognize many valid points of criticism.

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Beautiful Nice, 2016

In many ways, however, I am grateful, because I feel as though that blog post and that particular experience was the start of my turning over a new leaf, and beginning a new chapter in France. Because you see, just over a year ago, I also achieved a personal  career goal of mine– teaching at an international school (it just so happened that this school had been in my current city of residence– Lille.)

I have tried to be honest on this blog– these past two years were rough. The 2015-2016 school year consisted of figuring out my future and mending my heart and working through personal issues and above all deciding where I stood both personally and professionally with France. The 2016-2017 school year included diving head first into this new position, facing new and welcomed professional challenges, investing in my mental health, meeting a ton of amazing new people (many of whom have become good friends), and trying to rekindle my love affair with France. Long story short: this new job was the best choice and the right fit for me. I made the right decision, and I am where I am supposed to be, right now. This year was also professionally challenging, but in the best way. (I loved it!) I feel like I have been given an amazing opportunity to serve France and be a positive representation of my own country at the same time. I get to work in France and have a mix of cultures at the office– it’s the best of both worlds.

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A wonderful vacation in Annecy, 2010

On the other hand, five months ago, I turned 27, and for some reason, that was a bit of a magic number for me. I feel as though a seed has been planted, because suddenly I was sick of living like a student at almost 30, and very worried about and focused on budgeting and saving: retirement and pension programs and emergency funds and financial cushions. I find myself wanting to nest, and invest in nice things– art work, furniture, and deco– for my flat. I find myself worried about wrinkles and muscle tone and spider veins and acne at the same time, and willing to spend more money than I ever have on better-quality skin care products. I realized my body has different needs than it used to– I need more water, sleep, and different kinds of varied exercise. I’ve also begun to stress over if I’ll ever be able to afford to retire, or find a partner with whom I could have children of my own. I find myself focused on buying staple clothing pieces, and leaning towards spending the majority of my vacations at home.

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Breathtaking Menton, 2014

As my friends have pointed out, I’ve done so, so well for myself. I have a job that challenges me and brings me joy. I have a community of support systems in France/Europe and in the United States. My vacation time allows me to spend longer and increased stints back at home with my family, if I so choose. I have found stability. I live in a country that allows me to speak another language and to travel to other places with ease.

But now I find myself struggling to answer the question, “Now, where to settle?” 

Deep down, I know that for the moment, I am happy to plant roots down in Lille, at least for the next 2-3 years. But at the same time, I am scared shitless to say it out loud and to actually make that commitment, because even though I know I am living my best life, there is still the small twinge of guilt that lingers inside of me– the guilt of being away, of having been away, of planning on continuing to be away, or wanting to plan on continuing to be away. Sometimes I feel like it’s a never-ending battle and sometimes it feels like I’m the only one that feels this way.

This feeling lingers even when I’m reassured by my parents not to feel guilty.

This feeling lingers every time a family member asks when I’m planning to come home, or subtly comments on Wisconsin’s teacher shortage.

This feeling lingers every time someone from home just asks a curious question about the future– or when someone in France inquires about how long I’m planning to stay, or if I want to spend the rest of my life there.  

This feeling lingers every time I dare to think about where I want to be even just one, two, five years down the line.

It continues to sit on one side of my shoulder, playing devil’s advocate, even after countless times of standing up to it and telling it to go away– that I don’t need to apologize for being happy or trying to live my best life. 

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With my mom in Paris, 2016

Because you see, I’ve done the math and realize that in just another two years, I can apply for French citizenship through naturalization. I will have been living in France for five consecutive years (six if you include TAPIF) as of August 27, 2019. And I think I’d stand a good shot.

But yet I struggle, because that means that if I commit to trying to become a French citizen, I am committing to another 2-4 years in Lille, because even if I can apply in two years, it still means I’ll still have to wait at least another 1-2 to have an interview, be accepted, and obtain all the necessary documents. I could be 31 by the time the process is all over!

It feels scary because there are still other things I’d like to see and do and experience– other cities and countries I’d like to live in. Of course, 31 is hardly old, and there is still so much time to do so much more. Nevertheless, it’s still overwhelming to think about being in the same place for another potential 3-4 years, even if it’s also something I kind of want.

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Versailles, 2013

I struggle because so much can change in such a period of time.

I struggle because such commitments are equally exciting and scary.

I struggle because so many others think of this opportunity as a no-brainer.

I struggle because despite how lucky I am to have such an abundance of family and friends who love me, I sometimes still  am scared of being alone— and this is a task that I’d have to tackle alone.

I struggle because nationality is never something I necessarily strived for, unlike so many other of my friends, but now is a definite real possibility that could open up so many more doors (and eliminate paperwork hassles).

I struggle because even though I still love living in France and I love where I work and what I’m doing, I’m still trying to rekindle that original passion I had for France. I’m also not sure if I’ll ever truly feel French in the same way that so many other foreign friends of mine already do. I haven’t lost hope that this could change– but I’ve also accepted that I don’t necessary need to feel 100% French to be a good and worthy person, and that I can’t–and won’t– change who I am to become someone I just simply am not. I can still contribute and bring good things to France just the way I am.

I struggle because I do want to do this, and I just need to admit it to myself and everyone else around me, without feeling scared, or ashamed.

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Corsica, 2014

My mother told me last week to remember that everyone my age is struggling with the idea and desire to settle– many of my friends and cousins are buying property and investing for a long-term commitment. It doesn’t have to be forever, but it’s still a big step to realize I don’t need to live year-to-year anymore.

It’s times like these I feel like Lorelei and Rory (and Emily!)

I guess the only thing to do is see where I go from here. Thanks, as always, for coming along for the ride.

Bisous,

Dana

16 thoughts on “Notes on a Quarter-Life Identity Crisis

  1. I get what you’re going through. Many of us initially feel unrooted when we first move abroad; you’re not alone. Since we tend to feel stuck between two worlds—not quite French, a bit less American—we become swamped in doubt and lose a bit of confidence in our choices. Thanks for this reminder, an emotionally rich and self-honest post.

    If it helps: Don’t feel guilty about gaining teaching experience abroad. Wisconsin is unappreciative of teachers under Walker anyway. If you’re hesitant about where to live, have courage and make daring choices now while you’re young! If you’re worried about retirement, put some money aside in a risk-free French savings account and then invest in retirement when you settle down somewhere.

    About the “internet troll”: Is it hateful to argue with historical facts against your assertion that the French attachment to laïcité is racist and xenophobic? My blog post “Are the French xenophobic?” is not insulting and does not say your experiences are flawed (whatever that means), but your anecdotal experiences do not grant you the right to your own facts. You make large, insulting claims about French laïcité, but you didn’t define it and don’t seem to know what it is. It’s not American secularism. You’re not the only who confuses the two; many Americans don’t have the necessary historical knowledge and thus make similar conclusions against french laïcité. My post simply goes through the mean-spirited portions of your article (having a rough time doesn’t justify what you say) and responds point by point with historical context. Is history “hateful”? No. And laïcité isn’t a xenophobic or racist French cultural attribute.

    Knowing how to handle critiques and debate about politics is a hallmark French quality.

  2. I completely agree with everything you said, Dana! I’ve been thinking of how to respond because I’ve been going through a bit of an identity crisis myself ever since I graduated college. While our friends and family who live more “traditional” lifestyles do care deeply for us, I think we’re just on a different frequency… like how my parents will never stop trying to get me to earn higher education degrees to get a really good and stable job in order to settle down and make my life. All before I’m 35 because otherwise it’s “too late.” I’m pretty sure I’m not going to leave this earth when I’m 35, so I have my whole life to continue learning, exploring, and creating a life for myself that is fulfilling for what I ultimately want. I think that’s where the divide comes along most often, that we’re on different timelines. Your confidence in the decisions you’ve made until now are completely valid! Your feelings of loneliness and fear of the unknown are also completely valid! It’s only through feeling the present that we can move on to the future, advice I know I need to listen to myself. As long as you keep chronicling your story here and working through each step of the way, you know you have a strong community of readers that love your work and support anything and everything you choose!

    1. Living in the present and listening to our gut instincts is so, so crucial!!

      Yes, the travel bug seems to bite people and put them on a more jaded path, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else! 🙂

      I’m so glad to have such wonderful readers like you 🙂 xx

  3. I’m impressed with how much you’ve done during your time in France– not only have you landed your dream job, but also it appears you’ve established a great local/expat community. It’s true, though, that being twenty-something is a struggle career-wise, even if you have a guaranteed job. Although I’m a few years younger than you, I’m already feeling the pressure to find something more sustainable, since my parent-supported health insurance in the US will be expiring once I turn 26. That, and also the constant worry of saving for a house, retirement, etc. It’s admirable you want (and have the chance) to become a French citizen– of course, it’s up to you to decide. I don’t think we can ever be completely satisfied with our lives, whether at a career crossroads or stuck in a long-term, stable job– change can be terrifying, but sometimes necessary to get to where we want.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and support Rebecca! Being a 20-something is hard wherever– although I admit– I do not regret any of my travels at all! So I guess that part is true. 🙂 My parents also kicked me off insurance but I’ve had the French insurance now full time 🙂 You’ll be okay, I promise!

  4. There are people who cannot accept that others have different opinions, I am not one of them, everyone has the right to think and feel however they do, as do I and if people do not agree with me so be it, I think your blog is pretty damn good which is why I keep coming back

  5. I just had a read of your controversial post, which I hadn’t come across at the time you published it – I can see why it divided opinion, though I agree that the French notions of identity, policies regarding free higher education and heavily-discounted healthcare and general work-life issues can be contentious, and they’re not necessarily as good as they appear to be when you first start out in France. Every country has flaws, and while I think it’s important not to get too bogged down by the imperfections, it’s also important to acknowledge those issues, as you did. I really admire how honest you are about the things you struggle with and the difficulties associated with being an expat. Glad to hear that the first year of your job has gone well – I was super impressed by your students’ results! It just goes to show that all your hard work, both behind the scenes and in the classroom, paid off. Best of luck if you do choose to pursue French citizenship, and if you don’t, then I’m sure plenty of other adventures await you 🙂

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Rosie! It’s interesting because I kind of stepped away from that post for awhile– I see / feel / remember how negative / hopeless I felt about everything then… I’m feeling a bit more optimistic now, because I think I have a bit more of a stable situation. 🙂

      I was super impressed and relieved by my students as well!! Thanks so much for your kind words and loyal readership, as always xoxo

      1. I think it’s entirely natural to need to take step back at times and put some distance between issues so you can move forward. I had a few times in Lyon when I was so, so close to packing it in, and when I look back I can see what led to me feeling that way even if my problems stemmed from things that couldn’t be changed so easily and were therefore somewhat inevitable. Glad you’re feeling a little more optimistic now 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your time at home!

  6. Hiii chiming in with my support because I am having all the same mental tennis matches… scrolling through the list of what ifs is deadly, and admitting i might want to leave my native country- potentially forever- is hard to come to terms with… Its not for nothing though, that you have such supportive communities. No matter where the road takes you, I know you will make the best of it, because that is one of your strengths!! Courage to you, to me, and to everyone who occupies difficult liminal spaces!!!

  7. Hey Dana
    I get what you’re going through since I went through it about the same time (just before turning 26). Having a full-time teaching job in France though is a great accomplishment and certainly seems a bit “settled” to me. Like Diane said though, in the States people can be in the same type of situation—my brother for example was living in a flatshare two states away from his wife into his thirties.

    On another note it sounds like you’re saying the return on the nationality application is 1-3 years… for me it was not nearly that long. I got a response in 8 months, and my papers were ready under a year after dropping things off. But you’re still French from the moment you’re deemed French. If you decide you want to do it, I would recommend starting your application about a year beforehand because it just gives you a non-stressful pace to get all that paperwork together. But you still have time before you even have to decide if you want to or not—a lot can happen in two years, and it may clarify what you want to do.

    1. Such a perfect example about your brother and the states– I’m glad I am / wasn’t alone in the identity crisis!

      I was actually reading up on your nationality application posts– yours was super quick! I guess Lille has one of the biggest delays, for whatever reason… it seems 18 months is quite normal…

      If I decide to pursue this, I’m going to start next summer, assuming I come home again for awhile (fingers crossed!) You’re totally right— so much can happen in such a short period of time. I guess it’s just up to time to tell!! xoxo

  8. Hi Dana! Great read and it’s brave of you to post about this kind of stuff. Just a thought on guilt: I think feeling guilty is part of being human. If you were back in the US, maybe you’d feel guilty for not being abroad. Or not having a different job. Or different friends. Or whatever. If you’re here in Europe, you’ll feel guilty about the other things you mentioned. Missing stuff elsewhere. Something I always tell myself is that we’re never stuck. Some changes may be harder to make or messy, but we always have options, and if something no longer feels right, then we change it.

    This also really stood out to me and is something I’ve accepted too: “but I’ve also accepted that I don’t necessarily need to feel 100% French to be a good and worthy person”

    On a personal note, I don’t think I’ll ever feel French, certainly nowhere close to 100%. I’m NOT French and don’t want to lose a part of myself to get there, if that’s what it takes. It’s not that I don’t fit in, but I don’t overly fit in either, if that makes sense. Sometimes it feels like I’m drifting. But then I look around, and like you remember my caring support system online and at home, and it puts things in perspective. I try to find the positive in everything around me and for now it works. Will I still be here in 5 years? Who knows. But I’m excited about life and where our choices take us.

    Thank you again for sharing. Always enjoy your insight.

    1. Everything you say makes perfect sense 🙂 I agree in looking at the silver lining. I have such an amazing support system. I’m trying to both live in the now and plan for the future– it’s exciting and scary at the same time. xoxo

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