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.
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 a response highlighting my very wrong opinions, and flawed experiences from last year. That’s not to say that what I wrote didn’t deserve any critique– I recognize many valid points of criticism.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.