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  • Writer's pictureKait Henslee

10 Things I've Learned After Living in France for Nine Months

The 1st of November will mark nine months since we moved from South Carolina to France.  It seems like just yesterday we walked off a plane with a tiny five month old baby and our yellow lab, leaving our families, and starting a new chapter in our lives. Yet, there are days when I am struggling with French or trying to figure out a traffic law that the day seems like it will never end. I think the best way to describe expatting is the days are long, but the years are short.  

Here are just a few things I’ve learned about myself, my family, and the world in the last 9 months:

1. Expatting means being willing to miss the big holidays or the important weddings.

In a few weeks my sister is getting married, but I won’t be able to make it home; which, in so many ways kills me inside. My husband is going to miss Thanksgiving with his family, and I know that’s going to be a sad day for him. Those days when you’re missing something back home makes it really hard and at times tearful. However, the good outways the bad.  I wouldn’t change living here for anything. If only a flight back to the U.S. were a little cheaper. 

2. I love making friends with people from other countries and learning about their culture, traditions, and politics. 

I have friends that I hang out with regularly from France, Switzerland, Russia, Nigeria, Israel, etc. Because of this, I learn so much more about the world around me.  Did you know that Switzerland has seven presidents, and their citizens vote almost every month on all laws? I didn’t until I started hanging out with my Swiss neighbor. I love learning and growing everyday. America is great, but learning about other cultures, governments, and religions is really enlightening.

3. Raising your kids in France feels like raising your kids in the 90s.

Something that is so beautiful in France is that kids act like kids here from the way they dress to how they play.  This didn’t dawn on me until a friend recently posted a picture of her elementary age daughter on Facebook wearing something like a teenager and playing on her iPad in a restaurant. That just isn’t something you will ever see in France. Children wear darling, age appropriate clothes, and you hardly see anyone young or old on their phones out in public. Children are still innocent here, and it’s such an amazing thing!

4. Expatting can either be the happiest time in your life, or it can be the hardest time.

When you first expat, there’s natural phases of progression in your first few months. The first is you feel like you’re on vacation. Then, you start to see everything that’s bad with your new place (the streets are filthy, deodorant doesn’t work here, etc.) Then, you accept the differences and see the good of your new country where you’ll call home. 

Unfortunately, for some people, they stay in the second stage and they are miserable. 

For me, moving to France has been some of the best times of my marriage, but it took  A LOT of work before we left the U.S. to make sure we had a good foundation to build on as parents and expats. I’ve also heard of expatting being the hardest time for marriages, and sometimes resulting in marriages splitting. Because you depend so much on your spouse while living abroad, it can either make you grow closer as a team or drive a wedge due to dependency.

5. When you move abroad, you discover who your true, deep friends are. 

Moving abroad is hard, but moving abroad with a baby is even harder. Over the past nine months, I have been so grateful for the emails, texts, DMs, and packages we've received from friends. I've learned that the littlest forms of communication can make a world of difference. For example, my best friend Ashlee and I still make time (even though we both have small babies) to FaceTime each other and stay in touch. Those FaceTime conversations lift my spirits and make me feel like regardless if we live more than 6,800 kilometers away, we're still friends. Another friendship I'm grateful for is with my husband's life-long friend Jimmy and his wife Rachel. Jimmy is my son's godfather, and regardless of the distance his wife and he still made sure my son got a birthday gift from them for his first birthday. Because of the distance, we certainly didn't expect it, but getting that package made our family feel so special and loved. It's the little things like this or the quick emails of checking in that give me life on the tough days of navigating French expatriation. The saying distance makes the heart grow fonder couldn't be more true of the friends that have supporting us across the ocean.

6. I’m no longer worried about keeping up with the Joneses. 

Something that is so freeing about living here is that people don’t keep up with the Joneses. In America, I was in the constant rat race to have the nice car,  nice house, and designer clothes like my friends. Now, I do not give two flips about that anymore, and it’s one of the most freeing feelings. I no longer put value on materialistic possessions but rather on life experiences.

7. Global Warming is real and other countries are doing things to combat it.

This is not a political statement, in fact I hate politics, this is just a fact. Europeans are doing various things to reduce their output of emissions into the environment. From forcing you to bring your own bags for groceries to restricting where you drive to encourage public transportation, they’re trying to at least be a little more conscientious and do something to put less of a footprint on the planet. 

8. Americans are efficient with their time.

Most things here like running errands, going out to eat, doing laundry, getting something installed in your house, or even picking up your children from school takes two to three times longer here. I never realized until I moved away how much more time I had because all of the lines at Publix were open and they packed my groceries for me, or that going out to eat only took an hour instead of all night. 

Also, to have any repair or installation here is a process, and I mean process. First, someone has to come and say yes we can do this. Next, someone comes and gives an estimate. Then, someone comes to install it, but that could be several times because not one works in France from noon until 2 in the afternoon. Seriously, it took four months for us to get internet installed into our flat because of this process. In America it would take a day- maybe two.

 In that same breath, the French really know how to enjoy themselves. You will never see a French person carrying a cup of coffee with them. Having coffee is an experience that you sit and enjoy. The French really know how to live life and take their time. That is something I have definitely tried relish while here, even if it does take longer. 

9. The French smoke like chimneys.

For Mother’s Day, I told my husband Miles all I wanted was a place where I could drink coffee and wine outside without smelling like smoke. Smoking is much more prevalent here. Everywhere you go people are outside smoking cigarettes. It’s something that was really quite shocking to me, since smoking is almost taboo in America.

10. I see the world differently, and I am forever changed for the better. 

Moving abroad teaches you so much about yourself. Never in a million years did I think I could move to a foreign country with a tiny baby and thrive, but I have.  It’s taught me that I am stronger than I ever thought. When I left South Carolina, I was to be honest really nervous. I loved teaching, and I still believe it’s one of the greatest gifts God’s given me. However, having this time to see the world, meet people that are different from myself or my friends, and be the mom I’ve always wanted be has helped me grow into a more open-minded, compassionate, patient person. I love the person I am becoming while here, and I am excited to see what God has on my path ahead. 

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