Recently I was tapped as an “expat expert” and asked to contribute a tip about living abroad for an HiFx campaign. At first I balked at being considered an “expert.” But then I reasoned: if experience is what makes someone knowledgeable, then I must know something after 7 years in Paris.
Still, I had trouble coming up with concrete advice. If there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that everyone’s experience is different. Part of the adventure (and frustration) of life in France is that it’s difficult to pin down the precise rules. Documents asked of one person for a dossier, for example, may not be requested of another.
In the end, perseverance counts more than anything. My tip, therefore, emphasized attitude, summed up in a few short lines. (You can see the full list of tips here; mine will be added soon).
The topic got me to wondering, though. How could I expand on the lessons I learned moving to the City of Light? I realized expectations and the perception of luck play a major role when I talk to people about moving abroad. Here are some broad thoughts on the subject:
Make your own luck (but appreciate the luck that floats your way – it may not always come in the form you think).
“You’re so lucky!” It’s the phrase I hear most often when I tell people I live in Paris. Indeed, it’s true. I never tire of the beauty, food, and cultural riches.
But something about the sentiment also irks me. To call me lucky ignores completely my own volition. I didn’t just end up in Paris. I had to take an active step – a huge leap, really – to make it happen.
Before I moved, I had no job lined up, barely spoke French, and knew hardly anyone. Not exactly a recipe for guaranteed success. I wanted to take a chance, though. And so I did. While I know everyone’s circumstances are different and real obstacles exist, a large part of moving abroad is summoning the courage to just do it and confront all the uncertainty that comes with it.
Luck isn’t simply passive. It’s as much created by how you interact with the world.
Try to let go of expectations (but be open to the unexpected)
One thing that probably helped me the most when I moved to Paris is that I didn’t have outsized expectations. France offers fantasy fodder for a lot of people who dream of the vie en rose.
Having such high expectations – endless champagne! kissing under the Eiffel Tower! A masterpiece written in an elegant café! – means you have that much further to fall when reality inevitability sets in. If you can let go of any sort of expectations and simply stay open to what unfolds, the transition will be much smoother.
That being said, I must have had some ideas about Paris because I encountered plenty of surprises, too. The new country is not like yours. You’ll feel a range of emotions. Watch, listen, observe. Try to understand the new culture. As you encounter the many new norms and customs, expect the unexpected.
What are your thoughts on luck and expectation? Do you have examples of how they’ve played out in your own life?