I’ve always said to anyone traveling or moving abroad as well as to myself, that yes, you will make an absolute fool of yourself, no matter if you are just traveling or moving to a new country. Just face up to it. Accept it. Embrace it, because there is absolutely nothing that you can do about any of that, no matter how many times you’ve traveled or lived abroad. A new situation in a foreign culture, even one you are familiar with, means that the struggle will be all too real, and too real it was, at least for me this time around upon my move to France for the third time.
Yes, this is my third time in France. Yes, it is true that I am pretty used to how the French culture works, but I think re-adapting to the United States meant that I’d forgotten what living in France is like and what a struggle it is moving to a foreign country. The struggle this time around has been the absolute worst, the absolute worst.
However, instead of boring you with a long-drawn out story of all of the struggles, I’ll just give you the highlights, most of which, now that I’m finally settling into my apartment, I’m starting to laugh at and be proud of having dealt with and gotten through.
So, here it goes…
The struggle is all too real…
- When you have to re-book your flights twice, resulting in $600 worth of flights lost because you tried to make it as cheap as possible and didn’t get flight insurance (you cheapskate, you), because the French government ends up taking its sweet time with your legal documents. So, you just sigh, feeling the pain of those $600 lost for like 5 minutes and then you move on, realizing that if the French government likes to take their sweet time, then you will just get there when you get there, despite missing your first mandatory meeting and already being behind upon first arrival.
- When you underestimate how difficult it will be to find an apartment in Paris and you end up bouncing between 3 Airbnbs and a 1 hostel, with your one large suitcase, one medium suitcase, your giant hiking backpack, and one messenger sized bag filled to the brim with basically your entire life and you just deal with the stares on the streets because apparently no one can possibly have that much shit when they are traveling. It’s fine. They don’t know your life. Just accept the stares and keeping moving, huffing and puffing along the way, telling yourself, “girl, you need to work out more.”
- When you end up having to take all of your luggage with you to sign your contract and your mandatory meeting because you are switching between Airbnb 1 and Airbnb 2 (with no time before said meetings to get there). Then, when you finally get to HR, after struggling through the metro with said luggage and down extremely narrow streets and the security guards tell you that it’s not possible to bring all of your luggage inside, you have a mental breakdown, right in the heart of Paris surrounded by Parisian students and tourists alike right in front of these security guards because you’re exhausted and everything is exponentially more complicated and emotional when you’re exhausted. Thankfully, said security guards are quite nice to you, take you inside, have you sit down, and allow you to explain in your blubbering, broken French that you do indeed work there, you promise, that you just arrived from the U.S., have nowhere to stay yet, and you really just need to sign your contract. They even give you a cup of water. Once you get your shit together and sign your contract, you feel the idiot and pray that that never happens again ’cause that shit was just awkward.
- When you finally get to the university to start enrolling in classes, you have to basically explain to them that you are not an Erasmus student because that program doesn’t exist in your country but that you are an exchange student in a program that is similar to Erasmus, even if they have never heard of said program. I promise it’s real. It’s a real thing. I am an international exchange student. Please just enroll me. This is where my program coordinator told me to go.
- When you apparently have to go to the individual departments at the university to enroll in classes because apparently doing it online is too complicated for the French and then they tell you that you can’t enroll like everyone else because you are an “Erasmus”/international student. (but why? you have my student ID number and everything. But why? you just type the things into the computer and boom enrolled, right?! *sigh*) Yeah, sure, because explaining that you aren’t is too complicated anyways. So, you go on a hunt to find the secretary of said department only to find that they are closed when they say they are supposed to be open and *sigh* you just have to wait yet another day to enroll and will have missed the first day of class because #justFrenchthings, offices being closed when they say they should be open. Well, at least you finally got enrolled, despite all of the hoops you had to jump through.
- When you finally accept a studio apartment in the very north of the city in a student residence a 40 minute commute from work and school because finding an apartment in Paris that is not ridiculously expensive, especially when you still don’t have all the proper paperwork is extremely difficult, especially when you are running out of time and money before classes start. Living slightly homeless while dealing with teaching and classes is stressful and you really just want a place to settle for awhile. Also, not to mention that going to look at apartments in France, especially in Paris, is like going to a job interview, and you get confused thinking “wait, won’t I be paying you? not the other way around?”
- When a group of girls in the metro whisper amongst themselves and laugh while looking in your direction because you are carrying two bags full of dishes and a trash can because you just moved into said apartment and you really want to ask them if they have a problem, especially in English to freak them out and confuse them because that’s how much you don’t want to deal with their shit. Excuse me for having just recently moved, bitches. And this really shouldn’t matter to you, but you are exhausted and moody for no other reason than moving to another country is exponentially exhausting in every way possible.
- When you want to buy all of the things for the apartment but you have to do so in multiple trips because you can only carry so many things with you on the metro. Damn, I miss my car.
- When you’ve been asked like three times in your new apartment building if you are an Erasmus student because you have an accent, even though you are speaking French back to them and you know that your French isn’t that terrible. *sigh* yeah, sure, I’m an Erasmus student, even though we don’t have that in my country. Yeah, let’s go with that. Again, this shouldn’t frustrate you that much, but again, you are exhausted and moody because culture shock.
- When you use your American card to buy things at stores and it requires your signature because the French system doesn’t understand American debit cards and the cashier gives you a weird look. Look, it’s not my fault your system doesn’t understand my card. It works though. I promise.
- When you ask the woman at the Paris transportation office for a monthly pass and she suggests the visitor’s pass to you because she knows you have an accent. Then when you correct her, she gets annoyed because she thinks you don’t understand and are confused. Look lady, I know I have an accent, but I just moved here. I know what I’m talking about. Just give me the pass that the locals use. Damn my accent.
So, yes the struggle is all too real and will continue to be so. I’m already starting to feel the pangs of culture shock: homesickness, fatigue, slight depression, no desire to do anything, no appetite, and frustration at the smallest of things, like the really slow moving woman on the metro, even though you don’t really have anywhere to be.
However, now that I’m finally getting settled into my apartment, I feel a sense of relief and pride that I’ve been able to survive and get through all of this red tape and messes. Everything is starting to look up, and now, I’m starting to look forward to actually building a life here in Paris, despite how much I miss home already.
So, culture shock, my dear friend, I know you, and you will move along here soon.