Moving to France this Fall
Two nights ago, I went to see “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.” It was a bizarre and surreal experience from start to finish, I guess because we live in bizarre and surreal times. Bill Clinton and novelist James Paterson, were the guests, which was strange (but cool) in itself—the former U.S. president and a novelist on a road show talking about their new book. And of course there was all the week’s news that came up in the interview: the administration’s targeting of immigrants, arguments about civility, #MeToo. At the end of a whirlwind taping, before he left, Trevor Noah said something that stuck with me: “Donald Trump is President of the United States. Live every day like it’s your last.”
It’s a sentiment I think about as this fall I’m going to be moving to France to teach English at a primary school in a town about 1.5 hours from Bordeaux, called Biscarrosse, on the Atlantic Coast. The program, called the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF), is run through the French government, which hires natives from English speaking countries to help teach English in elementary, junior high, and high schools across the country. I’m not moving because of Trump, but I do think his presidency is as good a reminder as anything that life is uncertain, unpredictable, and has to be actively lived, not passively endured.
The move is a big change from living in New York City, where I have been for the last 10 years, and it is a big change from working in communications at academic medical centers and schools of public health, as I’ve done for the last seven—until leaving my most recent job in February to start freelance writing.
When I was growing up I think I imagined by age 35, I would have it figured out—whatever “it” is. I thought I would have a successful career, maybe in law, politics, academics, or journalism and that I’d have a nice apartment in a cool city. But gradually, this pursuit unraveled, for various reasons. Today I try to let go of extrinsic expectations I once had for myself—those driven by external rewards (respect, approval, money) but not personally satisfying. I read a quote recently about expectations that I’ve found very helpful: “Whenever we set unrealistic expectations on ourselves or others and our reality does not live up to these unrealistic beliefs, we experience disappointment and feelings of depression.” That’s according to John Demartini, a human behavior author and speaker.
I’ve been working instead to tune in more to what is “intrinsic” or what rewards me personally: my health, my values, meaning, activities I like doing, causes I believe in like universal healthcare and economic justice, and relationships.
The decision to move to France has come from this refocus. I came back to studying French a couple of years ago, in a nice, casual setting here in New York City, and through a couple of trips to France in the last two years. I found that I loved the language as much as I did in college. I decided I wanted to be fluent in French and to live in a foreign country. I’m lucky that I can pursue this dream.
I’m going to try to keep a blog about my experience applying to the program and moving to France, to help anyone else in their 30s (or at any age really) who is thinking about making a change. This is because I’ve realized that I wouldn’t be able to have made so many changes if it weren’t for others—family, friends, health professionals, spiritual leaders, and strangers. Among them, they have done Peace Corps, made movies, written books, gotten involved in political movements, quit jobs they hated and pursued a more spiritual life, or simply managed to prioritize meaningful relationships over work—a constant struggle in American society. A bit over a month ago, I spoke with about 20+ people for an article I was writing who had made big life changes—leaving corporate jobs, selling homes and living in school buses, traveling around the world, starting small businesses. I was moved by their generosity in sharing their story and inspired and even more committed to my own life change and to try to do what small amount I can to help others.
I also think that right now, we need stories of people doing improbable things, because it is so easy to get paralyzed, anxious, and scared by the current environment, as well as stuck in jobs we hate, doing things we don't believe in. So whatever part I can play—whether it is to encourage others who are thinking about making change or guiding people to French language and mental health and spiritual resources I’ve found—I hope to do.
I also really hope to hear from anyone reading, who can relate in whatever way. I am just learning as I go, so I consider this more a story of a journey than a guidebook.