After far too long of a hiatus, The Intentional Expat Interview Series is back! Today’s interview is with Talia, an American living in a city that many people dream only of visiting…Paris. Her story is similar to that of many teaching assistants I’ve met. Her stint abroad started off with a one year commitment to teach in France and….here she is SEVEN years later, still teaching, but having added the roles of “wife” and “mom” to the list of life experiences she’s having outside of the states. Read on to see her own perspective on what it’s like to be an American teacher in Paris, how she copes with the ups and downs of life abroad and why living in Paris is not always “heaven on earth.”
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from, where do you currently live, what do you do for work, what are your hobbies, what are you passionate about?
Well hello! My name is Talia Sanders and I just so happen to live in Paris, France. I’m a kindergarten teacher who loves Jesus and is passionate about living out the mundane in intentional, creative, and meaningful ways. I love just about anything active (rollerblading, dancing, ultimate Frisbee, you name it!) or artsy-fartsy (DIY, interior design, crafting, etc).
What motivated you to move abroad?
My first trip to France was actually with Melissa and a group of 30 other fellow college students on a quarter long trip across Europe. I thought I would get the travel bug out of my system but it actually had the opposite effect and made me want to go back for more… I signed up for a yearlong job as an English classroom assistant working in French middle schools. Not long after moving there for the year I met my now husband Matthieu and one school year has now turned into seven!
Where all have you lived abroad? What place was your favorite and why?
I’ve actually only lived a couple of places in France: Rouen (which is in Normandy), Colombes and Nogent (Paris suburbs) and Paris itself. My favorite place would probably be Colombes, which is where we are right now. It’s not far from Paris (15 min) but has a little bit more breathing room and is only a 20 minute bike ride for me from my school (something that’s hard to come by around here!).
What’s the most difficult part about living abroad?
Probably two things: 1) Living in Paris on a daily basis can definitely get to you. I know it might sound like heaven on earth, but being such a huge city, you often have to deal with rushed, impatient people; little space (our apartment is tiny by American standards); and everything taking way more time than you’d like (an average person’s commute time is an hour each way in the metro, often at rush hour when everyone is packed like a sardine inside). This is why the French take so much vacation every year! 2) Living in another culture inevitably changes you. You often don’t realize it as its happening but you do when you go back to where you’ve come from. What can really suck about this is that you will always be a bit foreign to the culture that you’re currently living in. You don’t 100% belong to that culture, but neither do you belong 100% anymore to the culture that you’re from. So you’re kind of stuck somewhere in the middle.
And what’s the best part?
The best thing about Paris living is probably what I was most frustrated with when I first moved here: this is not a city that easily gives up its secrets. Approaching Paris in my Anglophone way I wanted everything to fit inside a neat little box. Why can’t the streets be straighter? Why is the street name so hard to figure out? Why can’t it be easy to figure out if I can buy Oreos in this darn city? But the more time you spend in Paris the more you realize that you will never have Paris fully figured out. And I mean this in the best way possible. After seven years here, I still walk down streets that I’ve been on a hundred times and discover the most awesome little alley café or a really fun boutique that just opened up. You just can’t do Paris in a couple of days. It’s way too awesome for that.
What have you learned from living abroad?
I guess I’ve learned to just embrace this new me that’s different than before and realized that it’s okay and even pretty fun to be different. I’ve also learned that intentionality is the key when it comes to keeping connected back home.
What is your secret to keeping a positive attitude while living abroad?
Prayer, prayer, lots of prayer. If you’re not a Christian, I suggest you give it a try—it works wonders! 😉
What are some of the difficulties you’ve found related to being married and raising a family in another country?
My husband is half French, half American, so sometimes it takes us a little longer to figure out that we’re coming at something from different angles due to cultural differences. And as a mom to a one and a half little girl, I find myself very out of my element parenting in my native country. Because I never did it before while living in the states, a lot of habits have been formed from French culture. For example, the French take cold weather very seriously here and baby bundling is practically an Olympic sport. While going through security at SeaTac airport in Seattle I got completely made fun of for bundling my daughter up. Flash forward to Paris and Livia is in the same outfit and the first comment I get from a lady at my church: “Are you sure she’s warm enough?” I had to laugh at that one.
What´s the best place you´ve ever traveled to?
I like Morocco and Italy a lot.
What advice do you have for people who are considering moving abroad, but are feeling doubtful?
Don’t make any decisions lightly, but don’t overthink everything either. You don’t have to know if you want to spend the rest of your life there; a couple of months to a year to start off with can give you a better idea of if you’d rather make it a little less temporary. If you do decide to go for it, don’t assume that challenges mean you made the wrong decision. I hate to break it to you but the honeymoon will end and cultural frustration will come eventually. Try to stick with it and you just might surprise yourself by realizing that you love it there. I also feel like now more than ever before you can have your cake and eat it too: Skype, Viber, Facetime, etc can all be really useful tools to let you stay in close contact with everyone back home. Don’t be afraid to take a risk.
Thanks so much Talia for contributing to the interview series! Your description of what it’s like to live abroad reminded me of one of my favorite quotes regarding the bittersweet experience of going overseas:
You will never be completely at home again,
because part of your heart will always be elsewhere.
That is the price you pay for the richness
of loving and knowing people in more than one place
And wouldn’t it be fitting that after years of sharing this quote with people, I’ve only just discovered that the very person who is credited with its authorship teaches at mine and Talia’s alma mater! (Seattle Pacific University). If you want to read more about Talia’s experience of living and teaching in France, you can visit her blog “C’est n’importe quoi.”
Would you like to be featured in an interview? If so, please get in touch.