As much as I love the comedy stylings of Zooey Deschanel, frivolous and fancy-free, I’ve never been. I’m a planner—I make lists, I create spreadsheets and I live by my Google calendar.
So, in some ways, no one was as surprised as I was when I decided, on sort of a whim, after being laid off from my first real post-college gig, that I would move to Paris for an as-yet-undetermined length of time next year.
Paris, for me, always seemed like a terminus destination, a place I could stretch out, find a group of weirdos to call my own and stay awhile. Somewhere between my viewing of Amélie in high school and ogling the stunning outwear worn by Carrie Bradshaw during the American Girl in Paris reruns of “Sex and the City” on TBS in college, I formed a highly romanticized and impractical obsession with the City of Lights. Baldwin and Hemingway didn’t help things, either.
For a variety of reasons, my previous attempts to get to Paris were always struck down. My college had the world’s dumbest study abroad office; I was always broke; My French is inscrutable; etc.
Plus, as a person with a solidly working class background and a mountain of debt that is completely incongruent with the limited level of education I’ve attained, I never felt that I had the upper class wiggle room to go off, explore and potentially fail.
But, in the back of my mind, “must move to Paris and fall in love and speak perfect French” was always somewhere on the life to-do list.
I’ll be landing in Paris in about six weeks! Wooter!
I thought, for a long time, that something would magically happen and I’d get the opportunity to move to Paris. My job would transfer me, the Texan who has trouble pronouncing être without a twang, to France, or I’d be romantically whisked back to the countryside hometown of some Frenchie or I’d miraculously qualify for the Foreign Service and receive the placement of my dreams.
By the time I rounded the post-25, but under-30 corner of life, I realized none of the scenarios was ever going to come to fruition and that I’d have to create my own go abroad scenario in a much less dramatic fashion. Except that there were always a million reasons why I couldn’t go abroad for an extended period of time—mainly that I didn’t have a million dollars socked away somewhere to pay my student loans while I was gone.
Until, one day, those reasons sort of disappeared.
My good, stable job at a big media company unceremoniously came to an end in mid-October after a huge company restructure that left hundreds of low-level flacks jobless. I wasn’t sad—I had been in the same place for more than three years and was actively job-searching. I wasn’t surprised, either, since I had recently been moved into a sort of experimental position that, while a lot of fun, wasn’t directly tied to how the company made money.
The day before my 28th birthday, I found myself jobless, childless and unattached, with a bit of cash on hand. My passport woefully unadorned (I’ve been as far away as the Caribbean), I just sort of said that I’d go for it.
Completely untrue to form, I didn’t think too much when I applied to an English tutor program in France and shipped my car from Washington, DC, my home for the better part of nine years, to my hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. I sold almost every earthly possession in my apartment and made plans to live elsewhere.
For maybe the second time in my life, I trusted that things would turn out OK. Or, rather, trusted that my incessant online research and planning would actually make a transition like this easier and, so far, it kind of has.
I was accepted into the program, which is basically a grown up foreign exchange type deal, and placed with a family in the close-in suburbs of Paris. I’ve saved a decent amount of money and I’ve gone through the visa process. I’ve booked my ticket. I’m going! I’m going and I don’t know when I’ll be back and I’m kind of getting to the point where excitement is overriding my nauseating fear of the unknown.
Excitement factor aside, I still have that gnawing feeling that I’m leaving great things behind. My life in DC was really great, the product of years of careful and deliberate work to be happy, healthy and present. As new age-y as it sounds, I worked to become the person that I wanted to be and leaving feels a little bit like pulling a thread on an artfully woven sweater—why ruin a perfectly good, well-crafted thing?
The hardest part about moving to another country after you’ve already established a grown up life: Selling your most favorite yellow couch.
I’m home for the holidays then I’m off to France next month. People keep asking me if I’m excited, and a big part of me can only think about what I’ve left behind. Among them, my first grown-up, city apartment, which I had to hand over to another woman who undoubtedly won’t treat it as good as I did. I sold my yellow couch, which was my most favorite thing that I’ve ever owned. The best friends of my life, people who actually think I’m funny and smart and listen to me babble about my unceasing and uninteresting dental issues.
Much like Julia Roberts’ character in “Eat Pray Love,” which I felt obligated to watch last week, it’s the first time that I don’t have a home of my own to come back to. Terrible movie reference (yes, I know it was a book first and I don’t care), but that’s something to think about.
But—all doubts, neurotic but also totally plausible worst case scenarios and completely unrealistic visions of expat life aside—I’m going.
I’m semi-committed to documenting my hiatus from adult life at whitneyteal.com.