I’d like to dedicate this blog article to my love, who’s made the bold move to follow me to a new country. It’s not easy to adapt to a new culture and I want everyone to know that it can bring incredible and unforgettable memories if you put your faith in it.
This year, I’m unpacking my boxes for good after a decade of adventurous whereabouts. I moved from Montreal to Paris with my boyfriend last summer and I was beyond thrilled to go live in my hometown. My partner is from Montreal and has never been an avid traveler. To say the least, he likes staying within his comfort zone and be around familiar places because it is simpler. His stable and grounded features are a strong turn on for me because I am looking forward to settling down as well, but not in Montreal. We met and fell in love a year ago in Canada when I already made the plan to move back home. He knew since the beginning that I wasn’t staying, and he was willing to give our relationship a chance by following me.
We booked a trip to France few months before our official move. Having stayed in one place for so long, I wanted him to have a pleasant introduction to traveling; to give him a glimpse of a Parisian lifestyle, to meet my family and friends so he could feel the vibe before the big day. We stayed at my parents’ place for 3 weeks and they spoiled him with enormous amounts of foods, he was my +1 at my cousin’s wedding and he met my extended family. I also introduced him to citizen’s duty when I went to vote for the presidential elections. After this trip, he was ready to move across the ocean and start a new life because he was reassured that traveling wasn’t as scary as it sounded.
Back in Montreal, he applied for a long-stay visa and obtained it within a few months. We transferred our lease, and he joined me in selling cumbersome belongings that we wouldn’t miss. We said goodbyes to our friends and family, and off we flew to France and settled at my dad’s apartment for the lack of better lodging. For six months, he had ups and downs, related to homesickness, adjusting to a new environment and cultural integration, so here are few tips I gathered from the last few months for a successful move:
Have something new you’re excited to try
Moving to a specific country gives you a reason to try something you didn’t have in your home country. I knew my boyfriend was a foodie from the start, so I gave detailed descriptions of the gastronomy in France and how it could never disappoint your taste buds. I spoke about the warm baguettes freshly baked each morning, the flaky pastries dipped in a rich hot chocolate and the long hours during lunch break in which we talk and talk, and take our time to savor each bite. We discussed what we would eat and what restaurant we would try first, we spoke about the foods from other regions, which involved romantic getaways and an excuse to explore a new region. I also brought him to African restaurants where we relished new spices and found joy in getting out of our comfort zone. I truly enjoyed being a tour guide when we got there because I missed all these foods when I lived in Canada.
Build a new tribe, it can become your second family
My boyfriend moved for love, which is a fair intention. However, I couldn’t be the only person he liked in this country. Luckily, he gets along with my family, and they’ve adopted him like a son. Outside of family, it’s important to have social support and to bond with nice people. Most expats flock together because they know the struggle to be away from family for a long time. They sometimes spend the holidays together at the end of the year because the streets are bare and everyone else is with family. Meeting new people is harder once you’re out of school or do not have a job, but there are many apps and websites to facilitate gatherings. Starting a hobby that involves meeting new people such as sports or arts could be a good way to increase your chances to join a community. Moreover, it can be your chance to try a new activity you’ve always wanted to try. Volunteering is another excellent example of meeting new souls easily. Finally, use your weak links to rebuild a network. You’d be amazed at how open-minded some people are. When I moved to Montreal 5 years ago, my mom introduced me to a long-lost cousin of hers. I never knew about his existence until then and we bonded right away. Use an acquaintance to start a connection and it can lead to amazing adventures and experiences.
Find a meaningful connection with the place
France has never appealed to my boyfriend in the past because he never had a connection with the culture, so he had to actively build an interest in this place to live independently when I’m not around. He needed to get out of his comfort zone and find something in Paris to give him meaning. He likes fantasy stories and medieval times, so visiting castles was an obvious easy solution to cheer him up and make him find an interest in the place. We visited medieval fairs and got entertained by knight shows. It was so much fun to eat medieval cookies and local specialties.
Adjust your expectations
Have you heard of the Paris syndrome? It’s when you have grand expectations about a place and when you get there, there are profound feelings of disappointment that could lead to depression. I quitted my job in Montreal and found the exact same position in Paris but with a salary cut of roughly 10k. I know that French workers privilege quality of life and long vacations over money. I couldn’t get disappointed because I adjusted my expectations prior to applying to jobs. Not everything is about the money, so I saved myself from disappointment. Sometimes quality of life brings you better mental health, more time for yourself and your social circle, and you can enjoy better social benefits such as health care etc. So, look for the bright side of a loss, it can hide a better outcome if you it come to you.
Do your research and be properly equipped
When we left Canada, we thought we were done with icy winters and slush. We had no need for puffy coats and lumberjack boots. We thought we were totally immune against the cold because we had gone through -40 degrees winters, so we just let go of our winter gear, thinking we would be fine with mid-season clothes. The cold in Paris hits you differently though. The European rain and grey clouds give you wet chills. It’s nothing like the dry winters of Canada (that are also kind of sunny!). We purchased rain jackets and learned our lesson after getting soaked a few times. Make sure to prepare yourself to stay comfortable so you can enjoy your days and avoid getting sick.
Insurance and paperwork
Talking about getting sick, I cannot emphasize this enough. Get insurance! We never know what could happen so don’t let bad luck ruin your stay abroad. In the same topic, get your affairs in order. We don’t think about bringing important documents when we’re moving somewhere new because we might be scared to lose them. I’d advise you to get a digital copy uploaded to a safe cloud or on a crypted USB key. You might need them for immigration, taxes, bank-related transactions, car rentals, new leases… If you’ve organized your documents back home, it would also be easier for your folks to send it to you in case of emergency, but do not burden them with a drawer full of messy documents.
When one person is making a huge leap, it’s important to discuss pragmatic details. Number one is money. Be honest with how much you make and talk about your financial goals and preferred living arrangements. You do not need to create a joint account but having a joint budget helps. Talk about what makes you comfortable and what your insecurities are. Convert money in advance so you can get rid of one thing on your to do list when you arrive. Another uncomfortable talk is how to spend your vacations. Luckily, in France we have plenty so there’s time. If you want to take a large portion of your vacation to go back to your home country and visit your family every year, discuss it in advance so your plans align.
Moving out is not a magic pill
For some people, traveling elsewhere is an escape. It can lead to deep personal change, but also hides a desire to flee problems. Moving to a new place (and conveniently having a sweetheart to follow) will not solve your past issues. Moving to a new country doesn’t mean you’ll be a different person because this is a new scenery. Ask yourself why you’re in this adventure and be genuine with yourself. A better question is “what do you want to get out of this adventure?” and you’ll have a better purpose for your journey. On a side note, will you resent your partner if you sacrifice your old life to be with them in the new town?
Be flexible with your future
Sometimes, life doesn’t go your way. You might be tempted to call it quit or break down and regret your decision. As much as I want to tell you to not give up, sometimes there’s nothing you could do but let it go. When stressful times come up, talk it out and be generous with communication. Your partner deserves to know your feelings to gauge the situation and be able to help you. If you need to go back to your home country for X amount of time, it will be okay. A relationship that is meant to last will find its way to a healthy compromise. Freedom and trust are crucial pillars to a relationship. Having a backup can generally save you a headache, so plan one in case feelings change.
Overall, moving for love to another country is stressful. Make sure you know how to make yourself happy, be grateful for your adventures, take advantage of the new culture to learn about others and about yourself, be flexible and gentle with yourself and live without regrets. Love is a complex feeling, so make sure that when you make an emotional decision, you have a rational backup plan.