An Expat Dance: Who’s Leading Whom?

My dream had always been to live in France – I mean, whose isn’t? So, it was that when life events occurred and opportunities arose, I made the decision to take a teaching sabbatical and lead myself to live one year in Montpellier: a happening, university town full of students and, in my experience, an easygoing and friendly ambiance generally found in the south of France. I had visited the area several times and would be near a French couple that I had befriended through a work colleague. I felt I needed to be where I knew someone, right? Still, it was a frightening decision, although well thought out (or so I thought), as I began to pile cardboard boxes in my living room with goods destined for storage – done nine months in advance, as if preparing for a baby. For me, this did equate to the arrival of a new life.I wondered if I was having the same uneasy feeling that trailing spouses experience, faced with moving to foreign lands in following their, mostly husband’s, career lead.

I had studied French in both high school and college, traveled to France as a tourist many times, so it would not be so foreign to me. I mean, I had studied and read books about cultural differences, so was up-to-speed on this subject as well. After all, what could be different as a yearlong resident from being a tourist?

Well, it turned out that I didn’t move as soon as planned – or even move to Montpellier. Instead, I became a trailing spouse – sort of! My soon-to-be French husband had also been planning to move (back) to France, but needed time to prepare – beaucoup time. However, he followed my lead to get moving (pun intended), and so, it was only a year later than planned that I followed his lead to move to the city of Nice on the French Riviera.

Let me just say that living 24/7 outside of one’s country is, indeed, different than being a tourist (read: French bureaucracy and tons of paperwork – a real cauchemar (nightmare), and oui, even for a re-patriated native). Actually, my husband had the more difficult time (re)adjusting, since things were different from years ago when he left France. As it turned out, he followed my lead in French areas that I was more familiar with, but he had visited and knew more places in the U.S. than I, so touché!

It can be daunting to be in a new place, not knowing anyone or how to get your bearings, both physically and psychologically. I suddenly realized I was in a big city without an innate compass or known acquaintance – Nice: the fifth largest city in France and host to a multitude of travelers via its international airport. With its wide and 7 km long Promenade des Anglais, the seafront is a buzz of walking, biking, rollerblading, jogging, and segwaying activity among locals and visitors, not to mention the city’s pebbly public and private beaches. Lined with hotels, restaurants, and cafés, the Promenade is iconic Nice, but there’s so much more behind its scenic views – it just took me time to discover it and my expat self.

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* join a few international clubs and/or associations, as a way to meet and mingle with other expats & natives
* buy/subscribe to English magazines or newspapers, a good source of updated information, news, and local events
* participate in bi-lingual conversation groups or enroll in a language class
* visit an English bookstore to make connections and obtain event information
* follow local expat blogs to get insider information and tips
* visit a local English library and/or church
* inform yourself of local customs and the culture, to help avoid misunderstandings (don’t assume everyone speaks/should speak English and that things should be done like you are used to)
* realize that there will be periods of homesickness, frustration, anger, and sadness – all normal feelings that coincide with culture shock

I have learned from living abroad that every place has its positive and negative aspects – there is no perfect place. Traveling plays such a vital role in opening one’s mind to other people and different ways of life, from which we begin to learn more about ourselves. Life is what we make of it: from daring to jump into a new life and from taking advantage of new opportunities that present themselves. And yes, this includes following someone’s lead, should you find yourself dancing!

Kim is a lifelong Francophile, and former French teacher. Having moved from the U.S. to the French Riviera, she enjoys writing about France and French culture on her blog, 24/7 in France (http://twentyfourseveninfrance.com). From the simple beauty of a Mediterranean sunset to her passion for all things French, Kim shows us that dreams can come true!

Kim is a lifelong Francophile, and former French teacher. Having moved from the U.S. to the French Riviera, she enjoys writing about France and French culture on her blog, 24/7 in France. From the simple beauty of a Mediterranean sunset to her passion for all things French, Kim shows us that dreams can come true!

Kim Defforge is the author of "Solitary Desire: One Woman's Journey to France" and "Sun, Sea & Savoir-Faire: Travel Focus on the French Riviera".


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