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Laura K. Lawless, Bouillante

Who are you?

I’m Laura K. Lawless, American by birth, expat by choice, online French teacher by passion.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

Originally, I moved to Morocco in 2000, where I stayed for 2½ years.I returned to the US for 4 years, then spent 9 months in Costa Rica and 5 years in the South of France before settling permanently in Guadeloupe in 2013. I’m fascinating by travel, language, and culture, and since I work online, I can live pretty much anywhere. Being overseas keeps life interesting and my language skills sharp.

What challenges did you face during the move?

The hardest part of any of my moves was getting the French carte de séjour and, later, carte de résident. The carte de séjour has to be renewed every year and involves multiple trips to the Préfecture loaded down with documents (birth, marriage, divorce certificates; bank statements; proof of health insurance…). The certificates in particular are really annoying since they don’t change and you’d think the government would have them on record, but no – you have to bring the originals and copies every time. After 5 years, I had the right to apply for the carte de résident, which is good for 10 years, but I didn’t actually receive it until my 8th year. All told, I must have taken 40 trips to the Préfectures in mainland France and Guadeloupe over the years.

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Are there many other expats in your area?

Someone told me that there are 400 Americans in Guadeloupe, but I only know five, three of whom (a family) just moved here 6 months ago. I also know one British expat here in Bouillante. I’m sure that there are a lot more in Deshaies (an hour north of me), where the BBC series “Death in Paradise” is filmed, as well as over on the livelier eastern part of the island (Sainte Anne, Saint François).

What do you like about life where you are?

It’s always warm, the people are friendly, there are lots of flowers, the food is great, and the snorkeling is fantastic. It’s very peaceful and life is full of simple joys.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

When living on an island, the biggest challenges are travel and imported goods. They’re both very expensive.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

Guadeloupéens don’t build their homes facing the view (sea or mountains) but rather the road so that they can see who goes by. They love dropping in on friends and having friends drop in on them. I’m not used to so much socialization and am not fond of the drop-in.

What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

The tropical fruits are excellent: pineapple, bananas, passion fruit (my favorite), papaya, mangos, coconut, pomengranate, etc. We grow most of these in our garden. The local vegetables are mostly starchy: yams (which are nothing like sweet potatoes), chayote, plantains. To get more variety, you have to buy imported food.

The classic Guadeloupéen drink is ti punch, essentially a shot of local rum dressed up with a bit of lime juice and sugar. It’s far too strong for me – I prefer a nice planteur, which is fruit juice with rum and spices.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Learn French – you will need it. Be prepared for laid-back attitudes, everything taking far longer than you’d like it to, and water / electricity / internet outages.

What are your plans for the future?

Once we’re done building our house (in the next 6 months or so), we’ll build three vacation rentals and hopefully get to meet travelers from all over the world.

You can keep up to date with Laura's adventures on her blog, and find out more about her online French lessons on her website.

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