Who are you?
My name is Bonny. I am a 46-year-old. I am French, the mother of two lovely girls, and have been living in the UK for over 20 years. Having worked since 2000 as an operations manager in the professional training and coaching industry, I was feeling quite stressed and overwhelmed, so I decided, in 2020, that it was time for a change of career. With a friend, I have set up the International School of Life, to connect expat women worldwide, to help them to develop highly supportive relationships and build their life and career abroad.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
Having qualified from university with a degree in European Law Studies and having met an English gentleman during one of my training course, I moved to England in 1999 to continue with my journey. I also wanted to improve my English skills and gain some work experience abroad.
What challenges did you face during the move?
My first big challenge was to leave my family and friends. I grew up in a small village in France, and I was very close to them all. It was hard to leave. I did not realise at the time that it would be hard to build new relationships.
My second challenge was to find a job, as I hardly spoke English, despite having studied it at school since I was 12 years old!
How did you find somewhere to live?
I was lucky enough to have met someone and be able to live with him. However, I knew that to last I had to find a job as soon as I could, so I had to work on my English!
Are there many other expats in your area?
There are some expats where I live, and I have built some very strong relationships with some of them. None of them are French!
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I am now a local, too! After 20 years, I really feel settled, and everything is very familiar. I have built very good relationships with my neighbours, parents from the schools, work colleagues, etc.
What do you like about life where you are?
What I like about where I live in England is the diversity and culture, as well as the proximity to France. I like living in a town that feels close to nature but that is also near the second biggest city in the UK, making things vibrant when needed.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
The main thing is not being able to see my family as much as I would like to. Despite the proximity whilst working, it is not like I can go there every few months. I also would like to have a bigger circle of friends.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
The first thing that comes to my mind is food, of course! There is a big difference between how flexible people and restaurants are in the UK, being able to eat at any time of the day and night! In France, people are more regimented in regard to their three meals a day and the times they have them.
I miss the variety of products, the lack of choice in supermarkets. I miss certain specific French products.
I find English people a lot more polite and respectful.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
I would tell them to get involved with people as soon as they arrive. Attend and take part in events, and get to know your neighbours, other parents at your children’s school, people at the gym, etc. And do not give up, as it takes time to build new, lasting relationships.
What are your plans for the future?
Having recently, with an expat friend, set up the International School of Life, I will be carrying on with my journey in the UK, helping people to discover their purpose in life and grow and thrive abroad.