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A pandemic spent in Paris

Written By Rose Sandall

Having moved to Paris in September 2020, I have learned my fair share of what living abroad is like, particularly during a pandemic. There are some incredible parts of living abroad and equally many trials and tribulations I’ve faced along the way. Life can be lonely, homesickness can be very tough, but living abroad brings opportunities and people that I would never have encountered at home. I am incredibly privileged to have lived in a city such as Paris, and as I depart after 16 months there, I have been reflecting on my time in such a wonderful place.

I moved to Paris on what could be considered a whim. I was meant to attend university, but after a change in heart I decided I wanted to do something else. We were mid-pandemic (summer 2020) and I wanted, like many, to escape my bubble in Oxfordshire. One of privilege in comparison to many, I understand, however still a suffocation of self-discovery that I was ready to grow from and with.

So, I searched around for easy ways to move abroad and I came across Au Pairing in Paris.

The best decision I have ever made. But certainly not without its challenges.

One struggle of living abroad is having very high expectations of how daily life should be. As Paris is an especially romanticised city, people often think you are constantly having the time of your life - Emily in Paris style, and if you're not, there is something really wrong. I once called a friend explaining I was feeling anxious, and I remember her saying ‘oh but you live in Paris’ instead of really understanding and listening to how I was feeling. I think there's a view that my daily life there was getting a fresh baguette and drinking an espresso on a (non-existent) roof terrace, dressed from head to toe in Dior (darling!).

Something that I was not fully prepared for was just how much time it would take to settle. I’d heard that it takes a while, but I didn’t quite anticipate just how long. The constant changing of COVID restrictions didn’t help, especially when you’d make a friend and then couldn’t see them for a month or so. For me, it took around 4 to 5 months to fully feel like Paris was my home, and to establish my friendship circle.

If I could give any advice when moving abroad, it is to take every (safe) opportunity to meet people. It may feel like you have no one, but keep meeting people, keep arranging different activities and you will find those who are meant to stick around. For me, I was surrounded by an international group of girls, who brought out the best in me and each other. We’d spend our days sitting in parks and strolling through the famous galleries of Paris. The memories I made with these girls are some of the fondest I have. So, please find those people who make you feel on top of the world, and don’t settle until you do.

One of the best aspects for me was being pushed very far out from my comfort zone. From moving in with a french family that I had only met through a few face time calls, to meeting up with strangers from a facebook group in a desperate attempt to make friends; I was very far from my comfort zone.

And sometimes it really was exhausting.

But as with everything, it got easier as I went along. As an English girl through and through, the language barrier - naturally - was a struggle, especially when trying to communicate with a three-year-old who doesn’t quite speak English yet. It definitely makes you more brave, just having to put the feeling of embarrassment aside and just having to give it a go: be it in a supermarket, cafe or bar.

Something quite unique that I experienced whilst living in Paris, was a quiet city. One that is normally incredibly crammed with (pre-pandemic) 30 million tourists a year, I got to sit on the Champs du Mars, in the height of summer, being one of very few. I strolled along the Seine on a Sunday and I encountered a handful of locals. This is something that I am incredibly lucky to have seen and felt, possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity to stroll along the empty streets of Paris. It made for a very different life there, not being allowed out of Paris and restaurants, bars and museums being shut for much of my time there, but one that I will treasure for eternity

But, ah yes, that wonderful pandemic…

Covid halted all flights, trains, exits and entries in the country. I didn’t go home for six months due to restrictions. There are worse places to be ‘trapped’ for sure, but missing loved ones' birthdays, celebrations, and dealing with homesickness was suffocating at times.

However, as a result the friends I had made became my family. We spent every weekend all together at a friend's flat, cooking three course meals, drinking fine French wine and tanning in parks around the city. We supported each other through periods of homesickness, and rough times.

These people became family to me and I think part of this is because we all have a shared unique experience of moving abroad in a pandemic.

Living abroad (even during a pandemic) does give you a whole new set of experiences you otherwise wouldn’t have. It teaches you to be fiercely independent, and fills you with a certain level of confidence that I hadn't found within myself at home! I am able to test the waters with things at home I wouldn't feel comfortable doing. I could try a new style that may not even exist at home or that wasn’t considered ‘cool’. In fact ‘cool’ in Paris felt like it was defined as individuality, authenticity, creativity, self-love, confidence, humility, discovery, love and so much more.

Having been back in the UK for a few months, it has been a time for reflection of what these last 16 months living out of my home country have been like to me. I have grown immensely as a person, starting to learn a new language, a skill that will probably be continually worked on well into my late adulthood, and made a set of friends that I now consider to be my family. I am excited to be back in the UK, but I miss living in Paris. It was my first home away from home, the first time I had fully built a life for myself, and as a consequence it will forever hold my heart.

*Cover photo by Rose Sandall Film, featuring Rose Sandall, Emily McDowell, and Fran Bedford

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