Obstacles to Language Learning: An Expat’s Experience

tshirtLong before I even knew it was possible that I would ever live in France, I had a desire to learn the French language. I was at the top of my French class for two years in High School, so I had a positive association with it. Besides, it seemed that my bilingual friends all had more fun. So, when I actually knew I was moving to France, I was looking forward to the language experience. Was.

I told myself that my priority would be language learning. I intended to take as many lessons as I could throughout the week. I even started before I left, taking some lessons with a friend and using online resources like Duolingo. Once I got to France, though, I was faced with an unanticipated reality.

Obstacle #1: Location

My French-born bestie back home had filled my head with ideas of free French lessons designed to help immigrants fit in. Having taught in a Continuing Ed program at a college, I had preconceptions of free daily classes taught by entertaining teachers. I loved the idea because I learn better in groups. Unfortunately, the reality was that I was way too far away from any such program, living in the country as I was. And having just arrived, I was nowhere near tapped into life here to know what was available. However, eventually, as luck would have it, I found affordable group French lessons once a week in the closest town fifteen minutes away. What a godsend! The teacher was a Brit with dramatic flair and fabulous sense of humor. I was so bewildered and homesick at that time, it was always a delight to go to class and remember how to laugh. I also made friends with a couple of native speakers and had some lessons that way, but it was far too easy to succumb to speaking English instead.

Eventually, other classes surfaced nearby. Of course, they weren’t free, but they weren’t wickedly expensive either. Some of them were better than others. I ended up quitting one class even after purchasing an pricey book because it was just too slow for me (hard to imagine!) and the content seemed far too touristy. About six months in, I eventually learned of a program for which I qualified through the French unemployment bureau. I signed up but never heard anything back. With some persistence, I did finally manage to re-enroll after several more months. The class only met once a week, but it was free, and it was all morning long, but for a while, I was the only student. This had advantages and disadvantages: the positive was individualized attention; that also happens to be the negative. This situation eventually morphed into two classes a week, both mornings and afternoons. Now sometimes, there are other students, but usually it is just me.

Obstacle #2: Stuffed!

I was so excited that I’d be going to classes twice every week for the entire day. Was. Quickly, I began to realize three things: 1) I hated waking up at 7AM 2) I hated having a two-hour lunch break with nowhere to go and 3) there was no room in my poor brain after 2.5 hours of French, let alone 6! Maybe immersion is the way to go for some people. I can’t think of a bigger nightmare. I get so flippin’ exhausted! I can’t imagine being in it all day every day. Maybe it’s because I’m introverted; I need to be alone with my thoughts. At any rate, more is not necessarily better! When there were other students, I could get a lot more out of the day. When I’m on my own though, it’s quite difficult because of the intensity…and frustrating too because what I need most is conversation with others.

Obstacle #3: STRESS!!!

I know that stress has a huge role to play in one’s ability to learn a language…or anything else for that matter. Fact is, settling into a new country is a stressful endeavor. When you are worried about figuring out why there’s a problem at your bank or about whether or not some important piece of paper has been lost or processed, it leaves less room for new stuff. When class rolled around, some days, my mind would be on other things making it very difficult to pull up the words I needed. This had no end of negative impact on my self-confidence and sense of self as a highly intelligent, capable person with a love for learning. In fact, I increasingly felt as though I was living through the eyes of my fragile special needs students back home. I had a sense of what my brain was supposed to be doing, but it just wouldn’t cooperate, making me feel like a failure. When I had a medical emergency last year, I couldn’t say anything but “merci” at the hospital. The doctor was a real prick about it too, making fun of me. (He inspired the above T-shirt!…though it is mostly me who has to get over it!) Believe me, having a crowd of nurses and doctors over your head saying things you don’t understand while they do whatever they want with you is sufficiently nerve-wracking to affect one’s ability to communicate anything!

Obstacle #3: Priority

Even though I came here with learning French as my priority, the fact is, other things took over…important things…like my mental health. I had to battle growing anxiety; there were many relationship problems and bureaucratic obstacles to work on too. I needed time for making friends and other things that were actually enjoyable to me just to keep myself sane. Then I realized I had to get going with my business, promoting, networking, writing, painting… I had to keep some semblance of life going because I was falling into despair. Finding myself and my happiness became my priority. French was just another unpleasant but necessary task I had to do every week. I felt some guilt over this. How dare I come live in a country and NOT make the language my priority? But life was happening, and if I wasn’t careful, I would end up sick, tired, and even more depressed than I already felt.

Obstacle #4: Motivation

I am not married to a French-speaker. I’m married to a Brit who barely speaks French himself. So, we don’t use any French in the house. It’s a definite handicap. In addition, this region is absolutely crawling with English-speakers. I’m glad, actually, because it is saving my life. But at the same time, it sure doesn’t motivate me to learn more French. I realize it will ultimately shrink my life to the size of a peanut if I don’t learn, but for now, while I’m still just trying to acclimate and be at peace, I’m not terribly motivated to push. In my life, there have been many things I wanted to learn…how to play guitar (abandoned), karate (abandoned), reading music (abandoned), Chinese (abandoned)…  Who knows why we both decide to pick something up and why we eventually put it back down again? If I stay in France, obviously abandoning French won’t be an option. But to be honest, it is one of the biggest reasons I want to leave!

Obstacle #5: Plateaus

As my current French teacher has pointed out, I’m a person who is used to having the ability to express herself in complex ways. I can’t do that in French. It is extremely frustrating. I have no interest in small talk, the weather… every day life, so to speak. I want to talk philosophy. I want to get complex! Alas, I have to contend myself with the mundane. There are just so many words I don’t know. I know what I want to say, but as I think how to say it in my head, I never know where to begin and everything just freezes. If I don’t know the first word, I suddenly don’t know anything. It is easy to fall into this idea that I’ve hit some kind of learning plateau in my first year… a plateau I’ll never get over. If I think back to how much French I knew last year at this time, I really have made progress. However, for whatever reason, on some days, I seem to forget everything! I’m not sure if it is because I’ve fooled my teachers into thinking I understand more than I do (I’m very good at not really knowing what anyone is saying but using context to figure it out), or if it is simply my almost 50-year old brain straining to remember things.

I know that a lot of people here give up learning the language. They feel it is too difficult and don’t feel they ever make any progress. I think I myself am going to have to fight those feelings. I’m not ready to give up yet. I might never be fluent, but it would be nice to feel somewhat confident that I can get by.

What has your experience been like learning a second language? What have been your biggest obstacles?

 

 

 

Business in France – A Whole New Kind of Logic

I don’t know whether to laugh, be disgusted, or terribly afraid. In January, I registered in France to start business as an auto-entrepreneur…er…scratch that…as of 2016, it’s now called micro-entreprise. Whatever it’s called, I have one…or became one.

My husband, on the other hand, has had his own micro-entreprise here for many years. Only he’s always been called a micro-entreprise because he started business before “auto-entrepreneur” even existed. Now, though, all auto-entepreneurs are called micro-entreprises. (Oh wait! I shouldn’t be using hyphens in those terms! The French just did away with hyphens…and the oignon which is now ognon but as far as I can tell, still a vegetable….which incidentally the French call legumes. But I digress.)

sarky
Art by Stuart Davies

Confused yet?

Perusing my Expat Facebook forums this morning, I read of yet another panicked businesswoman who has received notice of owing CIPAV, an agency responsible for retirement, a whopping sum of over €50,000. Sadly enough, this is an all too common experience here. French and foreigners alike doing business in this country are frequently driven to harakiri over such tribulations.

My fellow Americans, imagine if the IRS sent you a letter that said, “We’ve made a mistake. We are so very sorry. However, because we failed to collect from you the appropriate amount in social security contributions over the last several years, you now owe us $50,000 payable immediately. Have a nice day.”

It brings to mind memories of last year at this time, when my husband and I were dealing with a very similar issue. We discovered that he owed some €6000 to this same organization and were having some other very stressy troubles around money. We lived through that time, but we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop because that seems to be what happens here. It’s almost as if these business agencies just make up things as they go along. And according to inside sources, this isn’t just the perception of expats but natives as well.

It just seems like if you don’t set aside at least 60% of your income here, eventually someone somewhere is going to claim that all that money you spent on food and rent was actually supposed to have gone to them. The problem is that nobody seems to know what the $#*& is going on in this country…EVER.

When I was preparing my business, I went through a program for the unemployed. It was very helpful, actually. My counselor was wonderful and even spoke English fairly well. She alerted me of my rights to join an organization called ACCRE which would result in a reduction of “taxes” or “cotisations” that I paid in the first three years of my business. What new business doesn’t need that? Of course, I affiliated myself…or at least, I tried to. At first, the registering agency claimed they had not received my application, so I had to resend everything, including a copy of a signed receipt that says they actually did receive my first application. I’m still waiting to hear back.

Yet again this morning, I read another panicked Facebook post from a businesswoman affiliated with ACCRE who is now being charged €3000 in back pay for going over some kind of income threshold. It threw several of us into a panic because it was a mysterious threshold that none of us had heard of!  Eventually, someone was able to cut through the underbrush and clearly explain the facts, but more often, the explanations sound something like this:

It’s because cotisations are regularized by a percentage of your expected income for the first three years plus the amount you didn’t make when you weren’t in business at all multiplied by the number of cats and dogs in your household. This is only reported in January, and only if you fill out form 8067 which you can only do online between December 13th and 31st of the prior year, but which is actually due Dec. 1st, and only if the website is working at the time. So really, everything is just as it should be. Simple!

Case in point. My husband recently hit his own threshold and was required to start collecting TVA (VAT)…sales tax…on his invoices. So, being dutiful, he registered for a tax number and proceeded to collect sales tax. Several months later, a business associate in the UK relayed to him that they shouldn’t be paying this tax due to some agreement between countries. Even our French accountant said, at first anyway, that this was not true; he did have to collect tax. Eventually, the accountant discovered that he indeed did not need to collect the sales tax after all, meaning he now had to reimburse this UK business several thousand euros in taxes. Thank God he hadn’t paid it to the tax department yet. I shudder to think of the chaos that would have induced.

Nothing ever really adds up in France, at least not in my experience so far. What good is an estimate if it’s off by thousands of euros or a schedule of fees if they are just guidelines? And the worst part is, there is ZERO protection, it seems. (If I’m wrong, someone enlighten me.) Banks, agencies, bureaus…they all seem to be able to make up things as they go along and never inform anybody…let alone each other! Talk to one person, get one answer. Talk to another and get another answer. Choose the answer you like best, but be prepared to pay heavily for it in two or three years when someone just back from vacation decides they don’t like the answer you’ve chosen!

This is one crazy Matrix, here.

Believe it or not, it’s been good for me. It’s forced me to let go of my high ideals of efficiency and organization. It has also given me excellent practice in reigning in my total freak-outs to find that the sky hasn’t actually fallen and that the sun still rises in the East. Of course, the Sun is one of the last remaining free enterprises!

 

Virgin Expats – Don’t Panic; You’re Normal!

In my last post, I wrote about how living in a foreign country felt a lot like I imagined a fish out of water would feel…sputtering to breathe, violently flopping and groping for life, longing for the simpler days of the fishbowl.

The more I talk to fellow expats, the more I realize that many of the feelings I’ve experienced my first year in a new land are all too common. There is some relief in that. Actually, there’s a lot of relief in that because at first, I thought it was just me. I thought I was losing my mind!

So I write this post for fellow expats out there, men and women, who shared my starry-eyed hopes of an enchanting life abroad only to discover that the grass wasn’t really any greener, just different. If you have been or are now experiencing any of the following, don’t panic; you’re normal!

suitcase-clipartDo You Regularly Experience Complete Discombobulation?

I am not exaggerating here (maybe a little). Some days I wake up and feel like my head in where my elbow used to be and my toes are in my ears. I drop things, break things, burn things, forget things, don’t know what day it is, and stare out the window as I try to make sense of a list of things to do that might as well be written in Klingon. That wouldn’t be such a big deal if I was by nature an airhead. But I’m not! I’m a highly-efficient, organized Virgo! These things should not be happening to me!!! But they do. It’s all part of the “fish out of water” package. Everything here seems to take 5x as long to accomplish and at least 2x the effort. Setting up a simple account online, for example, requires Google translate, a keen intuition, and prayers that nothing times out before you can hit the “validate” button…assuming you can find it. It’s exhausting and frankly unnerving. Thankfully, some days are better than others. I live for those days. On the rest, I can only surrender.

Do You Feel Isolated & Alone?

I’ve read even expats in major cities complaining of loneliness and feelings of isolation, so I can’t blame it entirely on the fact that we’re living in the middle of nowhere. But I suspect it doesn’t exactly help! The thing is, even when you go to a market or join a group or whatever, you still might have a sense you don’t belong. Faces are unfamiliar, and even those you are getting to know are still much more distant than your friends and family back home, who themselves are receding in a dreamlike fashion. When watching others engaging warmly, it can bring on pangs of nostalgic longing and sadness. Such feelings rise, sometimes stay a bit longer than preferable, but they always fade. Many say the trick is to just get out there and meet people. But even that is not always an easy solution. Add the language barrier to the mix, and in fact, that solution is often just another problem. Maybe the only thing for it is to lean into the isolation and see what’s there and what it has to teach us.

Does Paralysis Strike?

There have been days, weeks even, when I knew I had to do something like decode a letter from the bank or try to make an appointment not knowing whether or not my communication attempt would result in success or not, but I just could not take action. Sometimes, I would experience so much anxiety that I would go through a kind of mental paralysis. My mind would just stop working completely. It was like an advanced stage of the discombobulation I mentioned. I couldn’t possibly do anything more than sip tea and watch Netflix. I wouldn’t even want to answer the phone when it rang and deal with yet another thing I couldn’t understand. The inability to move is a horrible feeling.  But you know what? It doesn’t last forever either. Strike while you are able and rest when you can’t. No biggie (albeit a tad scary).

Are You Having Unpleasant Thoughts & Emotional States?

Loss of identity (who you were) and lack of identity (who you are becoming) is a delicate place requiring an abundance of self-compassion, stillness, and self-care. It is all to easy for an anxious mind to create all kinds of painful stories of blame, mistakes, bad choices, and loss. When doubt enters, expats can be plagued with loneliness, sadness, helplessness, grief, shame, and withering self-confidence. We always have more going on that just a move, too. I, for example, was grieving a parent and entering a change of life and in a new relationship on top of leaving everything else and everyone behind. The stress of so much change spiraled out of control sometimes resulting in depression and despondency that I seriously had to claw my way out of. I didn’t have a lot of help to do it either. Part of me was ashamed to reach out to friends and family who would only offer advice and/or worry. But they couldn’t understand; only someone who had lived it could possibly understand. I tried to get some medical help, but I knew going in they would just try and medicate me, and I knew that wasn’t going to solve anything. So, I did a lot of praying. I also found an expat counselor to talk with, and WOW was that enlightening. She made it all so simple. I was in a process that others have survived before me; I wasn’t alone. And then one day, watching a Star Trek re-run, I just made a decision to refocus…be like a Vulcan and take the reins back from my mind and emotions. I couldn’t have done it before then. When the time was right, it just happened. I stepped over some invisible barrier and new from that day forward, though it would be an uphill battle, it was all up to me. What was I going to believe? What was I going to think? Where would I put my energy? Who would I become? Getting to that point, however, took just about one year.

Are you an expat, virgin or experienced? Would you add anything to this list?

Top Tips for Fish Out of Water

It’s official. I have been living in France now for one whole year. On some days, I was pretty sure I was not going to make it because either my marriage was going to drive me to a padded room, the next bureaucratic hurdle would give me a heart attack, or my complete disorientation would have me hiding under the sheets for a month. I’m happy to say, despite my worst fears, none of that manifested…though some of it got awfully close for comfort.

I’ve been taking this anniversary to consider how far I’ve come. I hear myself saying, “Honey, you’ve taken on a huge transformative process…bigger than you could ever have realized. Hold on to your heart. It’s still going to take time and lots of strength. Give yourself that time and keep the faith.”

Moving to a foreign land, leaving so much behind, being in a new marriage, not speaking the language, having to learn how to do things all over again in a completely unfamiliar way, all of it was (and continues to be) a HUGE transformative experience. Even after a year, it is still difficult to process at the speed to which I once was accustomed. I’m still learning. I’m still a fish out of water.

fishbowl In fact, being an expat is a lot like being a fish out of water! Think about it for a moment. A fish that is, for whatever reason, not in the water it has been swimming in all its life isn’t long for this world. It can’t breathe. It can’t swim. It’s floundering. It’s flopping madly. That’s just the reality of the kind of transformation expats undergo. Sure, maybe some are better equipped psychologically to handle it. Great! But for the rest of us, it’s living in a state of shock that’s way beyond culture, and usually with none of the support we were use to at our disposal.

There are certainly a lot of expat sites out there, most of them practical, many of them personal, but fewer dealing with the wellbeing of trailing spouses and expats of all kinds. It’s one of the reasons I’m taking this blog in a new direction. It will, of course, still be my story, but I also plan to focus more on wellbeing and things I’ve found that help with the anxieties expats face such as meditation.1283375516

So, I now share with you my 3 Top Tips for Fellow Fishies Out of Water.

Don’t take on more than necessary in your first year.

Whether you’ve planned your move for several months or several years, there’s still going to be even more to do than you ever thought possible, and despite your best efforts, smart goals, and good intentions, you may not be able to put everything in place as quickly as you’d like. When I arrived in France, I had to deal with the usual amount of paperwork (usual for France!) to establish residency, healthcare, banking, and all that fun essential stuff. I also had to learn how to drive again because my husband’s car was not an automatic. On top of that, I had to learn my way around, set up a household, and learn a new language. Plus I was planning to start a business, trying to keep up with three websites, painting, writing, trying to meet new people, and trying very hard not to cry every day. You know what? It was too flippin’ much!!! Some things HAD to be done and they weren’t very fun. Other things I had to let go. I couldn’t live up to the bar I had set for myself. I was surprised to find language-learning taking a back seat. It just was the way it was. I simply didn’t have the energy or focus to keep at it as I had planned. My health and sanity was far more important. I can’t even imagine how families with children manage such a massive relocation!

Find ways to stay connected to what you love.

You’re going to find yourself surrounded by the unfamiliar while all the while longing for the comforts of familiarity. Bringing those two things into balance can require some serious creativity. I came from an amazingly happy and vibrant community in which practically every other person was a massage therapist or yoga teacher and every other store was a whole foods market. I landed in the middle of grape vineyards with no cell-phone reception and the nearest town 15 minutes away. There was no dance church on Sundays. There was no weekly drum circle. There was no community acupuncture. The point is, the things I loved, that fed me and kept me healthy and happy, had vanished. I had to not only discover but create new avenues of connecting with things that inspired and motivated me. I always loved dance so I found videos about dancing to watch. I listened to music that I hadn’t listened to in ages that connected me to different times in my life. I made youtube my constant companion for new yoga workouts and meditations. And Facebook was a majorly important venue for helping me stay connected to friends back home. You get the idea.

Don’t believe everything you read or hear. Go straight to the source.

I’m including this very practical tip here because not doing so has been the cause of all kinds of grief for us, and I’d like to spare other expats that experience. It isn’t easy to get the answers to your questions, especially when language is a barrier. But it is tempting to rely on the internet, either on articles published in your mother tongue or on forums with fellow expats answering your questions. But the truth is, as incredibly helpful and reassuring as these sources can be, they are often filled with hearsay, outdated information, and/or experiences not at all relevant to your personal situation. The best thing you can do if you need an answer to an important question is ask the agency, bureau, expert or organization directly involved even if it isn’t the most economical approach, and even if it means hiring a translator. In the long run, it can save tons of energy in unnecessary worry or costly mistakes. That being said, prepare yourself for the thrill of getting different answer even within those agencies, bureaus and organizations!

And here, some additional tips…

Spend your AM and PM in nurturing activities.

The thing is, life abroad is challenging. I’d often find myself in a state of anxiety, irritability or overwhelm. It seemed to come out of nowhere, but in fact, there was just so much to process on a daily basis! By setting aside time morning and night to just be still, think about the day and all the thoughts and feelings that arose, by emptying the mind and body, you’ll be a lot better prepared for whatever you have to face the following day…and you’ll sleep better too!

Exercise!

Okay, exercise makes it on just about every list having to do with health and wellness. It’s no surprise. Our bodies needs exercise. I know that without my morning workouts, I would be a complete and utter nutter and feel miserable. It doesn’t matter what form your exercise takes. It can be anything as long as you do it. It’s just so so so so so important. Get it?

Indulge but don’t overdo it.

Okay. You find yourself in some bizarre new world with some pretty amazing foods at your disposal. What do you do? Eat them, of course. Some of the most wonderful things about France are the cheese, the wine, and the pastry! It’s okay to enjoy some of the best things about your new life, just don’t make yourself feel worse in an attempt to make yourself feel better.

Expect to feel completely weird 90% of the time.

I suppose not everyone will experience this, but don’t be surprised if you do. You can be doing the most mundane of tasks…pumping gas, turning on the oven, looking out the window. It’ll just hit you. Best not to focus on it.

Keep swimming.

Oh, the days I just wanted to throw in the towel! They would come so hard and so fast and so often. They still do. I’ve been told it takes expats about five years to really settle into life in their adopted country. (I don’t know if I’ll make it that long, but I’m still gonna keep swimming!) The point is, you’ll probably have days like that too when it all seems too hard, too impossible, and feels too wrong. All I can say is, tomorrow you may feel differently.

 

 

 

Expat Life: A New Recipe

The other day, I shared a metaphorical cake recipe to represent the realities of life in a foreign land. Expat life can drive a person insane. Add to that a new marriage, significant loss, health and financial issues, and the added isolation of a countryside devoid of civilization and you have a recipe for…well, disaster. But life is all about choice. And while we may not be able to choose what happens to us on a day to day basis, we can choose what we do about it.

globeToday, I’m going to share with you my new recipe…one that is still experimental and open to adjustments. On most days, it’s quite palatable, and you can use as much or as little of each ingredient as you want, though research shows, the more you use, the happier you feel.

Gratitude.

I know it is kind of a tiring meme, but cultivate gratitude and appreciation for what you have on a daily basis. Chances are, you have it a LOT better than most people, even if you don’t think you have it all that great. Though in some respects, telling someone to be grateful is akin to telling someone to breathe; both are fairly obvious, both can be taken for granted. So inhale deeply and find as many things as you can to be grateful for.

Exercise.

I cannot begin to express the importance of exercise in my life. Actually, I don’ t even like the word exercise. I think I prefer movement because instead of thinking of it as sweating and working hard, it can be all manner of pleasures for the body to experience. It’s about expressing through the body, stretching and feeling good. It’s about moving out the emotions that would otherwise get stuck. It’s about moving forward when you feel completely frozen in so many other areas of life.

Do What You Love.

Being in a foreign land far from everything familiar has had a funny way of reminding me of all the things I used to love to do…even if I’d given them up. It reminded me of other times in my life when I started something new…like when I learned to play bass guitar or when I spent $50 on art supplies (a fortune for me at the time) to make art. Think about and reconnect with what you love. I’ve always loved ballet, so I started watching videos and shows about dance. Find a way to do what you love no matter how obscure it may be in your adopted country or lacking in opportunity. Create the opportunities. Heck, I’m even thinking of picking up the ukulele.

Recall the best moments.

I’m a writer and so have kept journals for years. I only keep the good stuff, though. The rest I toss. So when I go back and re-read my journals, I am pleasantly uplifted by the positive memories, important lessons, and insights and inspirations. In fact, my old journals led me back to myself in a rather profound way. I had entries about my values, my strengths, my dreams, and some of the most magical things I’ve experienced in life. Revisiting was like dosing up on happy pills…only much, much better. So, revisit your past through journals, photographs, or whatever you’ve got that brings good things and happy thoughts and memories to mind. And if you don’t have access to that sort of thing, start creating something now.

Force yourself.

There are days when all I want to do is hide in my room watching Netflix. Sometimes, in fact, that’s all there is to do. But on others days, I know there’s something going on “out there” that I might enjoy, and I simply have to force myself to get dressed and go. Sometimes, I’m really glad I went because I did actually enjoy myself or made new connections. Other times, the event can be a miss, and I’m just glad I got out of the house. The point is, it’s important to at least try.

Take breaks and chill.

The above being said about “forcing yourself” must be balanced out by taking breaks. For example, after a period of increased stress and anxiety, I quit my weekly French lessons. It felt down-right rebellious, and I didn’t regret it either. I really needed the break. I wasn’t integrating anything new and was having trouble accessing what I’d already learned. It was time to spend my time rediscovering things I enjoyed and less on things that added to my stress. Language was adding to my stress, therefore, the break. I returned to it with vigor after a couple of months.

Reach out for support.

When you can’t turn to old friends and don’t exactly have new ones yet, and when your partner is preoccupied or simply not psychologically equipped to be there for you, find someone who is. I’ve done two things since embarking on my expat life in France I’d never done until then. I called a support hotline! It was a bizarre but helpful experience. I also hired a counselor. She helped me maintain a healthy perspective and because she herself was an expat, she really understood the depth of my emotions and could help me understand them too.

Throw this altogether in a pan, stir until smooth, then pop it in the oven and bake until you feel better.

The expat life can be really tough. You’re not alone! For one thing, there are many of us out there with you in our respective countries, and for another, you have yourself…the best friend in the world to cultivate. XO