So where did I leave things? Sorry it’s been so long; the summer was busy, and so was work after the school holidays. I think I ended Part 1 of this post (The Beginning of It All: Le Départ & Le Retour) right about the time I got my new job in London in 2013.
The story on my decision to move back to my home country, France, and how the city of Paris eventually became "home" in my heart continues below, but first, an old Facebook post I came across seems like a fitting opening to Part 2. I found the words I had written in a post the night I left London, and reading them two years later, I still mean EVERY WORD of it:
It is a strange feeling to leave this place. London is where I've lived the longest in my adult life...It is almost exactly five years since I arrived here, and even though I don't feel completely ready to leave (who is??), I am happy for the adventures ahead. Here I have met the most amazing people, coming from all around the world, and I will not forget them (you know who you are). Here I have faced and overcome my fears of being away and by myself. I have grown in taking the decision to travel on my own, whether close or far away (really really far away), and enjoy myself. Here I have grown as a professional, learning from inspiring people and have found myself.
Here I have done a lot, even though I know there will always be more to discover. I will miss the endless possibilities and neverending choice of something to do, eat, somewhere to go out. I feel I have enjoyed it as much as I could, but I do regret some lazy weekends when I did not make the most of it (nobody's perfect!).
I will miss Brixton, its vibe, music, smiling people, its community, my home.
I will miss the South Bank, where it all began, and ended.
Obviously, I will come back, as a tourist this time, like before 2011. It will not be the same, but I will not be the same as the "before London" me.
I owe a lot to London, and its people, and I will not forget that. This is my goodbye letter to you London, city forever in my heart.❤️
The story continued: The new job that I started in 2013, working for an American study abroad organization in Kensington, was a true life-changer for me in so many ways. I met amazing people there, whom I count as friends still, even though I no longer live in London (this includes fellow ESG blog writers Meghan, Sara and Rachelle!). But in this job, I also found my “professional calling,” if you will: I discovered what working in education was about. Today, I’m still working in that field, but in France. I even started studying remotely for a Bachelor in Educational Science, which I recently successfully completed (yay! victory!), despite having to work full-time concurrently. This is just to illustrate how every step of my journey has made sense and contributed to what my life is now...
As I said, at that time, I could not imagine myself coming back to live in France, ever. Life was too good in London, and although it was expensive, my secret hope was that I’d meet someone, fall in love, move in together and I wouldn’t have to live in a flatshare anymore. I figured I’d have time, right? Those who know me well are aware of my flatshare stories, and also my (colourful) dating stories. Some say I should write a book about them! Not sure I’d have the guts though…
So what happened in those years to change my mind about moving back to France? To be honest, I’m not sure I could explain it clearly. It kind of came suddenly. Retrospectively, I think me missing France started when terrorism struck France in January 2015, and then November 2015. At times like these, my heart was broken not to be among my “people”; not being able to march on the Place de la République in Paris and show the world that I, too, would not stand for it and I would keep living my life. It might seem strange, but I remember going to Trafalgar Square in London after the attacks in France, as I felt no one around me understood my grief and I needed to be among French people. My friend Charlene was there too, and felt the same way. That was January, and in November, my country was struck again; same feeling, same heartbreak of being far away. I think on some level at that time, my yearning to come home started to slowly make itself known to me.
Vigil in Trafalgar Square, London after the terrorist attacks in France; January 2015 (photo taken by Marion).
By January 2016, I had been to Paris a couple of times with work, accompanying a group of students to discover the city (often my American students assumed that since I am French, I was very familiar with Paris, but I am actually from Orléans). For the first time in my life, I felt some sort of attraction to Paris. To me, things had changed, people were nicer, more aware of one another…There was a “je ne sais quoi” (www.dictionary.com definition = an indefinable, elusive quality, especially a pleasing one).
I know a couple of people who would claim I’m delusional and laugh at me so hard for writing this, but I assure you, I still have that feeling now, after living there for two years! This feeling was completely new to me; I had never -- and I mean NEVER -- thought of living in Paris before. The thought suddenly appealed to me, and combined with other circumstances (let me tell you, the whole Brexit debacle in the UK didn’t help), the idea slowly started growing on me, up until I actually decided I would move to Paris after the summer. I think I announced it around March, first to my friends, who were pretty astonished, and then to work, as I wanted to be pretty transparent about it. And, to be fair, it was all I could think about and needed to talk about it freely! I started a bucket list of all the things I had to see/do before leaving London (of course, I didn’t do half of them!), and around June I started looking for a job in Paris.
As planned, I moved to Paris in September, and luckily found a job a couple days before moving back, which made for an interesting weekend:
Thursday 15th September I finished my last day at work at noon and finished packing up my flat in the afternoon, which is when I found out I’d been offered the new job. On Friday 16th September, it was the very last dinner with my friends in my Brixton neighborhood (I’d had my leaving party the Saturday before), which ended in tears, of course.
At midnight, the journey with the movers started, we drove all night and arrived on Saturday morning in Orléans, my hometown, where we stored my boxes at my grandmother’s house. I spent the weekend there and on Sunday night, my parents drove me to Paris, and I settled my things at my uncle and aunt’s flat (they were hosting me until I found a flat). And on Monday 19th September, I started my new job in Paris. Quite a fast change!
From there, everything went pretty quickly. As I settled into my new job, I managed to find a flat in about 10 days, which was astonishingly lucky and fast for Paris.
I still live there, and I love my place! It’s in the 18th arrondissement, and it truly feels like a small village. But of course, like every big change in life, it comes with challenges.
It was autumn and then winter, and it was hard to be away from my friends. My first months in Paris proved to be more challenging than I initially thought. I missed my social life, I missed my book club, I missed a lot of things, and of course, people. Although I had founded an “ex-expat” group for Paris on Facebook, and made some friends thanks to it, it took me a few months to finally feel great about my move. And I remember precisely how it came about…
In July 2017, I went to Brussels for a long weekend (it was Bastille Day weekend, as it turns out). It was a great weekend; I met a friend there, and I had a really good time. But when I got back, and was walking from the metro to my place, I caught another glimpse of the back of the Sacré Coeur (I live right behind Montmartre), and I felt something in my heart. I thought to myself “I’m glad to be home,” and it struck me instantly that it was the first time I ever thought of the neighborhood as my HOME. The feeling was amazing. I was truly happy, and had a big smile on my face.
The glimpse of Sacré Coeur from my neighborhood in Paris.
Ever since then, my doubts of moving back disappeared completely. I have since visited London many, many times (it’s a simple two-hour train journey on the Eurostar), and each time I go back I am happy to be there, feeling a tiny bit of nostalgia, but never regret leaving.
My London experience was inspired by a friend, but built thanks to all the people I met there. It's funny how the lives of those around us, and a tiny bit of chance, lead us to where we are now...