My recent BonjourParis.com column is now available. Although I wrote it before I actually got on the plane and I'm already in Paris, I hope it manages to convey the emotional pendulum that comes with the decision to move abroad.
By the time you read this, I will be living in Paris. Not just a tourist this time around, taking a week or two of precious vacation time to see the sights, but officially an ex-pat, I’m in it for the long haul, living life abroad. And it’s been an emotional roller-coaster, this last couple of weeks.
It’s a time of “lasts” all the way around: the last week before boarding the plane; the last get-together with dear friends; the last Halloween (not such a big deal in France); the last family dinner for a while (I’m missing Thanksgiving but consoling myself with the thought that I will be back for a few weeks at Christmas).
When I went to my last French class, intending to surprise my teacher and classmates with some French treats I got at a local patisserie (yes, there actually IS one in New Jersey), it turns out I was the one who was surprised! One classmate baked some French pastry cookies for me, and others, including my teacher and the directrice of the school, gave me some lovely parting gifts: a book on unusual things to do in Paris; a set of French immersion CDs to help me improve my admittedly weak listening comprehension skills; and a delightful book of Thomas Jefferson’s letters written during his three-month tour of the South of France in 1787. I was moved to tears by their thoughtfulness, support, genuine excitement for my plans, and display of friendship. Who knew when I first started taking classes there that I would not only learn to conjugate the subjunctive, but would also make some wonderful friends?
Last weekend, I was hanging out with my sister when her daughter came into the room. She’s 14 and in high school and this totally gorgeous and amazing kid; and she has an older brother in college whom I equally adore. I’ve been lucky enough to see them very frequently throughout their young lives, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, having no kids of my own. So I’m sitting there, looking at my niece, and before I knew it, I had a melt-down when I realized how much I’d be missing in her life by moving abroad. It hit me hard, all of a sudden, that choosing to move abroad does come at a price—leaving behind people and places you love in order to have the opportunity to experience NEW people and places.
But as hard as all the “lasts” have been, there are many “firsts” ahead of me, too. And THAT is what excites me most, thinking about those firsts.
The first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower, welcoming me back to Paris.
The first time I can look around my Paris rental apartment and realize that I’m “home”.
My first time back on the Pont des Arts, my favorite place to people-watch and probably my favorite view of Paris.
The first time I finally get to visit the Louvre and see my namesake, the Mona Lisa.
The first time I have to go food shopping or do any number of normal, everyday things that people do when they live in a place versus “just passing through”, when it will sink in that I really LIVE here!
The first time I have to make a phone call in French (I’m dreading that one – at least when you have a face-to-face conversation you can use gestures to help make yourself understood).
The first time I go out on a date with some great guy in Paris… and my first great Parisian kiss.
I know there are more firsts ahead for me in Paris than I can count or even imagine. Not all of them will be happy firsts (I’m sure to be frustrated by my less-than-fluent French skills and by mastering public transportation after a lifetime of driving my own car), but most of them will be. And in the end, the firsts will no doubt far outweigh the lasts.
I’m getting so excited to be finally doing the one big thing I have dreamed of doing my entire life, I can hardly think straight sometimes. Each time I really think about it, about the significance of what this means for me, I can literally feel my heart swelling and expanding in my chest. My cup runneth over, and I’m so grateful.
Still, I think I’d better wear waterproof mascara on my last day when I have to say goodbye to my family and my best friend.
Because that one’s gonna hurt.