My First Year in Paris vs. My Second Year.
1. I thought I knew Paris well... until I realized I actually know nothing at all.
I remember after being in Paris for my first 8 months, I finally got to a point of comfort. I was riding my bike more, I started to have my "places", my coffee shop, my boulangerie, my parc, etc. By the time my first 16 months were over, I had basically checked the box next to Paris and was ready to move on to bigger and better things.
So you can imagine the humility that came upon me when I ventured into my second year. I can honestly, say that yes, this city is very familiar to me. There are hardly days when I get lost or don't know of a good restaurant/cafe nearby where I can rest my legs---But at the same time, Paris is still such a mystery.
I discover a new passage or a new place to wander every. single. day...My list of things I want to do, restaurants I want to try, and experiences I want to have is ever-growing. So, I guess I'll just have to come back and buy myself some more time with this city... wink, wink.
2. Money doesn't buy happiness... but it does buy food and food makes me happy.
So in my first year, I was living as an au pair...and for those of you who don't know---an au pair in Paris, by definition, is someone, usually a young girl, who takes care of crazy french kids for 30 hours a week in exchange for a very small sum of weekly allowance, food, and accommodation. I worked around my family's schedule, was on their beck and call, and lived by their rules. In sum, not as amazingly glamorous as you may think. And every last penny was saved...and was quickly spent.
Now in my second year, I speak more french, I know more about how this crazy country's bureaucracy works, and I've also somehow managed, by the actual and amazing Grace of God, to find a job as a barista in a French cafe where I'm paid "la smige" translation: minimum wage.
But awesomely enough, 'la smige' is enough to live a comfortable, humble life. That means, I have a working cellphone WITH data! (this is so life changing!!) I get to eat out more, buy cheap wine (Thank God I live in wine country, where wine is 2 Euros a bottle!) and best of all, I can even take an Uber once in a while! Having my own job and paying my own rent and not depending on anyone else is so rewarding and freeing. I'm living life by my rules, still within a budget, but ahhhhh it feels good.
That being said, I'm so glad I was an au pair for my first year abroad. I honestly had no idea what I was in for and being an au pair was like having someone's hand to hold through my first couple months. But also, now after being 100% independent in Paris...I could never go back to au pair life.
3. Friends: "It doesn't matter where you are, it matters who you're with."
Friends...oh boy, oh boy did I take these people for granted. I could not agree more with this quote. Making friends and finding my people is, for me, hands down the hardest thing about moving to an unknown city all by yourself, especially when you work alone or aren't in a formal school program.
To get through it, I had to just keep reminding myself that finding good, solid friends takes time, sooooo much time...but after much speed-friend dating, a handful of lonely Netflix nights, and after sorting through some crummy people, amazing bonds were eventually formed.
I would honestly say it took me a solid 6 months to really find myself a niche of people. In my first year, I found them through mostly social media. All Hail Facebook Groups and other social media-like websites. Also, since au pair hours were so strange as well, most of my friends were also au pairs.
In my second year, I was lucky to have some friends still be here in Paris and for those who had moved away, they introduced me to people they knew who were staying, but in many senses, I had to start over again, which was exhausting, but it was nothing I couldn't handle.
The worst part about being an expat is that people are always leaving, but at the same time people are also always arriving. So, there will always be many, many people who are also eager to make friends. But of course, chocolate, Netflix and Hulu Plus will always be my main baes.
4. Love: Nothing beats dating in Paris.
Now, I don't kiss and and tell, but I do have to say my Parisian love life has been full of twists and crazy, romantic and also heart-throbbing turns. I mean, come on! I live in Paris, the most romantic city in the world. Dating in this city, is a DREAM. Walking across the Seine and then kissing someone with the Eiffel Tower as your backdrop...and then doing that everyday? ---that is like the 'creme de la creme' of the dating-sphere---AND that my friends, is the LEAST romantic date to be had in Paris.
Calm down though, as of now I'm single and not ready to mingle. Besides, I never came to Paris to look for 'love' to begin with...but I guess no one ever does, do they?
In my first year, dating was the last of my troubles, but I did happen to venture into the scene after I felt more at ease in the city after about 6 months (which really just means I downloaded Tinder and swiped around a bit due to 6 months of loneliness haha!) For the most part though, I met people through other friends or at hostels while traveling.
In my second year though, I'm all about this thing called Me, Myself, and I...aka solo-dining and solo-dates. It's great. No one to impress, no one to be embarrassed eating sloppily around, no one to look good for except yourself. I'm glad to have experienced the Paris dating life, but this year I am all about focusing and bettering myself in all the ways I can: emotional, physically, and spiritually. So #LetsBeHonest---building a new long-lasting, romantic relationship with another human is something I just cannot handle right now.
PS: I'm not as well-versed in dating french men exactly. Most of the dates I've gone on here have been with other expats (which is just begging for trouble btw given our Visa Expiration dates!) But I hear french guys are a whole other animal. haha!
But sadly, after dating in Paris...I just think it's all downhill from here!
5. French: The Language of Love and Flemmy Throat Noises
When I set foot on french territory for the first time, I had absolutely zero knowledge of french, apart from what I had learned from the audio CDs in my car in the last few weeks before my arrival and maybe a few lessons from the free version of Rosetta Stone's iPhone App. lol So I'd say I was basically fluent...not.
My first year, was INSANITY. The kids I watched spoke no english and the parents barely did, so luckily (I guess) I had no other choice but to just dive in. It was probably the biggest and most challenging task I've ever taken on, but it's paid off.
It took me about 3 months to be able to communicate everyday events like to be able to order at restaurants or to say the very important words like "STOP!" and "If you hit me again I'm going to make you each vegetables for dinner!." ....you know, typical normal au pair stuff. (hehe) About 6 months in, I even began to finally understand why my kid's teacher would yell at him everyday in the school courtyard haha. It's moments these when I was like "YES! MILESTONE!"...but then there were also definitely weeks where I would just break down and avoid french people as much as possible, due to my brain literally melting and my intense desire to be able to express myself and my inability to do so in french.
But all in all, thanks to those 16 months as an au pair, I slowly but surely developed a relationship with those kids and moreover developed a love for France and the people here. Sure, I spoke like a caveman for a long time (and still probably do), but that's the beauty of being taught french by children, judgement isn't something I had to worry about.
In my second year, I continue to increase my vocabulary. I have enough comfort now to make a few french friends, start up a convo with a guy at a bar even (okay, actually I don't know if I can even do that in english), but anyway, the bottomline is, I'm still learning, I still have my frustrations, but I'm also way more at ease with this language. It's fun and it's laughable and it's a challenge I enjoy.
6. "When you come to the end of yourself, that's when you find the beginning of God." -Author Unknown
I never expected this to happen...but it did.
Being in a foreign country all alone, there were times when I literally had no safety net to fall back on. I had weeks where I was actually homeless. I had to sleep on acquaintances' couches. I moved across Paris with all of my stuff countless times, and I've questioned my decision to move to this city on many occasions.
But everything has always, always fallen into place for me. Someway, somehow...ever-so perfectly, and ever-so seemlessly...and it certainly wasn't all by my doing.
In that first year, I had so many broken moments where I would cry out to the universe and say "WHY ME?" But then when things did fall into place quite miraculouslyand, for example, I was able to find a job or afford a roof over my head or even afford a metro ticket (because I was literally that poor at one point) At these times, I would also cry out to the world and ask the same question: WHY ME???
In my second year, I still ask that question: how didIget so lucky as to be living out my dream in this country, and for a second year nonetheless! How did I get handed this amazingly fun job as a barista, how have Ibeen put in front of some of the most amazing people I have ever met..how? Why? Why me?
Since I'll never find a true answer to this question, I just have to remain thankful. Thankful to The Universe for creating me and allowing me to experience all of these ups and downs that abroad life has offered.
It is in those times of complete hopelessness and fear that I have had since embarking on this journey two years ago, that I finally found my permanent safety-net: in The Universe.
In this second year, I continue to mix a healthy amount of prayer and mediation into my daily adventures because, let's face it, being a little extra thankful and little extra reflective never hurt anybody!