Our First Year in France

Today is officially one year of living in France. It’s been a wild ride so far and has flown by so quickly, while also feeling like we’ve been stuck in the same month for years. But I think those feelings can be true no matter where you’re living.

Our first day was a weird mix of blurry images and strong emotions. Excitement. Fear. Curiosity. Confusion. I remember deliriously trying to sleep in the airport in London and then boarding a VERY small plane to be shipped off to Marseille. Riding in a taxi and being shocked that although it was very foreign, the landscape still looked familiar. I still walk by the first restaurant we ate at and remember being in absolute frozen horror as I realized I was the only one who could speak French, but knew opening my mouth would only lead to me sobbing into my dinner.

However, I also remember feeling so proud when I realized we had made it to France. In the small plane to Marseille, looking out the window at our new home for the next two years, I knew we were going to be able to handle this. I was able to speak a little French to the man who stamped my passport: “Bonjour!” “Merci!” I could even read some signs and translate menus to Jonathan.

I would walk around wishing we had arrived two weeks earlier, before Jonathan started his first day at ITER, because then I would have those two weeks of experience under my belt and would surely have been more confident. And now, we’ve been here for a year. And I feel mostly confident.

I can easily order food at restaurants, as long as they don’t ask me an unexpected question. I can translate some phrases for Jonathan, and he can read French now too! I am less nervous walking into a store and attempting to purchase something.

We’re both incredibly grateful for all the friends we’ve made here; some of them really kept us going through the tougher times. We’ve even been able to help out new staff as they come to Aix-en-Provence and run into some of the same issues we struggled with.

Along with making new friends, we’ve been really lucky to have friends and family visit us, as well as travel to other places to see friends. We even randomly ended up in Zurich the same day as a high school friend with no previous plans to meet and spent Jonathan’s birthday eating spätzle while a German band played “Mama Mia.” Those moments spent with friends in different countries always elicit the same reaction for Jonathan and me. We both look at each other and marvel at how weird and wonderful it all is. 

We’ve been able to do some traveling throughout Europe that would probably have never happened had we not moved here. We’ve also been able to come home, which helped us to recognize that we aren’t really as far away as it sometimes feels. Although, even with that sense of closeness, there have been times when we desperately wanted a last-minute flight back to the US to be with family and loved-ones, but couldn’t. When we weren’t able to fly back for a family emergency, it really woke us up to the fact that no matter how close air travel may make it seem, we are still separated by a very large ocean.

This year has also led to a lot of self-identity questioning, at least for me. I’m sure being in my late 20s and Imposter Syndrome has nothing to do with it, but I’ve struggled this year deciding who I am and who I want to be. 

According to my French identification card, I’m just the “spouse of Jonathan Coburn.” I’ve noticed that my “French identity” can easily carry over into my day-to-day life as well. People ask what I do, why I moved here, how I spend my day, etc., in an attempt to have a casual and polite conversation. But for me, those questions send me into a self-identity crisis. What do I do? Why did I move here? What exactly do I do each day??

Most of the time, those questions leave me feeling like I’m drowning and gasping for air, but I want to change that. This next year I want to really work on answering those and other questions I have about myself. I think this blog is helping me a bit, because I can just let my brain spit out a bunch of words onto this “page.” It gives me a way to kind of check in on myself and see how I’m doing. I want to be able to return back to the US and know who I am, or at least who I want to be.

I’m so thankful for this insane opportunity we’ve been thrown into. It isn’t always glamorous or stress-free, but I’m glad we made the leap. Some days are scary, but in the end we’re ok.

Thank you to everyone who has been part of our support system; friends & family, new & old. We’re so grateful for everything you’ve helped us through, even if you didn’t know you were helping.

One year down, one to go! Let’s do this!!