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  • Writer's pictureRachel Ogilby

Choosing Gratitude on Thanksgiving

Updated: Dec 1, 2021

When we decided to move to Paris, we knew it would be full of challenges. We didn’t know what all the challenges were going to be, but we knew there would be many curveballs thrown our way. We were told to expect lots of delays with administrative items (like IDs, social security numbers, etc.) and were told that banking and apartment leases were complex.

We really didn’t know the complexities of all of these issues, which looking back is probably a good thing; I’m not sure we would have moved here if we had known how complex or frustrating our first few months would be.

As I think about some of the things that have gone wrong (as small as lost baggage and broken fridges and as big as large unexpected financial burdens), I also think about how privileged we are to be here. When it’s tempting to throw a pity party for myself due to frustrations, I remember how blessed I am to have the ability to move to another country with a partner I love, the flexibility to complete school online, and freedom to raise our (future) child without working.

I have newfound empathy for people who move to another country and don’t speak the language. How many people have I encountered in the United States who moved there to provide a better future for their children, not knowing anyone, unfamiliar with the cultural norms, and unable to speak the language? After moving to a place where we don't speak the language, I can see how easy it is to be taken advantage of, especially financially. If you’re told “this is the way it is” when it comes to a process, and you don’t have the vocabulary to ask for clarification or an explanation… you kind of shrug and just go along with it.

I also understand how people who have impressive backgrounds or careers can move to a new place and take a lower level job with minimal need for language, just to create some income for their family. I have incredible respect for people who move to new countries and cultures and am in awe of their resiliency, sacrifice, and hardiness.

This morning I was blessed to meet up with a group of English-speaking women. I was reminded that our situation is not unique; even French people who move to Paris are frustrated by the lack of communication and transparency, the slow processes, and the practically non-existent costumer service. It’s strange moving to a country where you need to be assertive in everything you do as a consumer, whether it’s at the post office or at your own bank.

Telling stories alongside other women who have lived here from anywhere from two years to 12 helped remind me to be grateful. These women have all been through similar situations.

One today told me it took six years of living in Paris before she lost the anxiety she felt with administrative requirements (and she had been fluent in French for years before that!). Another one had just moved back to France from China and reported how relieved she felt to not be monitored all the time; she felt like she was “back to real life”. It’s interesting hearing how perspectives change depending on where you’ve lived. One woman explained her and her partner’s new resiliency after living abroad for many years and their ability to reflect on the most important things in their lives – time together and their family, not their income or status.

This Thanksgiving, I reflect on the things I’m grateful for. I have family who would hop on a plane at the drop of a hat if we need them. I have dear, dear friends who stay in contact with me and make me feel like I’m still an integral part of their life, even from afar. I have an incredible husband who not only supports our family financially, but supports me emotionally and mentally as we are in a new place, pregnant for the first time, and navigating the complex health care, administrative, banking, you-name-it system here in France.

I have wonderful advisors and mentors as I complete my doctorate studies and can complete my degree remotely. Our baby is healthy, and I have been healthy throughout our pregnancy. We have a wonderful apartment in France and love our location. Our landlord is the most helpful and responsive French person we’ve met (thank God!).

I am grateful for learning resiliency at a young age (my mom always taught us to be pleasantly persistent). As I worked as a nurse, I learned how important it is to ask questions and advocate for yourself; I’m especially grateful for this now regarding health care and day-to-day life. I’m grateful for all the wonderful French people we’ve met who have tried to help us, offered to translate for us, and been welcoming.

I’m grateful for the other expats we’ve met here who make us feel like we have a slice of home with us, celebrating Thanksgiving together, meeting up for dinner, and learning the cultural norms, language, and the city. I’m grateful for the health of my family and friends. I’m grateful for people like you who are choosing to read this article during your busy day.

I’m so thankful for all the support we’ve received, in-person and virtually, from loved ones, family, old friends, and new friends. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving and that it’s everything you want it to be. Happy Thanksgiving from Paris!

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