“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” – Irish novelist George Moore
When I left Chicago back in January 2012 for a year-long stay in a French village, I was wide-eyed. Excited. Hopeful. Thrilled to be embarking upon my second live-abroad adventure after having spent nearly one year living in Florence, Italy, the previous decade.
But all adventures eventually come to an end. I moved back to Chicago last month, after what I half-facetiously called my mid-life ‘sabbatical’ in France. Before leaving the States, I’d enjoyed a thriving freelance writing and consulting practice – and fortunately was able to do some really neat work while living in France. But after thinking it through, I decided that it made more financial sense to return to the Windy City. So here I am, and since returning I’ve been working nonstop, settling back into my South Loop condo and re-acclimating myself to an American life that in some ways feels a bit foreign. Although I only was away 12 months– with even ‘simple’ errands like a trip to the shoe repair or post office requiring a French-English dictionary, grammar book and plenty of forethought – those months felt like ‘dog years.’
When I wrote my “TCW Travel Connection” post last January about my New Year, New Start in France, I mentioned some of my goals for this incredible experience. With the scenic French village of Samois-sur-Seine as a backdrop, I planned to write freelance Travel and Food articles for a host of publications – and I certainly did. You can’t beat living in the middle of Europe when it comes to rail and airplane access to the rest of the continent and the world.
I wanted to start writing a book on African-American women and their ongoing love affair with France. And while I conducted a few great one-on-one interviews during my time overseas, there’s still much, much more to be researched and a fascinating story yet to be told. Even though I’ll have to do it during occasional trips abroad, I’m determined to get it done.
I hoped to become a fluent speaker of French, thinking that living in an authentic village like Samois would encourage me to use this beautiful language daily. I certainly did when I went to the boulangerie for still-warm crusty baguettes and to the bibliothèque to check out children’s-level books to help me learn le français. But because I reported, interviewed and wrote in English for my freelance clients – and spent far more hours hunched over my laptop than I did hanging out in Parisian plazas – I’ve yet to develop the easy fluency that comes from truly living inside a foreign language. But I plan to re-enroll in classes at the wonderful Alliance Française de Chicago to keep myself engaged.
I longed to travel to nearby European countries, and to truly explore France. And I did some of that, visiting a friend on the French Riviera and traveling to the south of France and across the border to Italy for Travel press events. And closer to my local ‘hood, I made it a personal goal to leave the peaceful village, hop on the 40-minute SNCF commuter train, and get myself into Paris at least once a week. That was an easy commitment to keep, as Paris still remains my favorite place in the world. Every time I’d get off the train at Gare de Lyon and stroll out of that international station into Parisian streets, I breathed easier, felt lighter – and subconsciously found myself ‘at home.’ While living in France, I met incredible people in the village of Samois and in Paris who I hope will become lifelong friends. And I learned a lot about myself in the process.
I’m sure my France ‘sabbatical’ won’t be the last of my live-abroad adventures (although next time I do it, I certainly hope to have the support of a global company or other entity that’s sending me). But, as Oprah declares in her O, The Oprah Magazine column each month, here’s what I know for sure: that my year in France will continue to shape my perspective and worldview in ways I can’t yet imagine.
That while quiet village life has its place—and can indeed be lovely when you’re “on holiday”—I’m a big-city girl at heart and thrive off the restless energy generated by busy streets and people on the move. All that movement drives some folks crazy; I’d eventually go crazy without it.
It’s changed the way about I think about eating—and the importance of feeding myself with fresh, preservatives-free food (I didn’t have a freezer in France, so I had to shop often and actually cook!). By doing this and cutting out mindless snacking, I managed to lose 20 pounds without giving up croissants, cheese OR red wine.
That work should be a means to the end, not the end in itself.
Although I rarely took this advice, I realize that it’s as important to step out for a brisk morning walk and chat with a good friend as it is to crank out the next deadline assignment.
That it’s perfectly fine to change your mind—and your plans—when circumstances change.
And that returning home and reshaping your life—not merely stepping right back into the one you left—is a gift and a blessing in itself. I can’t wait to see where my journey takes me from here.