I first moved abroad at 15. My Mom lost her job, not that I really noticed. High school and friends at that age were just all consuming. Long story short, she interviewed for a Pharma company, based in Lyon, France, and got the job. She told us in June or July of that year that we would be moving in October. I ignored her, total denial. We visited Lyon, we looked at houses, we visited the French school my siblings and I would transfer to, she promised me that I could finally have a dog as a bribe. I still didn’t believe we were leaving. England was my home, how could we ever leave?!
My friends told me they’d write me emails every week, and come visit. We had a leaving party, we had sold our house and everything went into boxes. It never felt real to me. I refused to believe we were moving to France.
I spoke no French, yet we started school a week after we moved. The Principle of the school decided my sister and I would have to go back a year, in order for us each to improve our French enough to sit the final exams, in French. We spent 6 hours a day in a tiny room together, my sister, a girl from Kenya, a boy from Korea, a girl from the States, another from Dubai, and myself. We read French books, we had ‘conversation’ time, we wrote essays. The other 2 hours we spent doing other subjects like maths or science. We were supposed to have physical education classes but the only ones I showed up for were gymnastics, otherwise I spent time immersed in books under a tree behind the school.
It was a difficult time, I was pretty depressed the first year. My friends who said they’d write never really did, and none of them came to visit. It was hard to adjust to the French way of life. My sister and I were so mentally exhausted that we would sleep on the bus on the way to and from school. We hated the other kids at the school, only socialising with the other foreign students, giving me a distinct appreciation and knowledge of other cultures I hadn’t previously experienced in England.
I found a lot French kids snobby, very few of the kids wanted to socialize with us. My brother was 11 and developed his first crush, who promptly rejected him on the basis, she told him, of his nationality.
I imagine that it was hard for my parents to. My Stepdad had a business in the UK which he had to run from France, and my Mom was unable to learn a word of French. In fact, while talking to a Realtor on the phone once, she heard her other phone ringing and in her rush to check it she said to him ‘Ne me quitte pas!’ – Translation; please don’t leave me!
If I had any advice for parents who want to move abroad, I definitely recommend you do it while your kids are young. I think the hardest part for me at least was keeping up with the school system. I persuaded my Mom to let me change schools after a year, so I could start at the brand new International School, with only 5 other students in my class, it was perfect, but I also managed to persuade her to let me go into the year I should be in based on my age. So I left England when I was in Year 10, went back to Year 9, and then skipped to Year 11, effectively missing a year of school. With hindsight my parents think I should have stayed behind so I could have been caught up and got better grades, and while I agree from that perspective, I also think I would never have been happy had I stayed at the French school.
Though it was difficult to adjust to life in Lyon, it was also a beautiful city to live in. In fact I’d safely say I have never lived anywhere more beautiful. On weekends I would walk my then puppy, Charlie (yes, my Mom came through on her bribe), down to the small French village of Genay, buy the best smelling French loaf and pain au chocolat, and stroll slowly back to the house. We would go to the local pool, and it was warm enough to be outdoors. The city has a basilica that overlooks the whole city and the city center is just beautiful.
I would say that while adjusting to life in France was incredibly difficult, I wouldn’t change the experience, because it taught me how to adapt, and has helped me in our move to Toronto. It also taught me that life can change at the drop of a hat, whether you’re in denial about it, or not. My advice for anyone moving abroad, at 15, at 25, even at 60, is that you should try to embrace all that the culture, the country and the people have to offer, and that if you’re miserable, it really will get better.