"Bye Europe, Hello America" 5 reasons why I moved abroad
Illustration © Ana Yael
I never really though about being a digital nomad/an expat. In fact I could not work everywhere because I still work with people and within a specific industry. I'm not sure I could find tv shows or films sets to work on if I was living in Thailand for example or if I was not speaking the language of the country. So why do I move ?
First, let's do a quick check of the places I have lived in :
April 2006 : 3 months in Nelson, BC Canada (exchange program in high school)
2008-2013 : Paris, Strasbourg, Lyon (Post-Grad Year, BA and MA)
August 2012 : 3 months in Brooklyn, NYC (internship at The Met Opera)
July 2013 : North Hollywood and then Topanga Canyon, L.A
April 2014 : Back to Lyon, France where I still had my student apartment. I got married there.
April 2015 : Paris, 19th arrondissement
January 2017 : London, Hammersmith (but it was sudden so we didn't take the time to move out of Paris, we kept our apartment there)
May 2018 : East Orange, NJ close enough to work in NYC but with decent living costs (and a yard!)
2019 : L.A ?
At the end I've only lived in 3 different countries in which I spoke the language so it was never a "big" cultural shock (mhm or maybe it was ?). So why did I move and what did I learned ?
1- I believe it's the best way to improve my work and grow my career
Every time I have worked in a new place I had to find a way to adapt to it. People work very differently in Paris, London, LA and NYC. It is as much about the work culture as the technical parts (transportation, places to source costumes, names of products, vocabulary...).
It's also great to learn that the ideal work place doesn't exist :
- I loved working in Paris for all the work benefits you can get and the one hour lunch break on set
- I loved working in LA for their "no bullshit" culture where everybody leaves set if overtime is not paid and their vegetarian/gluten free/nuts free/dairy free/vegan options on the craft table
- I loved working in London for being always over-the-top polite during crisis and the holly English breakfast served on set every mornings
- NYC ? Mhm not sure... They are just workaholic lol. I'm kidding though, I love the efficiency and positive mind set of people working here.
2- I'm in a bicultural relationship
It's not something I consciously chose (I don't have anything against French white men lol) but this is obviously one of the reasons I have moved these last four years.
Being in this type of relationship is already a nomadic experience in your personal life because it makes you check your habits, culture and privileges daily. Being "normal" doesn't mean anything anymore because your partner doesn't have necessarily the same definition of what "normal" is. I think it's challenging in a way but also so much liberating because you can reinvent everything together.
3- I get easily bored
Sometimes I wish I could stop looking for work and have a sturdy job in a cool office with a gym downstairs and a parking lot. It would make my life feels way more secure and maybe I could dream of buying a house one day. But then I would probably be super depressed and do dangerous things on the side to feel excited about my life again lol.
The best times of my life happened when I had to overcome a challenge or commit to something hard to achieve and then achieve it. Once I have couple stuffs secured (a roof on my head, some intimacy and food) I need to grow, learn new things and find new goals to achieve.
I get bored of situations or people that never evolve. I think this is what makes you feel alive in general : growing and evolving in order to be a better human being.
4- I want to survive and be able to adapt to potential crisis
Ok I know we are not in a Walking Dead episode here and I'm not sure I would be good at fighting against zombies ever. However I believe our world changes super fast and if you want to be able to adapt to these changes, you better start get used to the idea now and practice it.
I think nobody will ever has the same career all their life anymore. We'll have to reinvent ourselves in one way or another during our life time and that could include having to live abroad or work with people from different cultures. It's easier to develop an habit in the early stage of your life than once you reach a certain age.
5- I have nothing to lose
Sure, I'm privileged. I don't have any relative I need to take care of right now. I can lose everything tomorrow and be able to start over again because I don't have any debt and I don't own anything. I still have family and friends that would help me if I had to face a disaster. I'm lucky.
The only things I can lose are friendship, comfort, network, money and missing important events like funeral, marriage and birth. This is definitely scary when I think about it but :
- if I lose friends because I moved away I believe it was not meant to be. We have so many ways of staying connected to each other now that it is easier to whatsapp someone than living in the same city, finding a time for a date and commuting to each other's places. It might not be the same kind of relationship but it might even be more meaningful to have a real talk with someone over the phone than getting drunk together on a saturday night.
- losing comfort is the only way to evolve and grow. It is also part of the process of understanding your privilege. Once you have lived with one suitcase for three months, you know exactly what you need to function properly. You become more aware of the value of the things you own and the weight of the excess things that drag you down.
- losing a network is just one side of the iceberg because living in different places will also grow your network. Plus it's not that difficult to keep in touch with the people who really matters to you and your work. I guess it's the same than friendship.
- losing money... I try to teach myself to let go of that fear because it will happen. Plus I'm able to create money through the value I'm offering to someone. So time is way more important than money because time is the only way I can learn and grow my skills (= the value I'll have to offer). As long as I know I'm losing money in order to grow and get better then it's fine because this is what money should always be for.
- missing family events is tough. I potentially know that I will miss some of them because I won't have the money or the freedom to go home sometimes. This is probably the hardest part of living abroad but I know my family/friends/people I love would not want me to stay home only to not miss their funerals...
Moving abroad is as much a privilege than a challenge but living in another country is the best lesson you can learn that will make you feel stronger and better than you were back home. You'll have to overcome FOMO, learn to deal with challenging times and be ok with awkward situations.
Why did you move abroad or what is still holding you back ? What did you have to go through ? I'd be happy to read your stories.