Departure in 7 Days


Since I’m leaving in exactly one week, I was very happy to get my passport back over the weekend…. with a year long visa inside!  It’s such a relief to finally have it in my hands and not have to worry about that small detail.  Now I need to see about getting an Illinois driver’s license, even though I’m not a resident, so that I can exchange it for a French one.  France and Missouri don’t have an exchange deal, so if I can’t procure an Illinois license I’ll have to go to auto-école over there.  I am going to be positive and believe that luck will be on my side at the DMV, what do you think?

It’s worth noting that I’m the only one leaving in 7 days, and that’s because I have a job that will begin on June 25 in Montpellier.  My husband and kids will follow on July 3, and the container won’t leave St. Louis until June 21.

We’re still not sure about the apartment in Béziers.  My sister-in-law has been so sweet, going around to lots of different apartments to check them out for us.  She says that the problem with the first one she saw (the one from my previous post) is that a few of the rooms are really ugly, meaning that they are in desperate need of repainting.  The other bad thing is that it’s huge and it will cost a fortune to heat it in the winter.  I did find out that it has 13 foot ceilings and it’s 167 square meters (1800 square feet)!  I really love the idea of having that much space.  I’d be so happy to have both an office and a guest bedroom.  I keep going back to the fact that it’s in a good neighborhood and there are no agency fees or deposits to pay.  Also, they just went down on the rent by 100 €.    Anyway, I’ll be able to go and visit it myself next week to see what I think.

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We may have found an apartment in Béziers!


I’ll begin the  official 10 day countdown tomorrow, but for today, it’s worth noting that I’m leaving for France in 11 days!  I’ll be there for about a week before heading down to Montpellier to start my summer job with Oxbridge Académie de France.  François and the kids will follow, but not for a few weeks.  They’re staying here to tie up some loose ends and to deal with the shipment of our container.

Originally I thought the container would take months to arrive in Béziers, but now they’re convincing me that it will be there in 30-35 days (!)  and they need an address for delivery.  We were planning to take the month of August to look for an apartment, but now it looks as though we’d better have one by August 1 when our container arrives.  This may seem a bit stressful, but it’s not!  It’s really very exciting, and this is when I realize (once again) how very fortunate we are to have family who are happy to help.

My sister-in-law in Béziers has found an apartment for us, and it seems like it will be the perfect place.  What’s really nice about it is that the owner’s are friends of friends, and they’re willing to reduce the rent by €50 and not charge us a deposit.  That’s great news, and the apartment is in a nice and safe part of town.  It’s right across the street from the university and médiathèque, and it’s only a 12 minute walk from the school where our kids will go.

I asked my sister-in-law to give me the not so good news about the condition of the apartment first.  Basically, there is a lot of painting to be done, and some of the windows don’t close very easily.  But now for the good news!  It’s HUGE!  The apartment measures 167 square meters, or 1800 square feet.  There are four large bedrooms, an office, living room, dining room, kitchen, three small balconies on the back side and one large one all across the front.  There’s only one “toilette”, and it’s separate from the bathroom, and that’s all fine with us.  There’s a nice size kitchen, but it doesn’t come equipped with a stove or refrigerator or any of that good stuff.  From what I hear, that’s very typical in French apartments, and it’s what we were expecting.  There are fireplaces in all of the rooms, and though I’m sure none of them are functioning, they’re still pretty.  There are 13 foot ceilings.  Yep, that’s right.  When you walk into the apartment, you enter a large (wide) and very long hallway, and you enter all of the rooms from either the left or the right of this hallway.  It’s big enough to furnish and serve as a sort of foyer.  The “toilette” is at one end, and the bathroom at the other.

To give an idea of what the place looks like, I’ll show a few pictures.  It’s obvious in the pictures that the place needs some sprucing up, but at the same time I can see it’s charm.

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Here’s a picture of one of the bedrooms.  This one is on the front, and the windows open up to a balcony and view of the university and library below.

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This is the big hallway that I mentioned earlier.

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This is the living room, the picture’s taken from the balcony.

It’s all very exciting, especially now that we can visualize our new home.  Having spent a lot of time in Béziers, and with the help of Google Earth, it’s easy to imagine exactly where the apartment is located.

Moving to France in 21 Days: The Why and How?


I was recently invited to write a guest post on a fellow blogger’s website, and as I was answering her questions I realized that I’d never shared much of this information on my own blog.  I’ve decided to post it here, exactly as it will appear on her blog, and I’ll share the link once she publishes it.

Question #1:  A little about yourself, where you are living now, what you do now, children etc..

Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Jennifer, and I’m a mother of three and wife of one.  I’m originally from Louisiana, way down south in Cajun Country.  My whole family still lives there.  My parents have told me on numerous occasions that they don’t know how I turned out the way I did because I’m so different than my brother and sister.  So far I’m the only one to have been bitten by the travel bug, but that may change because we have decided to uproot the family and move to France one month from now.  My sister and cousin from Texas used to tell me I was adopted, and that was why there were no pictures of me as a baby at my Granny’s house, but I know they were teasing and I have my mom’s skinny legs and freckles to prove it.

Question #2:  Where are you from originally?

I’ve been living in St. Louis, Missouri ever since I came up here seventeen years ago for graduate school to study French literature.  It was only a year and a half later that I met my Parisian husband, François-René.  People love to ask me if we met while I was studying in Paris, but I never studied there!  We met by chance in a 1997-style Internet chat room, way before the days of Match.com.  I was there to practice my French, and he was there to practice his English.  One year, many transatlantic flights, and many dollars spent on long distance phone calls later, we were married and off to live in France for a year while waiting on his Green Card to come through.

At that time, back in 1998, we decided that even though he was from Paris we would settle down in the South of France.  We moved to Béziers in the Languedoc-Roussillon region where his sister and her family were living.  We stayed there for one year, and decided to move back to St. Louis so that I could finish up my MA in French.  We told ourselves that we would move back when I’d completed my degree.  Now here we are 14 years later, still in St. Louis.  I’ve been teaching high school French all this time, and to an amazing bunch of young men

François started out in the corporate world since he’d studied business administration, but after ten years of that he decided to make a career change.  He went to work as a teacher in a French immersion school in the city.  We have enjoyed every minute of living here, and it’s a wonderful place to raise a family, but that’s no reason for us to feel stuck.  And a year and a half ago we started to feel stuck.  That’s when we decided to sell the house and move back to France.

Question #3:  When are you moving to France and with whom?

Before we had come to a complete decision, we did ask our children how they would feel about it.  At this point it is important for me to say that being teachers, we’ve been able to spend two months in France every summer for the last 14 years.  Our children are all completely bilingual with no trace of an accent, because we’ve only spoken French with them since they were born.  Compared to our American friends, we lead a very “French” lifestyle already in terms of every day family life.  We have three children, but only two still at home.  Our eldest is now 22, and though he plans to eventually come to France to study the culinary arts, he will stay here for now.  We also have a 9-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter.  They are very excited about moving to France, and naturally a bit sad to leave behind their school and little friends.  We will be moving back to Béziers, where François-René’s sister and her family still live.  The kids will go to the same school where our older son went when he was in first grade.  We will live fifteen minutes from the Mediterranean coast and one hour from the Spanish border and the Pyrenees.

Question #4:  Where are you going to move?  Why did you choose that area?

While considering where to move in France, at least for now, there are only two real options.  There’s Paris, where Grandma and Tante Guénaëlle still live, and then there’s Béziers.  We want to be near the family (a luxury we’ve never known), and honestly, choosing between hectic city life and the good weather and serenity of the South, it’s not a difficult decision to make.  All said and done, it took us a year to get our house on the market and sell it.  For now, we are planning to rent in Béziers.  I’m kind of hoping for an affordable little house, or “villa” as they call them, but we’ll see what we can find.  We won’t be in a huge rush to find something because it will take our container up to two months to arrive.  In the meantime we can stay with the family in July, and in August they’re going on vacation so we will house sit.  We usually stay with them for about six weeks every summer anyway.  Plus they live in a house surrounded by vineyards with horses and a swimming pool.  It’s a pretty sweet deal, and all the more so because they are 100% adorable and we don’t seem to get on their nerves too much.

Question #5:  Why are you moving to France?

We have not decided to move to France for an awesome job offer, nor have we decided to move there because we’re independently wealthy people.  Why have we decided to move to France?  We are schoolteachers.  We work hard and want to enjoy our lives as much as possible.  We want the very best for our children.  I’m sure that turning 40 had a lot to do with our decision to move to France, and why not?  I don’t want to wait until I’m retired to live the good life.  St. Louis has been great, and so will be France.  I’m looking forward to the temperate summers and winters.  I know it gets hot there in the summer, but you don’t know hot until you’ve lived in hot and humid Louisiana and St. Louis.  I’m also looking forward to learning how to slow down.  Relax.  Take a load off.  Enjoy life.

I’m looking forward to summers at the beach and winters in the mountains without having to spend an absolute fortune like we would have to here in the States.  I’m looking forward to not having to worry about the cost of health care.  And what about the food, the wine, and yes…the French people!  I’ve found the people we’ve met in the South of France to be very genuine and caring people.  I’m also very much looking forward to raising our children with a strong sense of “politesse” that is becoming harder and harder to find in the US.  We’re doing our best, and they’re very polite and sweet, but I can remember how much easier it was (when my eldest was a little boy in France) when it wasn’t considered an abnormality for children to be polite.  It was the norm.

Question #6:  What will you do when you arrive in France?

Upon arriving in France, I will be working for 5 weeks in Montpellier as Summer Program Dean for Oxbridge’s Académie de France.  It’s a summer French immersion program for teenagers from around the world.  Though I’ll be living on campus during that time, it’s only about a half an hour away from Béziers, and that’s where my husband and kids will be.  They can come to see me, and I also will have one day off every week.  I’m very excited about this position, as I usually spend a month every summer traveling around Europe with my students from St. Louis.  I am also hoping to make some good connections.

After that first month I will return to Béziers with my family, and we will await our container while searching for a house or apartment to rent.  From that point on, all we will need is a strong Internet connection, a willingness to work hard, and a bit of good luck to launch our online language academy.  I’ve been working very hard for the last nine months or so to get it up and going.  I will teach English and French via Skype  (I’ve already started), together we will create podcasts, videos, free French and English lessons, we’ll maintain several language related blogs, websites, and Facebook pages, and continue to expand my YouTube channel while attempting to make a living from it all.  Aside from that, we’ll be spending our time living out a dream.

Question #7:  Have you a blog?  Facebook “Like” pages?

I have a personal blog, C’est la Vie! and it’s all about our original plan to move to France and the steps we’ve been taking to get there.  Once we’re in France, I plan to blog about daily life in the Languedoc.  I also have a blog to help people learn to speak French, Learn French With Jennifer, and one to help French speakers learn to speak English, Apprendre l’Anglais Avec Jennifer.  In addition, I have a commercial website that I’m working on (it’s not 100% complete) to promote the Skype lessons that I mentioned, and it’s called Love Learning Languages.  Anyone who is interested can easily access my Facebook pages, Living in Languedoc , Love Learning French , and Love Learning English.  In case that’s not enough, I also have a YouTube channel to which I upload videos to learn French on a daily basis.

Thank you so much for inviting me to write a guest post on your blog.  I wish you all the best in your return to Ireland, and hope that you will keep nothing but fond memories of your 11 years spent in France.  I dream to one day go to Ireland, the homeland of my ancestors.

I take that back. Long-stay visa… no check.


UnknownWow, two posts in just one day, this must be juicy!  Only four short hours ago I was sitting at a Starbuck’s (don’t hate) wondering why I hadn’t brought my jacket with me to Chicago, with a big smile on my face in honor of La Journée de la Joie.

While waiting for my 5:15 train back to St. Louis, I received a phone call from the lovely lady at the consulate who helped me so much to locate all of the documents that I need for my long-stay visa.  She called to tell me that, unfortunately, my passport will expire NEXT April (2014).  The problem is that the visa I need is valid for one year.  See the problem?  My American passport absolutely must be valid for one full year from the time that visa is validated, which will be June 18 when I arrive in France.

My first reaction?  “Darn it.”  I meant it, and that’s a strong reaction from me.  I don’t curse, but “darn it” is a pretty close euphemism to what I really wanted to say.  I’d just come all the way to Chicago, spent the night in a hotel (spending money that could have been better spent on a wonderful dinner in Carcassonne, for example), gone through all of that just to have this one little stress completely off of my  plate.  And here it’s been regurgitated, right back onto my plate.  But I have to remember that if I were in France right now, it would be National Joy Day!!  So I’m taking my husband’s advice, “Jenn-ee-fère, zen!!!”  Ok.  I’m zen.  No really, I am.  I’m on the Amtrak, the “high-speed” Amtrak with free WiFi, and they have a bar.

I called the National Passport Service to see what could be done.  It seems that the expedite process to receive a new passport takes 2-3 weeks if done by mail.  If I get an appointment at the regional office in Chicago and go back there to get it, it can be done in a day.  I think that’s what I’m going to have to do, because I’m leaving for France on June 17, and the visa could take up to 21 days to receive.  I know from last year, when I did the same exact thing, that I got it back in one week.  Zen.  I’ll get an appointment to get an expedited passport, and once I have it I will hand deliver it to the French Consulate.  Zen. Then I’ll certainly receive it by mail before my departure on the 17th.  Zen.

I don’t want to do the trip alone again.  I’m going to have to find a friend to come along.  Then there’s the problem of work.  How can I take off another day when there’s only one week of school left?  Can’t miss Wednesday afternoon, though.  My colleagues in the Foreign Language Office are taking me out to a French restaurant for lunch.  Happy Joy Day!!

Long-Stay Visa… Check!


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Last night I decided to take the train from St. Louis to Chicago rather than drive or fly.  The last time I took the train in the US was again from St. Louis to Chicago to apply for a long-stay visa at the French Consulate in Chicago, but that was 15 years ago.  Things have changed, and for the better!  The Amtrak trains still aren’t fast, but this one was clean and believe it or not the passengers were well-behaved!

I made it to Chicago at 11:00 and twelve hours later I was at the consulate turning in all of my documents to obtain a long-stay visa that will permit me to live and work legally in France for a year while taking the steps to gain French nationality.  It went very well, and I’ll have my passport back in time to travel to France on June 17.  I’m relieved to know that I can check that off of my list.

They don’t call Chicago the Windy City for nothing.  It’s pretty windy and cold out there, and I forgot to bring a jacket.  I guess I thought my thoughts were focused on the Mediterranean.

Tying up the loose ends before moving to France


images-3With our departure date only a month and four days away, it’s time to go to Chicago to get (another) long-stay visa that will allow me to live and work in France for a year.  During the first year, I plan to apply for French citizenship.  This time last year I went to Chicago for the same exact visa.  Turns out I didn’t need it after all, but I said it last year, and I’ll say it again.  French bureaucracy  may have a reputation for making official procedures as difficult as possible, but the people who work at the French Consulate in Chicago are really, really helpful.  I do think that it helps that I write all of my emails to them in French.  Perhaps if I were writing them in English I wouldn’t make such a good impression, and they may be less willing to take the time to help me.  They literally located all of the documents I will need for my visa.  I just have to show up with my passport, a few photos, and an envelope for them to send my passport with the visa inside back to me.

This time last year, we had big plans to move to France.  We were hoping to sell our house quickly and move to France during the summer.  As it turns out, our house didn’t sell until October, so back in August we made the decision to spend another year in St. Louis.  Life doesn’t always work out the way we would have hoped, but in retrospect, having this extra year to get our affairs in order has been very advantageous for us.  It’s given us more time to think about what the next step will be, and I’m not just talking about where we will live.

For example, I’ve been spending a LOT of time trying to get my online language school website up and running, and hopefully it will take off during the first year.  I’m also working a lot on a second blog, Learn French With Jennifer and recording French language videos for my YouTube channel.  This is so much fun, it’s truly exhilarating!  I never knew how great it would feel to create something of my own.  Have any of you created Internet based businesses?  I’d love to hear about it if you have, because I only have one and a half more weeks left of working as a high school French teacher.  I also need to come up with a name for my French & English language school, so feel free to share if you have any ideas 🙂

“Honey, Could You Get The Phone?” or “How to Avoid Answering the Phone in France”


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The first time we moved to the South of France was about fifteen years ago.  François and I had just gotten married, and I had a BA in French and was about halfway through an MA in French, so I thought I would be fine.

And now, everyone who has lived through a similar experience takes a moment to chuckle.

How was I supposed to know everyone would speak so fast, and I sure didn’t know the people who live in the South have an accent!  This Louisiana girl was doomed.  Not quite doomed it seems, because it was that year in France that allowed me to gain the confidence to believe in myself and speak.

During the whole year that we lived there, I never got used to speaking French on the phone.  I would take off running across the apartment to lock myself in the bathroom, forcing my sweet husband (or even my seven year old son who was just learning French) to answer anytime the phone rang.

Does anyone else have a story to tell about speaking “book French” once you arrived in France for the first time?

 

 

 

Yoo-Hoo, Expats? I Need Your Advice.


Unknown-1If you’ve even started to read this post, I’ll assume       you’re willing to maybe give me a little advice.  As the title suggests, it’s mostly for people who have had the experience of moving abroad.  However, I would sure like to know how you all feel about this.

Last summer (when we THOUGHT we were moving to France, but it didn’t work out:   Putting France on Hold…. Hanging in there in St. Louis), we reserved a 20-foot container:  What we’re going to put in our 20-foot container .  We put down a deposit, and it will be applied toward our balance even a year later (it doesn’t expire).  The problem is that it is still going to be very, very expensive.

Now we are just wondering if we really need a 20 foot private container.  Would a shared container be enough?  It sure would be a lot cheaper.  If we shared one instead, we would have to be very selective with what we bring, and we hadn’t planned on that.

UnknownHere’s the big question:  

Should we bring less (and pay less), ultimately having to purchase a lot of what we will need once in France?

Should we pay more and have pretty much everything we will need to set up house?

Please tell me what you think.  It’s a hard decision to make on our own, so I’m depending on you 🙂

Here’s a short list of what we were planning to bring: What we’re going to put in our 20-foot container .

I Believe There Are More Good People Than Bad In This World


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I’m reaching back many years while writing this little post.  I was recently  speaking with a friend about train travel for my French Teacher blog http://learnfrenchwithjennifer.com , and I was reminded of  the town of Vichy when my friend recommended that I read this article:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2013/apr/25/vichy-lives-in-a-way/ 

The year was 1992, and I was 21 years old.  When thinking upon this incident, I’ve always liked to think of myself as being 18, it sounds so poetic.  But I was 21, with a 2 year old at home.

It was my very first trip to Europe, and I was on my way to Vichy, France.  Why in the world would I go there (because I’ve never felt the urge to go back)?  Let’s just say I was teaching French (very remedial French at the time) at an evangelical church sort of school place in Louisiana.  I was invited (of course, I had to pay my own way on credit cards) to attend an evangelical conference in Vichy.  So there you have it, that’s how I found my way to France for the first time.  Kind of hard to imagine myself in that situation these days, some 20 years later, but that’s how it was.

This article about Vichy reminded me of my first trip to France when I got off of the night train at the stop before Vichy by accident.  I was 18 (I mean 21).  I didn’t know what to do, so my friend and I walked along the train tracks until we reached a bridge that we weren’t willing to cross.  Instead, we went to a nearby nuclear plant where the men working there happened to be changing shifts.  We hitched a ride into Vichy with a man who said he had a daughter our age, and it was his duty to make sure we made it there okay.  That was my first true experience with a real French person.  I suppose it had a lasting impression.

It’s been a while since I have thought about how I felt at that particular moment, walking along train tracks in rural France at about 1 a.m..  I don’t remember being frightened.  I was peeved, that’s for sure, because I had a heavy suitcase and a VHS recorder the size of a large Coach bag to tug along, but I was never afraid.  It was exhilarating to be in that situation.  I had to use my few semesters of undergrad French to explain my plight to nuclear plant shift workers….. That’s how I learned that contrary to popular belief, they don’t speak English in France, and it’s not a good idea to bet on it.  I also learned that if you do you best by speaking the target language, wherever you may be,  and by braving a sterling smile, there are more good people than bad in this world.

Le Camion Pizza


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I said there is nothing better than Goûter in the Trunk, but then I thought about the Camion Pizza.  The original Food Truck.

American French teacher, living in France, living the dream.

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