The contradictions of moving abroad
We found out in October that we would be moving in February (we had applied to move with my husband's company about nine months before that). I had lived abroad during university, spending a semester in both Italy and France as an Erasmus student (ah, those halcyon pre-Brexit days!), and had travelled for months at a time in Asia and South America, as well as spending a year in New Zealand, and so felt no hesitation in packing up and heading across the channel. We found an amazing apartment, a fantastic landlord, and by sheer luck avoided the myriad expenses and bureaucracy that make flat hunting in France so draining, both financially and mentally. We moved in with all our utilities set up, apartment fully furnished and in a great part of the city.
I love France. I love its quirks and charms. Lyon is a fantastic city. My French is passable. I wanted to move. And yet I couldn't settle. I had always considered myself adventurous, willing to challenge myself and push my comfort zone, and so this 'uncomfortableness' living abroad felt like a betrayal against myself. I was mad at myself because I hadn't found it easy, because I didn't immediately feel at home the way I had assumed I would. There's a wonderful feeling when you're travelling and you encounter a culture that's alien and you revel in the awkwardness you feel- that sensation that you are stood there wide-eyed and open-mouthed, absorbing every difference you see. But this is France, our closest neighbour geographically and arguably culturally too, not some far-flung destination where it would be acceptable to not feel at home. It should have been a breeze.
Slowly, (I mean months, here) I began to relax, and I did this by allowing myself to feel daunted, to give myself some slack and stop expecting to slot into a new life like it's no big thing. What made it harder was the fact that I truly love the life I have here, I love the city, I love its proximity to the countryside, I love the community we've met here. But I still had an underlying unease. We tell ourselves stories about the kind of person we are, and we feel let down if we don't always live up to our own expectations. My naïve expectation was that I was someone who could pack up and move on and not miss a beat. Of course I knew there would be difficulties, but I was expecting actual issues that I would have to resolve, not just this weird feeling of displacement. And I don't think it was homesickness or yearning for a previous life, it was just a weird anxiety that I'd not felt before, even during previous moves. But whether you're moving half way across the world, to the next town over, or going away to university, it's a big deal to make a new life for yourself, and you need to give yourself permission to get used to it.
Over a year in, and to be honest I'm still not always 100% there. I feel intimidated by small differences that would be charming if I were a visitor, but seem confusing to me because I still have the inner monologue of “I live here, I should know this. Of course this is the way you do xyz”. I try to laugh off misunderstandings and faux pas but I still berate myself a little when I forget an easy word or go to the wrong desk somewhere. But I'm getting there. It feels like home 99.9% of the time, and I'm trying to be kind to myself when it doesn't.