Expat Life Part Deux: Moving to Paris

| May 30, 2016 | 64 Comments More

This time in three days, I’ll be sitting on a Paris-bound plane. ORD > CDG, nonstop redeye, one way ticket.

Moving to ParisPinch me.

***

When did I first consider moving to Paris? 2010, maybe earlier.

At first, I didn’t expect to feel such an intense connection with the city. I thought it was beautiful, but not much different from other European capitals. The impression lasted about a day or two. I soon began to feel Paris’ unique vibe and, which each trip that followed, realized that merely visiting would not be enough.

I remember looking up schools and job opportunities for English speakers, hoping that one day I could experience the city like a resident. Get up in the morning, take the metro, have something to do besides sightseeing.

But I was settled in Chicago, my adopted home.

For a few years after arriving from Krakow in 2002, I couldn’t imagine another big move. Too much hassle with shipping cargo, searching for jobs and apartments, getting used to foreign rules, not to mention the emotional side of being “uprooted.” I was focused on building a life in the US with my then-husband.

It wasn’t until 2015 that moving to Paris became a serious option. Following changes in my personal life, I spent part of the year in France, knowing that a more permanent move was in the cards. “You’ll never regret taking a chance on Paris,” an expat friend told me.

I believe her.

***

Staying in Chicago would be easier since my company, condominium, and long-time friends are here. There is no red tape to deal with, no language barrier. Why move then?

People often ask me that question. I am aware that moving to Paris is a choice, not a necessity. And the short answer is: Paris inspires me. But is inspiration enough to pack the bags and relocate 4,000 miles away?

If you’re the stranger sitting next to me at a café one night, then you’ll say yes. “Je suis écrivaine,” I explained what I did for a living, a book in one hand and glass of red wine in the other. He got it right away, no clarification needed.

Another time at another café, I was taking notes. It must have been after midnight on a weekday, I was the last customer. When the waiter spotted my notebook, he said with a smile, “Oh, you’re writing” and left me to it.

This city gets writers.

Belleville Paris

There are other reasons for my move, of course.

When I landed at Charles De Gaulle last year, the first visit in nearly four years, it wasn’t just to celebrate my birthday weekend in Paris. It was therapy. I was searching for inner peace and a new direction in life. I found that (and more) in the City of Light.

Then there’s French. Not knowing the language has been my biggest regret. As a teenager, I lived in Oran, Algeria with my family and attended a French school. Unfortunately, the outbreak of the Algerian Civil War forced us out of the country and put a stop to my language learning. Years later, I found a note from an old teacher that said, “Il faut persévérer en français” (“You should continue with French”). My classroom might as well be Paris.

Finally, I’m happy to continue a family tradition. My father lived in Paris years ago, before I was born. It can’t hurt to be a good daughter and follow in his footsteps, right?

***

In a previous article about my life as an expat, I wrote that I’d miss Chicago “a lot” if I were to leave, because “it has truly become my city.” Now that my life is packed into a few boxes, the reality begins to sink in.

It felt different earlier this year, when I was moving to Paris for two months. I knew I’d be back in the States to host events and go on blog trips. I’d also have a few weeks in Chicago to meet with friends, hang around my neighborhood, sit by Lake Michigan, watch baseball.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, la nouvelle Parisienne became an old Chicagoan again.

Being back feels like the old times, even though I’ve had to further prepare for France. The car is sold, the apartment almost empty. I signed a long-term lease in Paris, ordered mail forwarding, and dug out my European passport. No turning back now.

Moving to Paris

***

A college friend from Krakow recently asked if she could still call me Windy City Girl. Of course! Chicago will always be my home, even if it’s not the only one.

It’s almost time to switch from late-night tacos in Logan Square to crepes in the 11th arrondissement, and start saying le foot instead of soccer. I’m sure there will be other adjustments down the road, such as more cheese and eclairs in my diet. Eventually, I might get a scooter or motorcycle to whizz around the city, like so many Parisians do.

Really, pinch me.

Portrait photos: Gonçalo Silva Photography 
See also: Mon regard d’expat sur Paris / My expat view of Paris (interview in French)

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Category: STORIES

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About the Author (Author Profile)

Pola Henderson is a travel writer, city explorer, expat, and event host. Traveling has been a part of her life since she was three. Pola grew up in Krakow, lived in Chicago for many years and is currently based in Paris, where she teaches Business English.

Comments (64)

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  1. Sounds like a dream!!
    Good luck!!

  2. Congratulations! Such wonderful adventure in your future. We’ve chatted about our love of Paris so I’m happy for your decision and look forward to seeing how it goes. I’m back in September so we must have lunch at my favorite cafe

  3. avatar neha says:

    Very well crafted Pola. Could relate to the the feelings and emotions pouring out of the post. I have myself lived across multiple cities, get that feeling of being ‘uprooted’ sometimes . I am all settled now, but deep down a thought is running to relocate for better future…debate continues in mind..lets see where it takes me..hope it will be for the best, the way it turned out to be for you :)

    • Hi Neha. I’m glad that you could feel the emotions – it’s one of the most “charged” posts I’ve written and it took me a while to organize my thoughts. Best of luck to you if you decided to move again. Thank you for the lovely note.

  4. avatar Dee says:

    I spent a week once in Paris, all by myself, and I absolutely loved every minute of it. So I am a bit jealous. I always wanted to live in Paris. Your photos are amazing. And I am from Krakow too. I miss it sometimes

  5. Sounds like an adventure! New town, new life, a lot of inspiration.

  6. avatar Olo says:

    If you have the chance to move and the city inspires you then why not?! I think it is better to try and see how it works than regret not even trying. For me it is really exciting to move from one place to another. Currently I am on Working Holiday visa in New Zealand with my wife and we switch places we live in and work every three months. Why? Firstly, because we can not work longer for one employer and secondly because it is fun to see how it is to live in different places and get to know new people.
    Cheers!

  7. avatar Hamak Life says:

    Good move! Good life! I’ve ALWAYS had an amazing time in Paris :) To taste its true vibe deeply it’s recommend to speak French, though. If not at least you can have a lot of fun with French-English ;)

  8. avatar Long Nguyen says:

    Paris did also inspire me much. I spent there a month and still feel need ten more times of that to discover this chamring city.

    And maybe allocating there is your destiny, as you face changes in your personal life and that can be a kick off. Wish you enjoy this part of the life journey !

    • Thank you for the well-wishes, Long! And you’re right about discovering Paris – one needs years to truly know it. I tell myself that I need to find a few hours per day to just walk around.

  9. Hi Pola!
    Congratulations on your big move! I will be gong to Paris on the 7th-9th of June, my birthday month! Maybe we can have a coffee. I will be going with two co workers and we’re just going to explore. I shall go again. I love Paris. I hope I can stay for an extended amount of time next time I go. So much to see, learn and be inspired from. I want to pick your brain about this move. Hopefully we get to catch up. Félicitations et bonne chance!

    Deys

    • Hi! Too bad we didn’t get to meet in Paris, but perhaps another time? I never get tired of talking about it, so pick my brain whenever you want. I hope your trip was fun!

  10. Best of luck to you… And good time to arrive, with the Euro Cup 2016… Enjoy le foot.

    Stay adventurous, stay brave and stay happy, Craig

  11. avatar Monika says:

    So finally the dream comes true :)
    All the best in your new hometown :)

  12. avatar Kenny says:

    Félicitations à vous!
    Cela ressemble à une grande opportunité, et je vous souhaite tout le meilleur.
    An interesting story and I’m looking forward to what’s coming next. I really love when you said “Paris gets writers”, and I believe any artists, too. @ knycx.journeying

  13. avatar Mark says:

    Enjoy the adventure and the next chapter of your life story! May you continue to find inspiration—and to let inspiration find you.

  14. Pola,
    I am happy for you, but sad that you won’t be able to enjoy baseball in Paris. LOL! You are young and have the rest of your life ahead of you. Whatever happens, just remember to be happy. That is the most valuable advice this old man can give you.

    Hope to see you in Stockholm and catch up. Take care of yourself and we need photos! As Craig said, enjoy le foot, since you are in Europe now. It will be interesting to see which team you root for. #safetravels wherever you roam.
    Mike

    • Dear Mike, thank you for the lovely note and always being so supportive of me! Yes, the good ol’ happiness is important, and I’m now in my happy place (literally). Rooting for Poland and France in Euro 2016. As for baseball, that’s what I miss most about the USA!! But I can still watch on TV and visit. Go Sox!

  15. Pola, I’m so excited for you. I tried to move to Paris many times but something would always happen. I wouldn’t be able to find an apartment, I’d get sick, etc. I’ll always regret not staying longer …

    • Hi Carol. Too bad about your Paris plans, but perhaps not all is lost yet? Finding an apartment can be a challenge here, but it’s not impossible. At the very least, come visit again. :)

  16. Well, chica, it feels as if I was along for the ride with you – at least part of the way. Selfishly, I’m sad you’re no longer in Chicago; we won’t get to hang out much anymore. But at the same time, I’m so happy that you followed your dream. I know it’s not easy. If it were, I’d be living in Rome.

    See you soon in Krakow!

    • You’ve been a great support in the process, mon amie! I’m sure we’ll hang out many times when I visit Chicago, and I can’t wait to show you my hometown this summer. Thanks for everything and see you soon.

  17. avatar Raul says:

    Congratulations on “le big step,” to borrow and twist from Pulp Fiction. I wish my time in Paris had been at a different point in life but I can say I have lived there! I am sure I will see you when I visit next! Bon chance, Polita!

  18. Loved reading this, especially while sitting in Paris! I visited Paris in 2007 and I didn’t fall in love as I had hoped. I couldn’t imagine myself living there at all, but I don’t think I really got a local feel for the city. Last night, I took a walk on the canal at sunset and as I watched people go about their lives I got it a bit more and really felt for the first time that I could live here. I am so excited for you on this chapter and it’s been amazing to watch your journey for so long. I can’t wait to see where it goes from here. xx

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed Paris more this time! I spend a lot of time by the Canal, so I know what you’re taking about. Too bad we didn’t get to hang out, but next time you’re here, we’ll grab a glass of wine on a terrasse. xx

  19. I look forward to joining you on your expat sojourn in the City of Light next month as I begin my own next chapter in life. I fell in love with Paris when I was there last summer and thought “someday” I’d like to live there. Well, it’s happening…and it’s so exciting! (and scary, too, uprooting my life of almost two decades in DC) I’m looking forward to meeting you in person and discovering more about my creative, writer side while there.

    • Vicki, it’s great that you didn’t wait too long to make the move! Best of luck and see you soon. I’d love to chat with you about writing and the creative side of Paris. :)

  20. I wont pinch you, I’ll let you live your dream a few moments longer! Good luck and have a blast!

  21. We’re only spend weekend in Paris and by far the hardest thing to do was choosing exactly which parts of the city we will see. We had to find a balance between the sightseeing and just sitting back and taking in the beauty of the city… So you are so lucky. :) We wish you all the best and good success for the future in the new hometown. :)

  22. avatar Kinga says:

    It’s amazing how a place can affect us. I feel my current city is my home, but at the same time I feel I need a change and am looking for some options. It’s fascinating that sometimes you just go somewhere and feel nearly straight away that the heartbeat of that place is in sync with you.

  23. Good luck and enjoy Paris! I wish you find the right job for you there and of course love life.

    • Thank you. Luckily, I can do my freelance work from any place that has WiFi, but maybe other opportunities will come my way. And French men, ahh… let’s leave it at that. ;)

  24. avatar Marinela Marie says:

    How exciting! I, too, shall be starting my next chapter in Paris! So wonderful to read your story! (I also wish I had followed up with my French classes during high school) Thank you for sharing! Safe and wonderful travels for you!

  25. I think everyone should do what you’ve done – take a leap and live in the place that they love – great article! My father also lived in Paris years ago… so I appreciate that kindred feeling. To Paris!

  26. I love every single word of this, Pola. Thank you for sharing your sentiments! It resonates with me, as well. Plus I love the comment about “the city just gets writers.” I always enjoy reading your posts, so I nominated you for a ‘One Lovely Blog Award’ https://jessicalipowski.com/one-lovely-blog-award/ Thank you for all your support, too! Keep up the great work!

  27. What an exciting new chapter of your life. Congratulations.

  28. avatar Marianne says:

    Good luck with your move! I have lived in several cities – you always take a part of it with you but moving to the next one is exciting too! And as Audrey Hepburn says ‘Paris is always a good idea!’

    • Audrey was so right! And you’re right too in saying that the places you’ve lived in stay with you. Sometimes I wish I could clone myself and live in all the cities I love. But I’m so grateful to wake up in Paris every day.

  29. avatar Nathan says:

    Paris is a city that as much as I’ve traveled I’ve never been to. I’ve heard so many people either love it or hate it and you clearly love it. I really must visit soon.

  30. avatar Emma davis says:

    Congratulations that you are moving now. Pairs such a beautiful place.

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