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