How I Quit My Day Job and Finally Pursued My Dream of Living in France

How I Quit My Day Job and Finally Pursued My Dream of Speaking French

“Courageous, bold, inspiring” …these words sound like they belong in a rave review on a book jacket. Rather, these are some of the words my friends bestowed upon me after I announced I was finally quitting my life in the USA and moving to France to speak French. As encouraging as this triumvirate was, the most fitting for me seemed: “It’s about time.”

For more than 20 years, I had a princess-and-the-pea urge to speak French, a gnawing dream that never seemed to get off the ground and inevitably took the back burner. Life got in the way: I changed jobs, formed new relationships, went to grad school and felt like I never had the money. Four years of high school French and one semester in college helped me order a chocolate croissant (“pain au chocolat“) at a random patisserie in the States. I could read signs in New Orleans during a spring break trip, but the dream just wasn’t happening.

For more than 20 years, I had a princess-and-the-pea urge to speak French, a gnawing dream that never seemed to get off the ground and inevitably took the back burner.

In 1994, a few years out of college, I teased my language appetite with a ten-day trip to Paris. After I had earned some cash working a seasonal job in Alaska, I flew to France and checked into a youth hostel, exposing me to international friends. One day we sat for hours having conversation over wine, bread and cheese. I struggled through explanations, used hand gestures and smiles and sprinkled in some English, but I did it! At 24, I was speaking French and I was in love.

The melody and rhythm of French fascinated me. As I challenged my brain to search for vocabulary and ways to express myself, speaking the language felt like the budding moments with a new lover. I couldn’t wait until the next opportunity to ask for directions or buy a pack of gum. As French words rolled out of my mouth, it reminded me of little Christmas ornaments adorning each branch of conversation. Papillon (butterfly), oreille (ear), fraîche (fresh), histoire (story) and nourriture (food) became my playmates.

My favorite gem, liaison—the way the French join certain words in conversation—became my obsession. I was infatuated with finding those combinations that elicited the connecting lullaby. “Je suis Americaine,” I would espouse, emphasizing the link between the S in “suis” and A in “American.” When I spoke French, and was understood, it was like catching an admirer’s stare from across the room, and not looking away.

Once I returned to the US however, the love affair lay dormant for 20 years. I attended my share of Saturday morning French conversation groups and even hired a native speaker for private lessons. But without regular usage, my language skills went by the wayside, as did my dream. It was on the shelf like that classic epic you vow to read when the time is right (Doctor Zhivago perhaps?). On occasion, you flip through the pages and admire the crisp cover. One day it even makes its way to the bedside table ripe for a rainy day—or a visit by the muse.

When I spoke French, and was understood, it was like catching an admirer’s stare from across the room, and not looking away.

Finally my muse arrived—in the form of a pink slip. Earlier this year, a work contract was not renewed and within three months, I found myself unemployed. Panic or freedom? At 44, with no kids, no husbands (no ex-husbands!), no mortgage, no car, no credit card debt, all I saw was a blessing in disguise. I didn’t even have any pets. I had been saving for this moment. France here I come.

In 2010, two of my American friends had moved to the south of France to make a new life raising their son. With a similar love of languages as mine and attraction to the European lifestyle, socialized healthcare, affordable or practically free education, they had applied for student visas and moved to Montpellier, a city known for its culture, beauty, universities and proximity to Mediterranean beaches. Montpellier boasts 300 sunny days a year, they had reminded me.

After several encouraging phone calls with them and emails explaining how to apply for a visa, I was ready. I downloaded forms, located a translator to create copies of my college degrees, photocopied my birth certificate and social security card, updated my passport which was coming due for expiration, and applied in person at the French consulate in San Francisco.

At 44, with no kids, no husbands (no ex-husbands!), no mortgage, no car, no credit card debt, all I saw was a blessing in disguise. I didn’t even have any pets. I had been saving for this moment.

I sold much of my belongings for some extra cash and kept only personal and sentimental stuff (books, letters, photos). Electronics, furniture and kitchen items went to goodwill, and for safekeeping, friends held onto valuables like a guitar and bicycle. With only a 39-pound suitcase and a carry-on backpack, I departed in August 2014 for the south of France.

It’s November, decidedly fall, and I’m enrolled in 16 hours a week of French studies. I’m renting a flat in a 17th-century building that has stone floors and classic French architecture. I’ve opened a French bank account, have my French mobile phone and take the Tram to get around the city. Summertime trips to the beach with my friends, their son (and now daughter), have been replaced with weekend hikes in the country and excursions on the regional train to nearby cities like Nîmes and Avignon.

The love affair with the language has been renewed—I’m speaking and writing in French every day, and I’m searching for a French translation of Doctor Zhivago.

 

 

Visiting the roquefort cheese caves in France
Visiting the Roquefort cheese caves in France, How I Quit My Day Job and Finally Pursued My Dream of Speaking French

 


How I Quit My Day Job and Finally Pursued My Dream of Speaking French

About Jennifer Karchmer

Jennifer KarchmerJennifer Karchmer is studying French at the University of Montpellier 3-Paul Valéry. She is a freelance writer, journalist and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher. To learn more about Jennifer, visit her website.

19 thoughts on “How I Quit My Day Job and Finally Pursued My Dream of Living in France

  1. Avatar
    Kim (Kane) Sudduth
    October 18, 2016
    Reply

    Hi Jennifer!
    Not sure if you’ll see this comment since it’s been awhile since you wrote this. I just found out about the AHS Class of ’87 Facebook page and saw your post. I want to say “Congratulations” and “Good For You”!! It’s so exciting to read that you took being out of work as a sign and are following your dream, living in France! I hope you are still doing well. I am living in GA with my husband (married 20 yrs tomorrow!) and 2 children. Life is busy, but I wouldn’t want it any other way (well, except to maybe be living on the water somewhere, haha). Take care!

  2. Jennifer
    March 6, 2015
    Reply

    Guitt, Je suis heureux que vous avez apprécié mon article. Aussi je suis contente de faire de votre connaissance. A bientot.

  3. Avatar
    du tremblay
    March 1, 2015
    Reply

    Bonjour Jennifer ! Bravo pour le courage que tu as eu de partir de chez toi pour affronter l’inconnu ….Ton français est tellement bon que je souhaiterai que tu écrives un article dans la langue de Molière sur un sujet qui te passionne !
    N’hésite pas si tu rencontre un soucis de me contacter philguitt@wanadoo.fr et je me ferai un plaisir d’essayer de t’aider
    A très bientôt
    Guitt

  4. Avatar
    January 22, 2015
    Reply

    Awesome Jennifer, I’m happy you’re making it happen!!

    • Jennifer Karchmer
      February 13, 2015
      Reply

      Jeff, Thanks so much for the encouragement and for reading my piece. Hope you’re following your dreams as well.
      Cheers.
      jk

  5. Jennifer Karchmer - Pink Pangea author

    Connie, glad you enjoyed the essay. Yes, would love to rejoin CIFC again soon. I’ve been singing your praises here in France telling everyone a French camp exists in the USA. Bonnes fêtes!

  6. Avatar
    December 25, 2014
    Reply

    Bravo, Jennifer! I admire your fortitude and sense of adventure. Just think, a few more months of French and you could probably be a counselor at Canoe Island French Camp!! Bonne continuation! and hope to see you in 2015.

  7. Avatar
    peter
    December 16, 2014
    Reply

    Felicitations! Il y a un grand defi a apprendre le français. J’espere je suis capable a faire comme vous est faire un immersion dans une place très agréable et apprendre plus de français.

  8. Avatar
    November 28, 2014
    Reply

    Hi,
    I’m an American journalist and author living in Juan les Pins. Look me up if you are ever in town. I’ll give you a copy of my book (No Questions Asked). It’s about the media’s failure in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. I think you’ll like it. Good luck in France, it’s a great place to live. Bon courage!
    Lisa

    • Jennifer Karchmer-Pink Pangea author

      Lisa,
      I would love to get to that region of France. I’ll have to look you up. Let’s correpond nonetheless and talk journalism. I’d love to check out your book too. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Merci, Lisa.

  9. Avatar
    Ashley Thomas
    November 26, 2014
    Reply

    Jennifer,
    I have a similar love for Spanish. I’ve toyed with the idea of completely immersing myself in the language and culture but have some odd feeling of fear or ugh.. I don’t know what it is. The itch was getting the best of me again and I found your post! I am SOOOOOO (OOOOOOOOO) glad I did. Thank you for the inspiration. Que tengas un buen dia!!

  10. Avatar
    Holly Giffin
    November 25, 2014
    Reply

    Way to go Jennifer! You are an inspiration!

    If you happen to be near Autrans, France on Dec 5 my son Sam has a film showing at the Autrans Mountain Film Festival.
    He is the one who made that Tiny House movie . It is called “Winter’s People”

    • Jennifer-Pink Pangea author

      Thank you so much Chris, Kergie, Ellen and Holly. Really appreciate the support. Holly, I’ll look up the film festival. Merci!

  11. Avatar
    Ellen Murphy
    November 25, 2014
    Reply

    Dear Jennifer,

    Congratulations on your brave new life, and by the way, for the most excellent writing! I opened your post and voila! a treasure.

    All the best,

    Ellen

  12. Avatar
    Kergie
    November 25, 2014
    Reply

    Bravo, indeed, Jennifer! Thanks for sharing your journey with us. I can feel the passion in your story. Life sends us some wonderful unexpected opportunities. You are missed and the students you worked with are lucky for your professional mentoring!

  13. Avatar
    Chris Westring
    November 24, 2014
    Reply

    Bravo, Jen! I so loved reading that! So well written! You inspire me! I think it is fantastic that you put yourself in the position to be able to do what you are doing. No pets, indeed! No credit card debt, no husband. You were (and are) free. So much more free than the most of us. I remember that feeling, it’s exhilarating. Good on ya!

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