By Ellia Guy I've sifted through, pondered, analyzed and assimilated innumerable lessons since I left my vast dry continent a year ago. Picking up your life, extricating yourself from relationships and lugging a heavy backpack to the other side of the world is perhaps not the easiest path to polishing life skills and finding direction. However (and here’s the first lesson), the advantage of challenging conditions is that they beget fervent and lasting messages.
Living in Paris was never a childhood dream or a long lusted-after notion. The thought casually snuck its way into our (best friend and my) heads on a two-week holiday in the City of Light, and stuck. We whispered notions of packing up and setting off; running away to Paris was fabulously irresponsible and freeing and it felt like something that needed to be done, before too many ties reached out and tightened their hold, before we were required to be doing things that were expected of us and before we were corralled into forgetting that there was a whole world out there, waiting to be lived in.
Somehow, we muddled our way through the pile of papers French bureaucracy required of us and triumphantly received our ‘vacances travaille’ (working holiday) visas in the mail. One year later after that fateful holiday we found ourselves flying into Charles de Gaulle, lives carefully arranged into 23kg luggage limit suitcases and hearts full of possibility. We wandered around the cobblestone streets and swirling Seine in the first two weeks, eyes shining, continually looking at each other in amazement---‘we’re really going to live here!’ Of course, as is needed in any relocation to a foreign country in which you are referred to as an ‘alien’ in official government language, naivety and enthusiasm were our greatest allies (second lesson---never think anything is too big).
Now I have two clocks on my dashboard---one for warm, sunny Brisbane (a must have for skyping) and one for my current home, the ever-confounding but mesmerizing Paris. I have a job, an apartment and this city finally feels like home. Living in France is not all pastries, cheese and joie de vivre (though, of course, all are enjoyed in copious quantities). Banks can be mean, customer service is non-existent, I get lectured daily that I should speak more French and the petite living spaces require a cosmic shift in living standards. But (third lesson coming up), I have learned it is possible to live in a different culture, outside your comfort zone and prosper. My bank account is no indication of this, but my spirit certainly is!
Perhaps most encouraging is when you are joined on the tumultuous 'taking the leap' path by others. I recently caught up with a friend, at the beginning of her three-year career move to Germany. She’d packed up her life into two suitcases and 5m cubed and was in Paris for the weekend before starting her new job. Excited but feeling slightly overwhelmed, she said to me, ‘if I had known what a massive thing this was going to be when I said yes, I never would have been able to take the leap.’ When making decisions that take you down a new, untrodden paths away from loved ones and comfort, and that force you to navigate uncharted waters, never think too much about it. If it feels right and you want it enough, it will work out---and then you'll learn an essential lesson about yourself when you look back on it all and think ‘I don’t know how I did it, but I did!’