I wrote this just before I moved to Kenya in May 2018, and didn’t click Publish..?! Probably that old foe you sometimes have to try harder to shake off.. self-doubt.
As I prepare for my move to Kenya – I really ought to be finishing my packing since I fly to my training in Germany tomorrow instead of rambling – but then again – YOLO. My first jump into living abroad in Paris came to mind. That nervous feeling when you are heading into a new country, it’s always there all full of possibility and new opportunity to grow. Each new place and role is an opportunity to challenge yourself and learn something new about yourself and what you can give the world.
So Paris, beautiful, wild and perfect. When the time came to decide where to work for placement year during undergrad, I had two things I wanted from a placement – abroad and in infectious diseases. I didn’t care where I went I just wanted to go somewhere. Paris was practical, relatively cheaper, no visa stress and the project was more suited to my then career goals – trying to find cures for infectious diseases.
I remember boarding the Eurostar to Paris, I didn’t know anyone and I was the only student on my course going. This is one of my favorite feelings when you jump head first into somewhere unknown. All I had, minus my bags, was the address to where I was going to stay, the directions for how to get there on the metro and the address of where I was going to work* and my very basic french.
I had visited Paris the previous weekend with my little brother/body guard to make sure that the house I was staying in was real and not some sort of brothel – this was after Taken had come out, which I did not watch until I was firmly on British soil again. Having inspected the place and paid my rent; accommodation was ready.
When I arrived at Gare du Nord, I headed to the taxi rank practicing saying the address on a crumpled bit paper I was clutching in my hand. When it was my turn to take a taxi I started out well, “Bonjour monsieur” he said bonjour, something about taking my suitcase and I said merci and entered the car (I think I got this french thing, I thought to myself). He asked where I was going and that is when it went down hill “Boulogne Billancourt” he looked rather confused, I attempted two more times before I passed him my scrap bit of paper. He smiled, finally understanding and drove on.
Going through Paris to this day gives me goosebumps, the Eiffel tower always reminds me that dreams come true. I remember reading about the Eiffel tower in sunny Zimbabwe when I was younger and each time I see it I am amazed that I got to see this structure I read about in an encyclopedia years ago, that anything is possible.
When I arrived at the apartment that I would be staying in with a group of other expats who were working made the experience a million times more perfect, I settled in and went to the supermarket to get that bits and that was the beginning of my Parisian life. Just like that no song and dance. In the next few days (weeks and months come to think of it), there were awkward encounters with the French language, but I learnt to not care so much that I was all over the place with my grammar and became comfortable with being uncomfortable. The laboratory I worked in was french and so the language of lunchtimes was French, my first few days I tried to avoided eating lunch in the canteen by either skipping lunch or sneaking it into my office. But, I decided it didn’t matter if I didn’t understand, I took french lessons (one of the classes I was partnered with a girl from China who spoke no English.. I mean..we literally smiled at each other, shrugged and then laughed. Sometimes you don’t need language) and met some wonderful people. Most mornings I took one of the free newspapers and underlined every word I didn’t know. I would then spend the first minutes at work having my coffee and pastry whilst looking up all the words.
A few months in I could go to restaurants order food, ask questions, I even had people asking me for directions and I could answer which was definitely a high 5 myself moment. I could listen to conversations at lunch and sometimes even add my two cents though most of the time I was always a few seconds behind as I would be translating.
My leaving party at the lab I spoke French most of the time. That was my proudest moment of my year in Paris, having lots of french pastry and speaking decent French.
This was the beginning of a love affair of being in new places, challenging myself, growing and learning to believe in myself. I think we all deserve to be doing things that make you feel alive and excited, I hope you have the courage if possible to shake things up if you are not. What is the best that could happen? Or as one one of my favourite quotes would put it:
“What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”
*Erasmus placement in a research laboratory. My project aim was to have snapshot of the proteins present when HIV virus starts replicating in CD4 cells. September 2011 to June 2012 at Universite Descartes Paris V near Jardin de Luxembourg, dream location.