The mind is a garden. How does yours grow?


Reasons Why You Should Quit Your Life and Move Overseas


When I was 17 years old, I walked out the door of my high school and straight onto a plane to Southern France. Well, almost… There was a few weeks of anxiety, saving money and waiting for a rain drenched passport to be replaced. But before I was ready, I found myself gracelessly driving a standard the wrong direction down a cobblestoned one-way and eating cheese for dinner. The time I spent working as an au pair in France was easily the most humblingly lonely, yet beautifully defining periods of my life. Here’s why I think it’s a good idea for anyone to quit their life and venture overseas:

You learn how to adapt. Moving to a foreign country sounds like a fun plan… until the initial excitement of a new location wears off and you realize you’re an utter alien. I know now that I was certainly not prepared for how different life in France would be in comparison to rural Saskatchewan. I found myself with a new house, a new family, new food, new cultural norms and to top it all off, a new language which I barely understood. Apart from going home (which was not an option on account of a stubborn, teenage ego) I had only one choice- Adaptation. I was homesick for “normalcy” but the only way through that sentiment was to accept a new kind of “normal”. Thankfully,  I was able to make pain au chocolat and Roquefort cheese a part of my new normal and I slowly but surely adapted. 

You learn the importance of communication. The concept and role of language was something I had never considered until I was sitting in a park during one of my first few days in France. I was watching a man who was talking to his dog and I realized, with both parts amusement and self-pity, that this chien understood more French than I did. As someone who had always relied on and taken pride in words and communication, the fact that I couldn’t express myself in French was a similar feeling to having my tongue cut out. Although I was physically present, I felt as if no one really knew or saw the real me. Articulate and coherent ideas in my mind would be expressed in disjointed and confusing ways when said out loud and with this frustrating lack of language, came the necessity to communicate in other ways. I learned to rely heavily on eye contact, facial expression and kindness. My new motto became “smile and try”- I quickly discovered that a smile is something everyone understands. 

You learn that it’s okay to be different. I distinctly remember becoming so tired of feeling like the outsider. I wanted nothing more than to blend in with French culture. I took all measures to dress French, walk French, talk French and be French. I would practise the proper pronunciation of common anglophone give-aways until I was blue in the face. After awhile, I thought back to my best friend in high school, a German exchange student named Jana. Everyone LOVED Jana’s accent and European mannerisms. Why? Because she was different! I began to realize that it was okay that I was the Canadain girl. Maybe my English accent and obsession with peanut butter could make me endearing? I started to take pride in the fact that I was une étrangère and I didn’t mind when the ladies at the boulangerie referred to me as “La Canadienne”

You gain empathy for others. Experiencing the isolation and hardship that comes along with moving to a different country has made me acutely aware and empathetic towards the immigrant, refugee and expat population of Canada. And to think, I wasn’t fleeing persecution, I didn’t have to question if I would ever see my family again- I could go back to Canada whenever I wanted to! I am such a cheerleader for those who have made the brave decision to leave all familiarity and forge their way in a new country. No matter what circumstances are being left behind, uprooting yourself from your culture and country is a shock to the system and far from easy. I feel incredibly grateful to have been born in a progressive country that I do not feel that I have to leave. A country that welcomes those who feel that they must leave their own. 

You amaze yourself. Moving to France was like jumping off the cliff of my comfort zone. I cried more than I thought I could and I discovered that it is possible to physically feel loneliness. Yet, I continued on anyways and surprised myself in more ways than I can count. I went from not even being able to introduce myself in French to having spontaneous conversation while getting my eyelashes done. My French has improved so much that I now work as a bilingual flight attendant! I developed a strong faith in what I was capable of after questioning so many times, if I was capable of what I was doing. I learned that getting through anything difficult requires only one small step at a time. I learned that happiness is not a situation or location, but a choice. I now know that I have the ability to choose how I feel and that my happiness is my responsibility. 

Independence, inspiration and self-confidence is what you really buy when you purchase a one-way plane ticket and I can tell you that you will get your money’s worth!



ReflectSophie Balisky