Posted on December 2, 2019 | By Angela Lewonczyk
02nd Sep 2019
Paris is often romanticised by Americans: for the lights, the love, the art, the architecture, and of course the language. These were the many images rippling through my mind as I found myself discontent in New York City, after years of working in restaurants and retail while trying to become an ‘actress’. Well, these images along with a dramatic retelling of the Disney film “Tangled”, in which I was Rapunzel venturing off to the lights of the Eiffel Tower. (I was a performer then and I’m still a performer now….) But as with many twists and turns in life, the definition and interpretation of one’s path in life can change.
A Leap of Faith!
I took French classes in high school and had enough savoir-faire to be appropriately and stereotypically entranced with French culture. After having spent two days in Paris while studying abroad for a semester in London, I still had unfulfilled romantic notions lingering in my mind: the impressionists, the berets, the accordion players serenading you along the Seine. And so, when I turned 30 years old, I decided to quit my job and up to Europe, picking Paris as my primary destination. This drama queen had every intention of living life in the moment, though admittedly with very little plan in mind.
I signed up for a TEFL course for something to do and with a vague hope of finding work if I ended up liking this new cosmopolitan city. I didn’t know anyone in France, I didn’t have a work visa, and my savings were modest at best. But I dove headfirst into the fray, ready to be a can-can dancer if I must!
Despite being on this impetuous whim, I got incredibly lucky with my decision to take a TEFL course. I had a lovely teacher who taught me some useful techniques and prepared me to jump out into the world of English learners. I met many amazing people who I am still friends with to this day. Some have moved back to their home countries and others are still stuck with me and my raging romanticism, haunting Paris right alongside me. I ended my first two-month stint in France with friends, a boyfriend, a new career, and in incurable zest for travel. I had to return to the States, but I was on a mission to get back to Paree as soon as I could.
Back and Forth
It took me two whole years to save and plan enough to feel comfortable uprooting my life for the long term. This time I was armoured with a student visa, under which I could work a certain number of hours. I was lucky enough to score a ‘chambre de bonne’ (old servants quarters turned studio apartment) in exchange for very light nanny services (aka picking one child up from school three times a week). It may have felt a bit more like Cinderella than Rapunzel, but I took whatever opportunity I could! Months went by before I found consistent students and work, but I was determined and discovered that my theatrical skills were one of many that made me a good and successful teacher. Princess power, check!
So Many Visas
But this journey has been full of ups and downs, most of which have firmly depended on visa and work status. I was under a student visa for three years before a company I worked for offered to sponsor my work status. Unfortunately, this particular company was ultimately not able to make good on their offer and so I was left without a visa and therefore without a job or money after almost three years in Paris. To obtain a new visa, you must return to your home country. And so off I went again, back to the homeland to regroup and refund myself for a third attempt at the life I wanted. You know that point in fairy tales when the heroine is left in the depths of despair? Well, it was time to scrape myself off the floor, sally forth, and seek out those Rapunzel lights.
Home Sweet Home
The good news is that pride and perseverance really can fortify your dreams. After a year back in the USA, I accomplished what I had originally set out to do. It continues to be a constant roller-coaster of unexpected adventure – which is what I signed up for all those years ago when I decided that living life in the moment, in Paris, was what I wanted to do. I am now under a freelance visa, I have a real “grownup” apartment in Paris, I teach mostly full-time, write, travel and generally live this American girl in Paris’s dream. I may not be a quintessential fairy princess, but I certainly live in a fantasy world!
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like: Everything you need to know about teaching English in France.