Taking the bull by the horns………….. is a lot harder when you dont speak French!


I’ve never really got to a point of feeling homesick since I’ve been in France. But at this point in time, I think I’m experiencing some sort of strain of it. Its not that I wish I was back home in New Zealand. Thats not it. But I do feel incredibly frustrated that the language barrier impedes on me from taking a more ‘bull by the horns’ approach to life. It effectively stops me from being me.

In NZ, if and when I feel sorry for myself (which I hate), I’m normally quite good at giving myself a kick up the butt. I normally start by writing a list of things I’d love to do, regardless of how realistic or not they might be at that point in time. The pure fact of imagining and dreaming about what might be possible is enough to get me excited. Moving on from that, I focus on the things that I actually could do to improve my situation.

If its that I’m bored with work, for instance, it might be as simple as signing up to a term of community classes. If its just that studying 24/7 is doing my head in, then checking out the local entertainment scene and treating myself to the theatre might do the trick. If I feel like i’m not being useful enough, then it might involve signing up for a volunteering position. I’m not one of those crazy, hyped up people that needs to be busy all of the time. But there are times where I feel like ‘there has to be more’, and when I find myself thinking like this, I challenge myself to go out and find it.

Which is all very well when you speak the language and know intrinsically ‘how things work’.

My main frustration at the moment is with my lack of work/study opportunities. To be fair, until very recently we thought we’d be moving to Paris so that I could study (in English) towards a Masters in policy (thanks for letting me down NZ scholarship boards! Such a wasted opportunity for us all). When that opportunity fell through, we hoped we’d be moving to Lyon for a job opportunity that came through for my hubby. This was equally exciting since Lyon appeared to have more study/work opportunities for me (and a Kiwi owned cafe that makes moccachinos!!). Alas, that also fell through. So we’re now having to reconsider our career options. Which isnt easy when the hubby’s current contract ends in March, meaning our time in Albi remains uncertain.

Anyway, so while I am extremely proud of my progress in French, I’m just not fluent enough to work in a French speaking environment. Sure, when you live in a metropolitan city like Paris it might not be such a problem. But when you are a migrant in a relatively small town, this rules out even the most basic roles of customer service or administration (especially when the country’s unemployment level is at an all time high and you need to pass a course to be a salesperson!). That is the MOST frustating thing about my situation. In New Zealand I could quite confidently walk into a shop, make small talk and hand over my CV. I know all the cultural cues and have confidence in my ability to learn fast on the job, so there’s no reason to doubt myself.

On top of the language barrier, I dont know the cultural cues. I remember having to explain to my French flatmate (in Auckland), that she needed to be less formal and stand-offish in her approach, and much more warm and friendly when applying for customer service roles. In that conversation we realised that the concept of professionalism varies greatly between New Zealand and France. While I am super professional and will always try my best to uphold the integrity of any company that I represent, it’s not in my nature to be stand-offish (something I witnessed a whole group of French academics doing last week in Sevilla, and it really pissed me off! It shouldn’t be so difficult to be nice to other people… grrrrrrr!).  I hate hierarchy and snobbery. That is simply not me.

But even when you put the employment issue to the side, the language barrier also impedes on me from learning or growing via other avenues, like university, community classes or volunteering. I readily admit that my French is good enough to get by. But its not good enough for me to be the best I know I can be. I also feel that the French (in general, but not all) are not very tolerant when it comes to cultural diversity or language barriers, so assume I’ll be considered a pain in the arse, inefficient, dumb….. the list goes on. And I don’t like the thought of embodying any of those terms or becoming a hassle for anyone.

So this is me at the moment. Instead of feeling like these normally mundane things are a piece of cake to overcome, pesky little cultural and language barriers make me feel so incompetent.

I have tried to take control of the situation though. Admittedly its a little hard to get started when you first need money from the French government, something thats akin to squeezing blood from a stone.  But I’ve checked out some English teaching positions and the ones I am most interested in, like working for enterprises i.e. Airbus, language schools or a universities, require you to have TEFL accredation (Teaching English as a Foreign Language). As I currently don’t have this I’ve asked Pole Emploi, which is the French version of Work and Income NZ, to fund a 4 week course in my neighbouring city of Toulouse. My case officer was very cautious about getting my hopes up, explaining that English teaching is not a priority for this region, so the funding isn’t guaranteed (and as a migrant I hardly expect to be a priority). So for the moment, its a case of watch this space.

But I do have hope. And you can call me crazy but early starts, hour long train rides there and back, plus a 10 hour study day for 4 weeks straight, actually make me feel excited. Like, ACTUALLY.

So wish me luck trying to take the bull by the horns!

And check out a couple of the quotes below 😉



“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all”. -Helen Keller

“I don’t run away from a challenge because I am afraid. Instead, I run towards it because the only way to escape fear is to trample it beneath your foot”. -Nadia Comaneci

“The key to life is accepting challenges. Once someone stops doing this, he’s dead”. -Bette Davis

“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back”. -Paulo Coelho

“To remain indifferent to the challenges we face is indefensible. If the goal is noble, whether or not it is realized within our lifetime is largely irrelevant. What we must do therefore is to strive and persevere and never give up”. -Dalai Lama


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