Thursday, 28 July 2016

Back to the beginning

I don't know if it's the Irish football fans or the terrible things happening in France, but it seems like there is a wave of French people wanting to move to Ireland at the moment. It might be just an impression, but looking at the amount of members requests I get daily on the Facebook French expats group and the discussions going on, I think Ireland might have become the Eldorado again.

Reading prospective expats' questions and doubts made me think about my own worries before I moved to Ireland...

I always knew I wanted to live abroad for a while, but I wasn't an adventurous kind of girl. Sure I wanted to discover the world, but I was going to be cautious about it. There was no way I would just get a one way ticket to an unknown place without a job lined up. So when I found a job offer in Ireland I took the opportunity. And when I received a positive answer, I was over the moon and scared at the same time.

I only had ten days to prepare. Ten days to sort out insurance, dentist, optician, buy a flight ticket, say goodbye to my family and friends, and pack my whole life into two suitcases. In that short time, I managed to find an accommodation thanks to my new boss, lose my flight ticket, buy a new one and more importantly have doubts about the big move every day.

Was I really ready to go? There was nothing for me in France. I was single, jobless, and sure I had my friends and family but they would always be there, right? A couple of years abroad and my English would be perfect. And I would have the "oh-so-important" two years experience to land a great job in France.

I tried really hard to convince myself it was the best thing to do, a personal challenge of some sort. My parents would be proud of me and my friends would be supportive but the moment I kissed goodbye to my parents at the airport, it hit me. I was going to Ireland. To work. For an undetermined amount of time. And I didn't know when I was coming back. When I landed in Dublin, I felt weird, thinking "This morning I woke up in France, and tonight I'll sleep in Ireland". I came out of the airport, took a taxi and made my way to my new home, my new life...

I've said it before but my host family instantly made me feel welcomed. Unfortunately, it wasn't really the case for my new boss. What kind of manager gets you to make mistakes intentionally just so he can tell you you're wrong? I felt sick going to work in the morning, thinking I made the wrong decision, that living abroad wasn't made for me, that I wasn't strong enough and that I was going to mess things up...again.

I obviously had confidence issues, but I still had my pride, and I wasn't ready to go home. Not after one week anyway. My parents offered to pay the flight back home but I refused. I already made friends, I liked the village, I loved speaking English and my host family was the best.

So I resigned from my job, but decided to stay in Ireland and find another one. After six weeks of relentless searching, I finally got it. It wasn't the best paid job in the world, it wasn't the most interesting either, but it paid my rent and most importantly gave me back the confidence I lost along the way.

That's how my Irish journey started. I don't know what would have happened if I had gone back home after a week. But I am so glad I fought and stayed. I wouldn't have met so many great people from all over the world, that's for sure.

So you want to come to Ireland and you're not sure? You still have doubts? You're afraid? That's normal. No matter how much you're prepared, things might not go according to plan. But in the wise words of Art Williams: "I'm not telling you it's going to be easy, I'm telling you it's going to be worth it"... Whatever happens.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Meeting the French president

No need to introduce him!

Before I left work on Wednesday, my boss came to me and said: "Tomorrow, when you talk to the French president, you tell him you work for an Irish company that takes on French students, and that we do great business with France as well". She was obviously a lot more excited than I was. I laughed and replied: "Well, I doubt he's going to talk to me anyway, he'll probably do his speech and leave!". Fast forward 24 hours, and I couldn't have been more wrong!

I received, like all French expats registered with the embassy, an invitation for a reception with Francois Hollande in Dublin Castle. Let's get things straight though. I am not a fan of his, if you want to know, I didn't vote for him. I think France is in bad shape, be it socially, politically and economically. But if you were given the opportunity to meet a head of state, would you not take it? I mean, I don't think I will ever have the chance to meet another president so I took the whole thing as an experience.

I didn't want to go just to meet Francois Hollande of course. It was also an opportunity to catch up with a friend I hadn't seen for 18 months (even though he lives in Dublin!), and meet members of the French community in person, not just through a Facebook group. Oh, and I wanted to drink wine and eat delicious food as well, but that goes without saying.

My friend and I arrived early because we wanted to be amongst the first ones in. As we were in the queue we talked to a few people, shared our respective backgrounds and I was quite surprised to see that long-term expats like me are not a rarity in Ireland... And for the icing on the cake, a girl behind me called me by my blog name. Now that was a first, and for a second I felt like a minor celebrity (I'm not getting big-headed, don't worry!). But in a way, it's nice to see that some people can relate to what I write, and that's what keeps me going.

The red carpet (I was afraid to get it dirty by walking on it...)

Anyway, back to the main subject. Because we were the first ones in, we literally planted ourselves on the front row, happy that we would be so close to the main man. The feeling disappeared rather quickly when we were told he was late. But we were stuck, and there was no way we were going out as it meant losing our spot. We were really determined, and hungry, and thirsty...Our feet and back were killing us. The girl beside me even took her shoes off (sorry, the whole world knows now) and changed to more comfortable ones. There were kids, and I swear, as a parent, I don't know how I would have handled it if mine had been with me. I have to say, the little boy and girl by my side were so well behaved it made me question my parenting abilities.

A big bunch of very patient French people (it does exist!)

The only good thing about waiting for 2 hours was that we got to talk to people around us, made new friends (I got a request on Facebook this morning, you know who you are!) and even saw old friends. Mid-way through the wait, my phone rang. A girl I hadn't seen for 7 years was just a few rows behind. Talk about coincidence! Finally after a long long wait, Francois Hollande showed up. I think we were all too tired and hungry to boo and even clap actually.

I won't bore you with the speech. It was unoriginal to say the least, but what could we expect? He talked about the relationship between France and Ireland, terrorism and the infamous Brexit. He also talked very positively about the expat community and all the skills we bring to Irish companies and Ireland in general. We couldn't really disagree with him, and the only thing that made me irk a bit is when he said France was not going to war against terrorism for mercantile or political purposes, but just because he wanted World peace. That sounded a bit like a beauty pageant's contestant speech and I had a hard time believing that... One thing for sure, everything he said made me realise I'm better off living in Ireland.

Then it happened. I really thought he was going to leave by the back door, but no, he decided to go through the assembly and talk to people. First he asked the girl beside me what she was doing and she replied she was a law student. Then he turned around to me and said "Are you a student too?!" OK...Francois, I think you need to change your glasses, and maybe you should pay your optician as much as you pay your hairdresser... Joke apart, I did get the chance to tell him about my job, and he even asked for my boss's name. And then I took the compulsory presidential selfie (where you can see he might also have to take a trip to the dentist), with the French ambassador in the background photobombing the whole thing...

That was all well and good, but I was absolutely starving by then. And the buffet didn't disappoint. Sadly I didn't take pictures as I was too busy eating bread with twenty different sort of cheese, cured meat, macaroons and little French pastries, all of that topped with glasses of delicious white wine. I probably had one too many but who cares, I won't get to do that ever again I guess..

The beauty of this reception is that I got to meet old colleagues I hadn't seen for at least 10 years, back when I worked in a call-centre. So what did we do? Go to the pub for a catch-up of course! We all went our separate ways at some point after the call-centre and kept in touch with different people so it was a great way of reminiscing and finding out what everybody we used to know had been up to. And there we were, still in Ireland after 20, 18 or 14 years...

What I'll take from this day is that it had to take a French president to make me re-connect with old friends and maybe make some new. And for that, I am grateful.

Friday, 15 July 2016

The two sides of silence

When you become a parent, the first thing you give up (along with sleep) is silence. The house is always noisy, be it with cries, long negotiations about bed time, fights breaking, or the toys you wish you didn't buy (Hello, Hulkbuster !). In short, there is always something going on.

But yesterday, my husband travelled to France with the kids where they will stay for 3 whole weeks before we join them in August. I came back home after work and got in our empty and silent apartment. I just took time to enjoy the moment and didn't even put the TV on. Instead, I just soaked up in the silence. For the first time in at least a year, I slowed down. I took time to do nothing and just relax. I even enjoyed a bath in peace and without fear of the kids turning the light off from the outside.

My parental instinct, however, was still intact. For a split second I even thought my kids were still around when I heard children crying and noises in the corridor. Then I rang them to see how they were getting on. Kids are great at making their parents feel guilty. My youngest kept saying he was missing me and how he couldn't wait to see me. The oldest didn't want to speak to me at all. I know they're going to have a good time so I don't worry too much.

After a well deserved evening of peace and quiet, I checked Facebook one last time before going to bed. And unfortunately, the silence that ensued had a totally different meaning. I quickly checked the different news websites, not believing that once again, France had been struck by a terror attack. I had no words. I'm still gobsmacked, and disgusted, and just tired of all this shit.

I am fundamentally a utopist. I wish we'd live in a world where hate wouldn't exist and all cultures and religions would cohabit peacefully. I'm a dreamer, I know. I also know I'm naive to think things could change. Things are not going to change. It's  only going to get worse. People turning on each other, immigrants will become scapegoats and pay for the actions of nutjobs and scumbags. Governments will pretend they do everything in their power to destroy terrorists when in fact the geopolitical situation is a lot more complicated than that. And who pays again? Innocent people.

We don't know the motives of this crazy guy who decided to have a wild drive and kill almost a hundred people in Nice. However, the different medias have been very prolific in showing tasteless interviews of survivors who lost loved ones, asking witnesses stupid questions like "did you hear people scream?", "Did you see people die?"...

Is this the sort of world we're going to live in now? A world where we'll have to watch every step we take in case something like that happen again? A world where every bit of life and death is shown as "entertainment"? Obviously, we are guilty as well. If people weren't watching, or instantly sharing everything they're experiencing, there wouldn't be such expectations and results.

I don't want to bring up my kids in this world. I want them to be tolerant and understanding. I want them to think by themselves, try to understand different sides of a situation, to be empathetic, yet realistic.

My utopist side is taking over I know...But after last night, there's one thing I'm know. I'm glad I live in Ireland. It's not perfect, it has its flaws, but I feel safer here. I cannot even start to imagine what it's like to be in France at the moment. All I can think of is a country being torn apart and divided, not united, despite what the Internet is trying to tell me...

Saturday, 9 July 2016

This is what happens when you've lived abroad for a long time

We almost didn't make it up there because I forgot it was a bank holiday in France!

Back in May, we went for a short week to the South of France and one of the highlights of the holidays was the trip to the mountains I booked the week before. I chose that day because the weather forecast was the best and it was just in the middle of our stay. What I didn't realise however, was the fact that it was a bank holiday. So we got stuck in a traffic jam amongst French workers who had taken a long week-end off for the occasion. Even if I'm French, I didn't know that "Ascension Thursday" was falling on that date (it changes every year), and I felt a bit stupid when I asked the newsagent why almost all the shops were closed! But ignoring your own country bank holidays is not the only thing that happens when you've lived abroad for a long time...

1 -  Speaking a mix of your native and host country's language

I speak Frenglish on a daily basis. Most of the time I use English words and frenchify them: "Je vais checker si elle m'a envoyé un message" (I will check if she has sent me a message), or "ce film a l'air intéressant, je vais le streamer online" (This movie looks interesting, I'll stream it online). Sometimes, I use an English word in a French conversation because it's the first one that comes to mind.This is not really a problem with my French colleagues or friends. We live here and we all do it because we speak both languages everyday, but it becomes a bit complicated when I do it with my parents. I'm pretty sure they don't understand me sometimes!

2- Being ignorant about current music

If you ask me what's the most popular French song at the moment, I'll be incapable of telling you. I might know one or two French current singers, but I'm not even sure they are actually popular. I was raised at a time where you discovered artists on the radio so I find it hard to go online and search by myself. Instead, I rely on my French friends in France to make me discover new songs or singers. And that only really happens when I'm in France, so once a year... I do crave for good French music though, so I'm open to any suggestions!

3- Watching your native country from an outside perspective

Of course I know what's going on in France, I read the news everyday! You might think I'm a bit of a freak, but I actually read about the same stories on different publications to compare how they are presented to the public. Then I read the comments. Ah, the comments! The best part of an article, isn't it? I would like to think they give me an insight about the general mood of the French population, but how can I know this is an accurate representation? After all, not everyone comment online and there are different opinions everywhere, which brings me to my next point...

4- Having a different perspective on your native country

Maybe you think it's the same as above, but not quite. I came to Ireland with a French mentality but as the years went by, I changed my mind about many different aspects of life. Without really realising it, my thinking became more and more Irish and less and less French. So, when I read about French problems (the new employment law for example), I analyse them with an Irish perspective. On the other hand, I am able to understand both sides, but that means I'm rarely able to take position on anything!

5- Being disconnected from your friend's lives

Of course there is Facebook to know about the big things like holidays, weddings, new jobs and so on, but it's the little things that I miss. I'm not going to ring my best friend to tell her about something funny my son said yesterday or how much I had fun at the beach at the week end, or the great night I had on Saturday. Instead, these are the things told in the office, to my neighbour, to my friends here. And the reason why it happens is because we see each other regularly. I see my best friend once or twice a year. It's the same for her, she won't ring me every time something interesting happens in her daily life! I've said it many times before, when we see each other it's like nothing has changed, but still, I know we both miss out on the little things. The little things that cement and keep long-time friendships alive.

What about you? What has changed since you moved abroad?

Sunday, 3 July 2016

School's out...and a big thank you

I was going to write a post about how happy I am that school is finally over, that I don't have to make lunch boxes anymore, help with homework or iron uniforms shirts...I also thought about writing a piece about differences between French and Irish schools, but yesterday I came across an article written by a mum in France, about the struggles she faced with the education of her autistic son.

In that post, she explained that the school was unhelpful when it came to the needs of her son. He was supposed to have an SNA for himself only, but the teacher was using her as an helper for the class, and then complaining the boy didn't cope on his own (really?!). The mum was even told he couldn't go the swimming-pool with the class because the SNA wouldn't have been able to help, that it would be better if he didn't participate in the end of year "Fun day" and all sorts of arguments she had with teachers and even the principal. I won't go into details, and hopefully this is an isolated incident in France, but this read just broke my heart.

I usually don't write about my son's autism because this is not what this blog is about, but today, I just want to say  a big thank you to my son's teacher, SNA and the principal of the school.

I know Ireland is not perfect either when it comes to special needs. There are lack of funds, resources, professionals. The waiting lists for any kind of therapy are ridiculously long (we waited 14 months for a Speech therapy assessment!), but once you're in the system, you're in. Then of course, you have to ring, make appointments, and therapy only comes in blocks of 6 weeks (until you tell them he needs more and you're back on the waiting list...), but we've been quite lucky so far.

We've been lucky in two ways. First, my 8 years old son is on the mild side of autism. He spoke late (about 4 years old), sometimes it still doesn't make sense because he repeats what he hears on TV a lot, and you can't have a proper conversation with him.
He's OK with noise and crowds (I have no issues bringing him to the cinema or the supermarket), and his problem is mainly with screens. He could stay watching TV or playing X-box for the whole day if we let him...
Social skills are his downfall of course. He'd rather stay in his own little world, but other kids don't scare him either. He has a friend (that I praise because being friend with my son is definitely a challenge!!) that shares his love for Minecraft and "protects" him at school. We have friends with kids who know him and don't care about, or don't even realise his "disability", and of course his little brother is there to bring the social skills out. Even if they fight sometimes, it means there is interaction.
He doesn't have any special skills (nope, he's not Rain Man), and he's below or average at school depending on the subject. The weird thing is that his best subject is Irish, which is mad considering he had a speech delay in the first place!

The other reason why I say we're lucky  is because I will never be grateful enough for all the help the school has given him. The teacher has put strategies in place and even involved the whole class. He has an SNA, learning support, language support and even access to the autistic unit when he needs a break. He has difficulty concentrating so he has a little station at the back of the classroom when he needs some down time (playing with action figures, colouring or reading a book...). In short, the teacher, the principal, the SNA and everybody involved in my son's education did everything they could to make him achieve his potential.

It hasn't been an easy road. He struggles with sensory overload in the classroom, with lessons, homework and with social interactions, but he's getting there. And this was only possible with a good partnership between us parents and the school. I meet with the teacher every few months for is Individual Education Plan, she sets goals and review his achievements. We also have a home-school diary to communicate on a daily basis.

We don't know what the future holds. Next year is his last year in that school, and then he will transitioned to the other school across the road for the second part of primary school (from 3rd class). As it stands, he has a lot of difficulties in a mainstream classroom, but he's not "disabled" enough (horrible to say that, I know) to be in an autistic unit within the school. The school psychologist will review his needs next year and we'll have to see how it goes.

I just hope the other school will be as helpful and understanding as this one, because when I read other people's stories in this country or in France, I think we're just very lucky.