On Becoming an Expat

La Vire in Autumn

Welcome to your beautiful new home! You know no one. Enjoy.

A new girl started at my office last week. She’s from Germany, and she’s wonderfully enthusiastic about everything. However, she just told me a story of how after going on a $300 Trader Joe’s shopping spree, she got to the register and her bank card wouldn’t work. She had no food, no phone, and now no money, and she just broke down at the register and started crying.

She’s fine now, of course. Her story got me thinking about my own first few weeks as an expat, and how incredibly difficult they were. So if you’re thinking of moving to a new country (especially if you’re doing it alone, as I did) here are some tips I hope will help.

Before you go:

1. Get your shit together This part is boring and annoying but so necessary. Save your money. Learn about the place you’re going. Pack what you need. Get all your paperwork in order. Ensure you have the necessary documents to get the things you need in your new country. (Moving to France? They need every document ever created about you since birth just to rent you an apartment. Have fun with that.) But be thorough, and get it done. Your future self will thank you when you’re not wandering the streets with your giant suitcases with nowhere to stay because you didn’t know you needed your birth certificate.

2. Research Ask people you know if they know anyone in the area, or at least within visiting distance to the area. Moving to the middle of nowhere, Normandy? Maybe someone knows someone in Paris. No one knows anyone? Look up organizations that are relevant to you–book clubs, running clubs, expat-in-France get-togethers. Correspond with people before you leave via social media. It’s scary to be alone in a country where you don’t know a soul. Acquaintances are better than no one–and the thing about these acquaintances, they can turn into friends.

3. Bring books Or something you can escape into during your stressful move, and upon arrival when life in your new country is inevitably lonely and overwhelming and scary.

When you arrive:

4. Find the grocery store (and wine store) Nothing is worse than being lost, exhausted, and also hungry. Buy food before you unpack. There was a point when I first arrived in Saint-Lô that I would have sworn a Nutella crepe and glass of kir literally saved my life, or at least my resolve not to run straight back to America. Food to fill you, wine to help you calm down.


My first friends in France.

5. Walk Just walk around. Look at things, and not just the museums or landmarks that make wherever it is you moved to special. Wander into coffee shops, bars, down a country lane. I know all you want to do at this point is sit in your new apartment alone, emailing everyone you’ve left behind, but this doesn’t help. Trust me.

Les Vaches

My second friends in France. Par for the course in Normandy.

6. Talk to strangers So hard for introverts like me, but so necessary. Talk to your waitress. Your bartender. The person behind you at the grocery store. The overall friendliness of people depends on the location, but you will often find that there are at least a few people who won’t look at you like you’re insane (even in NYC!) If you’ve made contact with people before leaving, make plans to get together with them ASAP. Other people help immensely.

And the most important thing of all:

7. Don’t Leave You’ll want to so badly at the beginning. You’ll miss your old life. But like everything in life, acclimating oneself to a new environment takes time. Moving to a new country alone, leaving behind every single person and place and thing I’ve ever loved, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But also one of the most rewarding.


I miss these guys.

On Themes


I’m nearly done with The Secret Place. It’s one of those books that you want to rush through and savor at the same time. Rush through, because you just want to know what happens, savor because Tana French is just such a beautiful writer and her book worlds are so well-drawn and heartbreaking you don’t want to leave them. And I know it will probably be at least a few more years before I have the pleasure of delving into one of her stories again. Genius takes time!

Without spoiling anything, I just wanted to record my musings on a recurrent theme in Tana French books: friendship, the real kind, and how incredibly powerful it is. I’ve written about this before, but the best part of Tana French books are the relationships between the characters. And the most powerful relationships in these books, in my opinion, aren’t romantic or familial; they’re the relationships between friends. I think it’s a kind of love which is underrepresented in storytelling–I mean, just think about the amount of romances or family dramas out there.

Friendship love is powerful and precious, especially for the young. And it’s true that something so powerful can also be dangerous, how the threat of losing it drives people to do horrific things.

I can’t wait to finish this book. And I don’t want it to end.

Zen Pencils


The other night I was talking to a friend of mine about wanting to quit my corporate job and write full time. It’s a wish I’ve had for years, that always ends with me talking myself out of it, because of money, stability, grass-is-greener syndrome, etc. So he sent me this.

It really struck home.

I am now a huge fan of this guy. Do yourself a favor and check out his stuff, if you haven’t already.

Wanderlusty Wednesday: Berlin

Die Reichstag III

Berlin is one of my favorite cities in the world. Why haven’t I written about it until now? Mainly because I don’t have many great photos from my time there.

Berlin is not the most beautiful city in the world. However, it’s definitely in the running for the most interesting.

Reasons to go to Berlin?

1. The people are incredibly friendly. On our way into the town center from the airport, we struck up a conversation with a couple on the train. They invited us to a house party that very night. In the  spirit of carpe diem, we went. I honestly believe there’s nothing like seeing a new place from the eyes of a local. And that night, we boozed it up with several.

2. It’s incredibly safe. We were warned before we left not to jaywalk in Berlin. Why? Because since there’s virtually no crime, the police have nothing better to do than ticket jaywalking tourists. Seriously. There are no homeless people (because there is an abundance of abandoned buildings for squatters) and prostitution is legal. Don’t jaywalk! You’ve been warned.

3. The beer. Self-explanatory.

4. It’s mind-blowingly fascinating. If you go, do yourself a favor and go on this tour. You know how city tours can be such overpriced tourist traps? This is the exact opposite. 

It started at our hostel (which I will not recommend for a variety of reasons, although they do give you free beer upon check-in). This twenty-something British guy named Barnaby was offering eight-hour walking tours for a pittance. I’m not sure what possessed us to sign up–it was February, cold and snowing–but we did. We spent eight hours stomping around in the cold listening to this man who taught me more in one day than I learned in a year of history class. He took us to the Berliner Dom, which predates 20th century history. He spent a while educating us on the early life of Hitler. He took us to Checkpoint Charlie and explained everything about it that was fake. We saw the remains of the Berlin Wall, the Jewish Memorial, the memorial to the Nazi book burnings. We walked from East Berlin to West Berlin, and everywhere in between.

The tour ended in a parking lot. “Why are we here?” we asked. There was no monument nearby, no memorial, no markings in any guidebooks we’d seen that would have brought us here. Nothing but an inconspicuous plaque on the edge of the lot–informing us that we were standing over Hitler’s bunker.

“You’re standing over the spot where Hitler lived with his family throughout the duration of World War II,” Barnaby said. “And over there”–he pointed–“is where they started building the Berlin Wall.”

We were standing on what is arguably the most historically important patch of land in terms of twentieth century history. And we never would have found it on our own.

On Priorities

"Priorities" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

I’ve been feeling incredibly overwhelmed lately. I think it’s something any writer-with-a-day-job can relate to. Or really anyone with a side passion. Anyone raising a child. Anyone who’s working towards something that they don’t currently have. So basically, everyone.

You know how it is: we have a certain amount of things we need to accomplish each day to maintain the life we have. Things like showering and commuting to work and performing work at said day job and cooking dinner.

But then there are also a certain amount of things we need to accomplish to move ourselves towards the life we want. If we want to buy a house outside of the city, we have to save up some money. If we want to be healthier, we have to exercise. If we want to be a writer, we have to write a certain number of words each day (as well as query, blog, tweet…) 

When I get overwhelmed, I tend to make lists. I think I got it from my dad. So I made myself an excel sheet with all the little things I needed to get accomplished each day in order to move towards my goals.

And it was long.

Like, 30 items long. The only person who’d have time to get through my daily list would be someone who doesn’t sleep. Like a vampire. And sleep is kind of important for us mere mortals.

It was time to prioritize.

I remember reading somewhere that you should write down the three things you want most in life. And if any of those things conflict with each other, you are destined to be unhappy. (If anyone knows where I found this, please let me know, I can’t remember.)

So that’s what I did. Here’s my list:

1. Maintain strong relationships (People are important. More so than anything else.)

2. Be a writer (Yes, ideally, eventually, a published one who makes money off her writing. But that takes time. For now, just hone your craft. Being a writer is enough.)

3. Be healthy (Because if we don’t have our health, what do we have?)

So those things don’t necessarily conflict with each other. That’s good! They do require a certain amount of balance, though.

So that is my new goal in life. Balancing myself between these three things that I want. And also, being more forgiving of myself for not cooking elaborate dinners every night of the week or having the cleanest apartment or tweeting  five times per day.

I am a mere mortal. And that’s okay.

Feeling Nostalgic

La Vire in Autumn III

Today I’m missing Saint-Lô. Most of all, I miss those autumn afternoons where I had nothing to do but take long walks out into the countryside on the Route Du Candol, with no one but the cows for company. I thought I was doing nothing but wandering, but really I was percolating; these long walks inspired the seeds of what would later become my first novel. Never stop wandering.

Book Review: The Interestings


(Image found here)

They all seduced one another with greatness, or with the assumption of eventual greatness. Greatness-in-waiting.

It’s going to be hard to put my love for this novel into words (and putting things into words is something I supposedly do well…)
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