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From Chicago to Clermont-Ferrand: Femme au Foyer

01 March, 2012 11:57  Erin Erin

FemmeauFoyer portrait I’m Liene. Originally from Chicago, in November of 2010 my husband, 6 month old son and I moved from South Carolina to Clermont-Ferrand in central France. Femme au Foyer is my blog about adventures in France and Europe, as well as about motherhood, pregnancy abroad (due in early 2012) and our Latvian heritage.

1. Why did you move abroad?
My husband and I had long discussed an expatriation assignment and move overseas as a way to advance his career, spend a few years enjoying our family, learn a new language and broaden our horizon of experiences. When the offer materialized at about the time Lauris was born, we jumped (And we’re still jumping!).

2. How do you make a living?
With a BS in Forestry I spent five years with the US Forest Service and US Fish & Wildlife Service as a forestry technician and wildland firefighter. With the birth of our son I put my career on hold, and it has stayed on hold since our move to France due to language and certification limitations, as well as to my second pregnancy. We are very fortunate in that I am able to stay at home with our son and be a full-time mom, and although it is an enormous change from my previous job, it is a blessing that I am thankful for (most) every day.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
My number one method of relating our adventures abroad to all of our relatives in the US, Canada and Latvija is via my blog, Femme au Foyer. Then, the usual - email, skype, phone, letters; I know how excited I am to get a letter in the post, and I try to reciprocate with interesting postcards and photographs.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in France?
An elderly lady in the supermarket took a hold of my arm and launched into the most passionate series of elegant phrases. My French comprehension is low – but the story was amazing. It turned out that my son had dropped a shoe. The stimulating challenge of daily life with minimal comprehension in normal-life situations is the best – and it sounds beautiful.

Other than that, the experience is making me a better, stronger person. Despite the occasional difficulty, we have unlimited opportunities of travel, education and new experiences at our fingertips. The time abroad has strengthened the relationship with my husband and is teaching me more than I thought possible about the world and myself as a wife and mother.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in France?
A year in, a high language competency remains just a goal – I am not even close to being fluent and this is very frustrating.  And the distance from my son’s grandparents and his cousins is tough; the lost bonding and the lost Impromptu daycare.   

6. What do you miss most?
Family would top the list, but a close second is the familiar. Small things like knowing where to shop for a pair of jeans, or what to do when your refrigerator starts deep-freezing all of the vegetables, all seem to become obstacles and require large amounts of time to deal with. However when back in the US for a visit I found myself missing “home,” and the familiar here, so I assume this is more a factor of time and of course the longer we live here the easier things become.

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I was very lucky to have a 6 month old; Lauris opened doors to mom & baby playgroups and child-oriented activities where I was able to meet other mothers with whom I have much in common. I also joined the International Women’s Club, which was instrumental in introducing me to English-speaking women from all over the world. And finally, I took language lessons.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
The stereotypes Americans have about the French in terms of dog poop have so far turned out to be true in my experience; I do not understand how little regard dog owners have for public space, and how this is tolerated by the public. From the most well-dressed woman taking her dog a whole 5 feet from her front door to the businessmen for a walk in the park that allow their dog to defecate in the grass that my son runs through, I will never understand that people knowingly, repeatedly leave their pet’s waste for others to step in and clean up, especially when there are trash canisters practically every 50 feet and bag dispensers in almost every park.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
Another stereotype I have often heard from Americans about the French is that they are rude, snobbish and unhelpful. In my experience there are just as many kind, helpful people as in any other country and how you are treated is mostly based on your behavior and attitude.

10. What advice would you give other expats?

Be flexible, learn the language, and make friends outside of your comfort zone; cooking, markets and playgroups/classes are great for making contacts.

11. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog shortly after arriving in France to keep family and friends updated, without having to write multiple recaps and running up stratospheric phone bills. It was my first try at blogging, and I quickly discovered that in addition to being an excellent method of communication, blogging also serves as a support network, a creative release and a wonderful way to document our adventures for Lauris, and ourselves, during this portion of our lives.

12.  How has the blog been beneficial?FemmeauFoyer city
My blog is Femme au Foyer, in English “housewife,” because in addition to the many challenges that accompanied moving to a foreign country I was also learning to deal with the changes of becoming a mother and staying at home. What started as a simple journal of our travels and experiences became much more. At the end of those days when nothing seems to go right, when the laundry, dirty dishes and mess associated with children accumulates faster than I can manage, I can still feel a sense of accomplishment and control after sitting down and documenting it all!

Blog LinkLiene's blog, Femme au Foyer

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