My Move to Paris – 11 Years On

Moving to Paris! Many have done it and many more have dreamed about doing it. It can be the stuff of fantasy or just the unexpected. Knowing that many of you have shared this dream, we’ve asked our staff and contributors to tell us their stories of how and why they got to France. Emily Dillling, theย Parisย Paysanne,ย kicks off the Paris crew with her 11-year love affair with France.

I would never recommend that someone move to Paris the way I did, but looking back I know I wouldn’t have done it any other way. I moved to Paris when I was 23 years old, fresh out of college and with a bank account only slightly padded with savings from a summer’s work. For months before boarding my Paris bound plane I pulled together income from office work and teaching adult education French classes at night in my hometown of San Jose, California, at the same time making the 40 minute commute to San Francisco State College to take a Teaching English as a Foreign Language class on the weekends. Equipped with a certification from the TEFL courses, enough money to live off of for three months, and a backpack filled with clothes and notebooks, I set off for Paris.

I didn’t know anyone in the city and my French skills were shaky at best. I had no job perspectives and no idea how I would manage to stay in Paris legally after my three month tourist visa expired. All I had was myself and the address for a sublet apartment in the 11th arrondissement, which I had found thanks to a posting on a few months earlier.

Early trip to the Eiffel Tower


Moving to a new country without a real plan or onsite support group seems reckless now- it’s something I certainly wouldn’t do again- but I’m grateful that I arrived this way. As a result of my spontaneity and solitude, Paris became more than a city to me- it was my companion, my confidante, it understood why I had come here, unlike most of my friends and family back home.

23 years old is a confusing time for everyone- modern media has this subject pretty covered these days, with shows like Girls and films like Frances Ha addressing the struggles of millennials in their post-college years. The term millennial didn’t exist back then , but I was still borderline clichรฉ- having just graduated from a liberal arts college with a Bachelor’s degree for The Evergreen State College in, what I call affectionately โ€œStuff and Thingsโ€. There was a lot of pressure to decide what you were going to do with your life at that moment. I remember my peer groups response being an overwhelming shoulder shrug and exchange of bewildered glances. One night my best friend, after a drunken karaoke session and a heart-to-heart, came up with the solution. She could see that I missed France after traveling there with my French class the last trimester of college. โ€œMove to Paris,โ€ she said. And I bought a ticket. Paris would be what I did with my life.

Fondue restaurant with bestie


The first three months flew by, and getting a visa to stay became an obsession, a challenge that would remain central to my life up until just a couple of years ago. While trying to figure out how to be legal in France I strung together a myriad of odd jobs, often paid under the table. I was bitten by the bratty three year old that I babysat in the 15th arrondissement and berated by drunken tourists in a dodgy Irish pub. I gave English lessons to four year olds with limited attention spans and I dubbed into English low-budget documentaries on the Eurasian Steppes and Vietnamese communities destroyed by the war. If it paid cash, I did it.

The bite marks, the drunkards, the struggling with young students and the underpaid work- it was all worth it. The kind of job I did didn’t matter- my goal wasn’t to come to Paris to start a career or to have enough money to buy things, money wasn’t very important to me and I quickly learned a variety of survival skills, like trading old books for new books at Shakespeare & Co. (or selling books if I was short on rent), taking up friendly people I met along the way on their offers to have me over for dinner, and walking the streets of Paris- the best way to discover the city- as my primary means of entertainment. My only goal, the real job I had given myself, was to stay in Paris. As long as possible.

Picnic in Luxembourg Gardens 2005


It’s been eleven years now, and I have no plans on leaving. It hasn’t always been easy- in addition to the bad jobs there were bad boyfriends, a horrible husband, awful apartments and innumerable moments of financial insecurity- but throughout them all I knew I was doing my job, and that Paris would back me up.

Last year, I left my precious Paris for a new, calmer adventure in the French countryside. It’s not the same, but I don’t think anything will ever be the same as being a 23 year old with a one way ticket to Paris in your hand. I’m grateful every day to that young lady who ended up being me. Over a decade later we still have a lot in common and are equally excited over the chance to spend a day roaming the streets and trying to get lost in the city that still feels like home.

Interested in French cooking classes in Paris? Book a class with Cook’n With Class Paris – small group sizes, classes all in English.

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