My Journey to France, Part 1

Molli Sébrier
The American In Paris
5 min readFeb 18, 2024

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I’ve lived in France on and off since 2014. I’m often asked, “How did you do it?” The short answer is a lot of determination and a refusal to take non as an answer. But, I know a lot of our TAIP readers hope to live in France permanently one day (or are already here and want to know how to stay), so I want to share, step-by-step, my own journey to France and how I made it all work.

Let’s get right into it.

How it Started

I never imagined I’d ever study abroad, never mind live abroad. One day, when I was still in Rhode Island completing my undergrad, a friend of mine had to pick up some paperwork from the study abroad office. We had plans after so I decided to tag along. While I waited for her, an advisor approached me and asked if I was interested in learning more about my options. I shrugged and said, “Why not?” (if you’ve been in France a while, you’ll also find that this is a very frequently used idiom that indicates French willingness to try something new…another topic for another article) and joined him in his office.

I was studying fashion merchandising at the time, so after taking a look at my transcript he told me that my best options would be Milan or Paris. Was I interested in leaving for an entire semester? (no). Okay, how about the J-term in between the fall and spring semesters? (maybe…). He started pulling out pamphlets and I absentmindedly leafed through them.

At the time, I had a steady job at a local boutique and a long-term boyfriend. I thought all of that was way too important to leave, even for just a few months. But, as the advisor continued to sell me on my options (do these people get a commission on sign-ups or something?) I slowly started to warm up to the idea. He asked me again, “Milan or Paris?” Without really thinking about it I said Paris — I’d seen movies, read books, heard about the French capital. I knew what it looked like at least, as compared to knowing nothing about Milan — a few taps on his keyboard as he took a closer look at my transcript and he told me that if I wanted to graduate on time, a full semester was my best bet. “What do you think?”

Again, without really thinking about it I said, “Okay. How do I sign up?”

I didn’t even have a passport at the time and thoughts of my job and boyfriend fluttered through my mind; to be honest, even to this day I don’t know what made me say yes. Unlike some expats, I never had a lifelong dream of living in Paris, and yet, something urged me to do that semester abroad back in 2012.

I ended up having the best six months of my life, completely fell in love with the city, French culture, the food… I’m sure half of my readership knows exactly what I mean. A group of four of us even ended up staying for an extra month down in Cannes because none of us were ready to leave. Alas, I did have to go back to the US to finish my undergrad, and that I did. Dreams of living in France full-time slowly but surely disappeared as I slipped right back into my former life. I graduated, got promoted at the boutique, and moved into a new apartment with my best friend. Life was “good,” though I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right.

A Rare Opportunity

In the winter of 2013 I was still working at the boutique and was, to be frank, miserable. So what do miserable people do when they’re bored at work? They scroll through Facebook, naturally. A message popped up — it was from a girl whom I studied abroad with who had never left after our semester. She decided to stay to be an au pair with a Franco-American family because she wasn’t ready to go back to the US.

We were just chatting, catching up, when my curiosity got the best of me. “How were you able to stay?” I asked. Was it difficult? I can’t stop thinking about Paris myself…

She filled me a bit and then told me that in fact, she planned on leaving her au pair position in May of next year. She loved the family (and had been with them since June 2012. It was November 2013 at this point) and was helping them find her replacement. She ultimately wanted it to go to someone she knew — she really cared about the kids — was I interested? I hesitated. Maybe. I told her I’d think about it.

Life got busy with the upcoming holiday season and I soon forgot about the conversation. Fast-forward to March 2014 and my friend messaged me again. Did I have time to think about coming back to France as an au pair? The family still hadn’t found a replacement. Like most young women my age, I had plenty of babysitting experience and I even nannied for a few summers when I was a student.

Just like that fateful moment in the study abroad office a year and a half earlier, without really thinking about it, I said, “Okay. What’s next?”

A New Experience

While I’m the first to admit that I stayed in my English-speaking-au-pair bubble for longer than I maybe should have, living and working in France was much different than studying abroad. I had to navigate French culture much more often (I was living with a French person and French children, after all), and learning how to adapt was difficult at times.

I was often homesick after the first six months and the initial excitement wore off — I also struggled to find a core group of friends. But, I did adapt, grow, learn, and eventually, thrive. My years as an au pair were some of my favorite that I spent in Paris and when I did find my people I felt like I truly belonged.

The caveat(s)? I still couldn’t speak French, my au pair contract was running out, I knew I didn’t want to work in fashion anymore, and I also knew I wasn’t ready to go back to my life in Rhode Island.

I had to figure out a way to stay.

Well, I did figure it out, but that story will have to wait until Part 2.

Photo by Clément Dellandrea on Unsplash

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Originally published at https://theamericaninparis.com on February 18, 2024.

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