My Journey to France Part 2

Molli Sébrier
The American In Paris
6 min readFeb 25, 2024

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In case you missed Part 1, I’m sharing my unique journey from I’ll-never-live-abroad to nearly-10-years-in-France-and-counting.

I’m often asked how I did it — and while several of my articles on TAIP touch on how I’ve been able to stay, I wanted to write it all out in a way that could be copied by anyone reading. Okay, maybe not anyone. It took a lot of hard work to build my life here in France, and it isn’t over yet. I’ll be starting my journey to citizenship next, which promises to be full of paperwork and even more determination.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Below I’m picking up where I left off on Part 2: I was an au pair, didn’t want to continue on as an au pair, but didn’t want to go back to the US just yet. Here’s how I figured out a way to stay.

Back to School, It Is

I was always one of those people who said, “Never again!” after finishing my undergrad. It wasn’t that I didn’t like school — on the contrary, I’ve always enjoyed learning — but I was sick of papers and tests and all of the other coursework that went along with it.

Famous last words. As I finished up my second year as an au pair, I didn’t have many options other than the easy-to-obtain student visa. I decided I wanted to get my master’s degree. Public education is cheap here and I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. This time, however, I was going to study something I was actually interested in, not something that would lead to a job one day.

I settled on French Literature. I’ve always loved reading and writing and I figured I might as well study the greats while I was in the city where many of them worked and lived. The only wrench in my plan? I still, after 2.5 years, could not speak or read French. In my defense, I came over here only knowing the basics, and as an American au pair, I was required to speak English with the children I took care of. At this point, I knew could understand about 75% of what was said to me, but I couldn’t speak back. It was a combination of a lack of vocabulary and confidence.

What’s more, I knew I wanted to go to a public school (again, cheap), and to do so as a foreigner I had to have a certain level of French, with a certificate to prove it. So, I looked around for some programs that would meet the student visa requirement of 20 hours per week. I found two: one at the famous La Sorbonne and one at the also famous Université Nanterre. I missed the deadline for La Sorbonne so that left me with Nanterre.

I applied, got in, looked for housing (and found the deal of a lifetime: I traded 10 hours of English lessons per week for a 9m2 sardine box in the sky), went back to America for a few weeks, got my student visa, and returned to home to Paris. Back to school, I went.

(Finally) Learning the Language

And so began my year-long journey to learning French. I loved my program — and recommend it to anyone who wants to live here long-term — I was the only Anglophone and so the only common language my classmates and I had was (broken) French. Our teachers also insisted that we speak in French instead of our native language. It was difficult, but it also felt like the best place to do it. Everyone had an accent, and everyone was trying to learn.

I met some very kind people, finally learned French, and also discovered more about French culture. We went on field trips in Paris and the Île-de-France region and ultimately all became quite close. Spending 20+ hours per week together will do that.

With my B2 certificate in hand, I was finally ready to apply for my master’s. I still wanted to study French Literature, and so started to look at those kinds of programs. I had a couple of informational interviews at various universities in town, before sitting down with one guidance counselor in particular.

She looked over my resume and experiences and asked why I didn’t want to study English Literature instead of French. At this point, I had started dabbling in freelance writing and had indicated that on my CV, and well…the whole “native English speaker” thing. I told her it felt silly to come all the way to France only to study English. Mais non! she assured me, and encouraged me to look into English Literature programs instead.

The meeting piqued my interest, and soon the curse of the missed deadline struck again — but it was for the best. Nanterre University, where I completed my French course, had a bilingual English Literature master’s program. Because I was already in their system, it was very easy to apply. I was accepted almost immediately (again, native English speaker), paid my tuition (400 € for the year), and began.

I loved my teachers, loved my program, and bonded with my peers. No, I never wanted to go back to school, but completing my master’s at a French public university was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I’ll never regret it.

But Wait, I Don’t Want to Leave

After my two-year program, spoiler alert, I still wasn’t ready to go home. I met my now-husband about halfway through year one and things had gotten very serious very quickly, in true French dating fashion. We were making serious plans for the future. But…what about my visa?

I obtained the APS visa, which gives you a year to look for work after you graduate from a French institution. I did look for a job but I knew I wanted to work in English (even to this day I can’t write in French beyond simply texting), and finding a job that aligned with that was difficult. I had no issue finding Anglophone clients, but there wasn’t a need for full-time English writers in Paris — or at least, the jobs that I found didn’t pay very well.

The APS visa was quickly running out, so what’s a girl in a relationship with a French person to do? The marriage conversation happens. I’m lucky that I was with someone who I knew I wanted to spend my life with, visa issue or not. So, we made plans to quickly marry at the town hall so that I could obtain the vie privée et familiale visa.

Long story short, I did get that visa and so my future in France was secured for life. I’m not saying that everyone needs to meet a French person and marry them in order to stay here (indeed, there’s an entire shady trade in this which we may write about in the future) — there are a lot of other options out there including the profession libérale visa, or even a long-stay visitor visa if citizenship isn’t important — but in my unique situation, my husband is the reason I was allowed to stay.

That’s the gist of it — a couple thousand words on my journey to France. I hope it will serve as inspiration for anyone else who may find themselves thinking, but wait, I don’t want to leave too.

Photo by Salomé Watel on Unsplash

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Originally published at https://theamericaninparis.com on February 25, 2024.

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