Exactly 6 days after my graduation in 2003, I boarded a plane to Paris telling myself I could afford an adventure at the age of 22 and if things went wrong, I would always have time to get my career back on track.
My determination in living here came after having spent my entire junior year in Paris. I was intoxicated by the culture, the architecture, the people from all over I was constantly meeting, from the Russian violinist to the British Kite Surfer and the Serbian students with me in class, as well as, and I hate to admit it because it is so cliché, the cheese!
But my dream was not to move to Paris to eat croissants and cheese and have an easy-going expat life. I wanted to work here, live here and most of all excel and have a fantastic “international” career (whatever that means).
I didn’t have a job lined up, though, and I had only enough cash to last me roughly 3 months. Worst of all, I had no clue what I was going to do earn money, other than my deep conviction that English speakers were welcome in every profession here, especially the high paying ones.
It was daunting to move to a country where I had no family, no friends, and above all, the complete absence of the much valued “network”. This is probably why everyone I knew was trying to talk me out of moving here. My family thought I was nuts.
I myself realized just how hard it was going to be to have a decent and respectable job in this country after several interviews where it was clear that my lack of an education in France was going to be a huge hindrance to becoming employed. I realized that:
i) English is not an advantage in the job market in a big metropolis where everyone speaks English (or thinks they do);
ii) Each country has its own specific value system for education and in France, if you don’t fit into the specific peg hole designated by your education, you will not find a job. For instance, in France and many European countries, instead of offering a diverse education with a chosen major, you are enrolled in a section of the university (or "filière" in which all of your classes, starting from your first year of university, are geared towards your specialization, which usually leads to a series of professions. The human resources departments will hardly consider your résumé if you have not chosen the correct specialization. A perfect example is that the fact that I was an economics major did not enable me to be considered as being specialized enough in economics since I had received more of a liberal arts education;
To add to these complications, after an internship in a small law firm (which was a cultural experience in and of itself), I decided I wanted to study law and become a lawyer… a French attorney… which necessitated greatly improving my French.
It ended up not being the fact that I spoke English that landed me my dream job, but 4 years of really hard work in law school and becoming bilingual in French, as well as a ton of patience with myself and turning a deaf ear to those who told me I could never make it (another difference in France is that professors offer little support or guidance).
But I did. I did it. It took every ounce of courage and self-confidence I had, but I continued studying law in a foreign language and got through it day by day. It took courage to raise my hand in class and fumble over my words and make embarrassing mistakes. For a long time I was not taken seriously because of my accent; trying to demonstrate to people that I had a valid point with a funny accent can make you feel like an outcast.
But, when I started applying for jobs with my law degree, the results were well worth getting through all of these hurdles.
I entered the French “system”. I became the perfect Franco-American hybrid and they finally knew which peg hole to put me in. The job opportunities were immense and this only furthered my pride in having worked through sweat and tears to get there.
And after ten years of living here, I have no regrets about my choice to move to France right after graduation, or the fact that I had to probably work harder and longer than my peers who stayed in the US. I am living my dream and love my job, which is something you rarely hear from a lawyer. And I am so thankful that I am as stubborn as I am and did not listen to a single person who said I could not make it. Where would I be if I hadn’t listened to myself, but had listened to others claiming my goals and dreams were impossible?
Another rare thing you hear from an attorney is that they are able to work on interesting cross-border cases, while keeping a good work/private life balance. Being able to see friends on the weekends and put your children to bed every night, all while being paid to push yourself intellectually every day is an immense luxury, but one that I feel I have definitely earned.
I now see what a huge investment I made and that the time spent getting here was not wasted. It is so easy to become discouraged in goals and dreams, but because of my experience, I have become a huge believer in taking the necessary leaps to get there and of the old fashioned belief that hard work really does pay. Not only is it important to continue believing in yourself, but also to show others how invested you are and that you take yourself and your objectives seriously.
Frances completed her law degree at the University of Paris Dauphine, where she specialized in trusts and estates focusing on family owned companies. She was admitted to the Paris bar in 2011. She currently practices at the firm UGGC Avocats in Paris, where she has acquired an expertise in international family and estate law, helping spouses with their cross boarder divorces and custody battles, as well as advising on and litigating cross boarder inhertience issues.
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