Here I am, standing underneath the Eiffel Tower — in my favorite city in the world — in November.
When cleaning out a dresser drawer this week, I ran across my permesso di soggiorno per stranieri, or the Italian “Foreigners’ Permit of Stay” that became a prized possession during my time in Florence nearly 10 years ago. It allowed me to legally live in Italy and to work as a libero professionista, a freelance professional. Just seeing this folded piece of blue-tinted paper—to which a passport-sized photo of me is loosely stapled—took me back to those days in 2004 and 2005 when I temporarily called Firenze home. Looking at my smiling, youthful face, surrounded by freshly done two-strand twists, I remember how idealistic and fearless I was when launching my first living-abroad adventure as a freelance writer.
In many ways, I felt the same way when leaving Chicago last January for my year-long stay in the charming French village of Samois-sur-Seine. It wasn’t a well-known Renaissance city like Florence, but it has its own renown and as a welcoming place for artists and writers over the centuries. When I left for Samois with a French visa glued into my nearly full American passport, I also was excited, hopeful—and dare I say, wonderfully optimistic about this new chapter overseas.
With a scenic village as a backdrop—and a central location in the middle of Europe—I planned to write freelance Travel and Food articles for a wide range of publications. I wanted to travel to nearby European countries and to explore France. Since Samois was about an hour south of Paris, I vowed to take the 40-minute SNCF commuter train into the City of Light at least once a week. I hoped to finally become a fluent speaker of French. And I wanted to start writing a book on African-American women and our love affair with France. Nothing like having a list of goals as long as your arm, right?
But alas … I decided it was time to close this year-long chapter of “cultural immersion,” or what I came to think of as my “mid-life sabbatical” in France. Some weeks ago, I moved back to Chicago, realizing it made more financial sense to return and resume my freelance writing and communications consulting career here. Since coming back, I’ve been working nonstop, settling back into my condo in downtown Chicago, and readjusting to an American life that after a year away sometimes feels a bit foreign. Although there are many things I miss about France—crusty baguettes, safe streets and charming accents are near the top of the list—I’m surprisingly happy to be home.
Still, I managed to do much of what I hoped during my year in France. I got lots of great writing assignments, expanding into publications like CNN.com, About.com Luxury Travel, and Ebony. I traveled some, mostly to the south of France and across the border to Italy for media trips. I got myself to Paris as often as I could, as it’s still my absolute favorite place in the world. Every time I’d get off the train at Gare de Lyon and stroll out into those city streets, I instantly felt lighter and more at home than I often feel in my native Chicago.
Sadly, I’m nowhere near fluent in French. I’d hoped that living in an authentic village would have me conjugating verbs in the subjunctive in no time, but when you report and write in English all day, it’s hard to develop the fluency that comes from truly LIVING a foreign language day in and out. But I haven’t given up. I’m going to enroll in classes here in Chicago to keep myself engaged with le français. And I definitely plan to still write that book about black women and France. I got a start on the project while I was overseas, but there’s much more to be researched and great stories to be told. I’ll need to do it during occasional trips abroad, but I’m determined to get it done.
What I DO know is that my year in France will continue to shape my perspective—and my outlook on life—in ways I can’t yet imagine. I’ll write about some of my initial impressions in my next post, and about others as they hit me later on.
Charming restaurants, like the La Patte d’Oie gem in the small town of Mennecy, are among things I miss about France. But fortunately, the country — and the wonderful folks I met over the past year — are just an airplane flight away.
One thing I’ve realized is that my adventure wasn’t mine alone—or really even about me. I’ve been touched and amazed to find that family, friends and my UrbanTravelGirl readers felt as invested in my time abroad as I was. I’m psyched that I inspired many of you to pack your bags, grab your passports, and head out on those first overseas trips. Others have told me that like me, you long to live abroad and are preparing for the day that you make that move. I can’t wait until I can return the favor and become your cheerleader, encouraging you to do it and to just go. We only live once—and we owe it to ourselves to experience as much of this incredible world as we can.
But this is hardly the end of my traveling and wanderlust. Even though I’m back in Chicago, being a traveler is who I am, an intrinsic part of my being. I’m making a trip back to France with my pianist dad Farnell Jenkins this summer as he pursues his own overseas adventure—and I’m thrilled beyond words to know my time there helped inspire it.
And that’s the reality of life. Our international journeys are often circular; they don’t always lead us in a straight line. Some of us discover them early in life, others later. But the point is to get there and to take advantage of all the great stuff we find once it presents itself.
Personally, I can’t wait to see where my own journey leads from here. But you’d better know that wherever it goes, I’ll have my passport firmly in hand. As European travel legend Rick Steves always says at the end his public television shows, “Until next time … keep on traveling.”
Amen to that!
March 12, 2013
Bonjour et bonsoir, mes amis!! I know it’s been awhile since I’ve shared my French adventures, but all is well on this side of the Atlantic. I promise to update you shortly on my thoughts about spending my first full summer in France—and my ongoing adjustments to expat life.
But in the meantime, UrbanTravelGirl is sharing this space with author and playwright Melda Beaty, a super-talented, Chicago-based sister (AND one of my proud Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters!) whose debut novel, LIME, takes us on a trip around the world through the pages of a book (and an eBook for you Kindle carriers). My fellow word-lovers know what a delicious adventure that can be … so enjoy this guest post from Melda and check out LIME for yourself!
Melda Beaty, author of the newly released novel, LIME
For 40 years, my life revolved around a few states in the United States. My origins began in Mississippi but quickly transplanted me to Chicago, Illinois, when I was a few weeks old. Growing up, I went on family vacations in different U.S. states, but traveled more during my college and adult years. However, it wasn’t until my 40th birthday that I got to take a trip that most only dream about. Me, a little black girl from the West Side of Chicago, boarded a plane headed to London and while there boarded another plane to Amsterdam. Despite the cool and gray 60-degree temperatures in the month of August, I thanked God every morning for allowing me to experience life 3,900 miles away from my comfort zone.
I’m not sure what gave birth to my fascination with other cultures. I’ve been a Travel Channel junkie for as long as I can remember. While others watch “Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern” and Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” for the food, I fixate on the culture that produces the food. I am drawn to the language, customs, beliefs … the overall way of life of people living happily overseas.
LIME takes readers on an often-glamorous tour around the world.
This “draw” found its way into my brand-new novel, LIME (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, $14.95). The heroine, Lime Prince, is the best mixture of different cultures and places that my imagination could conceive. Her Ethiopian/Jamaican genes accented with lime-green eyes afford her a life as an international supermodel. Like mine, Lime’s beginnings were in Chicago, Illinois. When her Ethiopian mother takes her back to Brixton—the wonderfully vibrant and heavily African-Caribbean neighborhood in London—where the Amde family resides, Lime gets to experience this world-class city with its double-decker buses, Buckingham Palace, old CoolTan building, St. Matthew Westminster, and more. From there, she finds herself in Johannesburg, South Africa or E’goli (a “place of gold,” as the city is called by the locals) with its cornucopia of black faces, diverse languages, wildlife, and vitality.
With runway shows and fashion photo shoots in Paris, Milan, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, LIME takes you, the reader, along for these around-the-world adventures. However, in the midst of her fairy-tale life, she is forced to confront the realities of violence against women. This juxtaposition of beauty and violence, and glamour with pain eventually takes Lime to the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Like Lime, I’m not done seeing the world. If you follow her, I promise you will see it, too, if only in a novel … for now.
Melda Beaty is an author, playwright, English lecturer, and educational consultant. She currently teaches English at South University. You can read more about LIME at MeldaCreates.com, Amazon.com, and now on Kindle.
August 27, 2012
When you move abroad from the United States—and even when you move to a progressive, equally developed country—the adjustments you need to make in daily life are huge. That’s not to say that they’re BAD; they’re not. They’re just different. You might not find the same cough drop brands at the local pharmacist; out in the villages, you’re not likely to find a walk-ins-are-welcome manicurist seven days a week. But obviously, you’ve decided small changes like these are worth making in order to live the life you have now.
As I go about my daily routine, I’m finding that many of the experiences I have here in the lovely village of Samois-sur-Seine, in the surrounding towns, and 40 minutes away in Paris are nearly identical to ones I faced in Florence, Italy, when I lived there back in 2004 and 2005. Thank goodness this time around, I feel much more prepared to tackle the inevitable challenges that crop up on a daily basis. As anyone living abroad can attest, it’s during your first experience that you learn to juggle the truly unfamiliar until it becomes comfortable ….
Continue February 29, 2012
After spending almost NO time at the cinema this summer, I’m on another film kick. Forget “Eat Pray Love” as the so-called thoughtful “chick flick” of the season. For me, the UrbanTravelGirl must-see movie is “Cairo Time,” an absolutely breathtaking film that places the ancient-yet-modern and chaotic Egyptian city of Cairo in a starring role.
I recently raved about “Cairo Time” in “TCW Travel Connection,” the blog I write for the monthly Today’s Chicago Woman magazine. (I hope you’ll check it out!) But beyond making me think long and hard about the movie’s central premise—that “sometimes you need to forget the rules and follow your heart”—and inspiring me to see it twice, this travelogue of a film has me SERIOUSLY thinking about booking a trip to Cairo….
Continue September 8, 2010
UrbanTravelGirl readers will remember my recent shout-out (http://bit.ly/bCc9kq) to fellow Chicagoan and new author Kiratiana Freelon, whose FAB Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris: Get Lost and Get Found (http://amzn.to/dqsEpY) recently made its debut.
Those of you in Chicago who like me love all things French should be SURE to check out Kiratiana’s “Passport to Black Paris: A Bastille Day Celebration” and “Travel Guide to Black Paris” launch event (http://kiratianatravels.com/). Not only can you pick up signed copies of her book (I DARE you not to plan a trip to the City of Light after checking out this take on Paris!), but the 6-8 p.m. July 14th event will feature Afro-French cuisine, adult libations, Afro-French literature and bien sûr, good sounds ….
Continue July 11, 2010
It’s been a tough weekend for those of us Chicagoans who dreamed of bringing the 2016 Olympic Games to our fair city. Friday, we found out that years of preparation came to naught when the International Olympic Committee ousted Chicago in the first round of voting, along with Tokyo. We longed to share our Midwestern American city—one filled with incredible architecture, home to people from dozens of nationalities and languages, not to mention innovative cuisine that rivals anything Los Angeles or New York City have to offer. But alas—the Olympic dream wasn’t to be, despite the passionate presentations of President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle in Copenhagen last week….
Continue October 5, 2009
Many of us living here in Chicago were thrilled to wake up this morning and learn that President Barack Obama confirmed that he will INDEED be making that Air Force One flight to Copenhagen, Denmark, later this week to help his adopted hometown of Chicago secure the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
UrbanTravelGirl readers know I have much love for our American commander-in-chief, as well as for First Lady Michelle and their two adorable daughters Malia and Sasha. I’m beyond proud to have this beautiful black family representing what’s RIGHT about America – its opportunity and its promise. So the fact that the Chicago 2016 Olympic team is counting on Brother Barack as the “closer,” to bring home the Olympic gold to Sweet Home Chicago, is almost too much for this South Side native….
Continue September 28, 2009
I don’t know about you, but I’m often more psyched about going to church on the road than hitting a bunch of must-see museums and boutiques. Although mornings and I have never been friends, when I’m overseas, I make a point of finding an English-speaking service, whether I need to hop on a subway or bus or use my own two feet to get there. I enjoy the religious aspect of worship but for me, it’s also about experiencing local culture in one of its most authentic and expressive ways….
Continue August 16, 2009
As has everyone I know, I’ve been obsessively tuning into print, TV and Internet coverage of the horribly tragic, sad and untimely death of pop icon Michael Jackson. Back in the day, I was a huge Michael fan (before he morphed into someone unrecognizable). I still love his songs, and have found myself mindlessly humming and singing along with “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “The Lady in My Life,” and the telling “Black or White.”
But being a journalist who’s always searching for the sociological meaning and truth behind current events—and goodness knows this is the biggest global one since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States—I see Michael far beyond the off-the-charts performances, fantastically creative music and videos, and even the eccentricities that defined his later years.
Over the past few days, I’ve heard it stated by everyone from the Rev. Al Sharpton to former “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather that Michael Jackson’s most lasting legacy to the world just might be the fact that he was the first African-American artist to achieve true global superstardom without constantly reminding folks he was black. These social critics—and I concur—changed the world by paving the way for global audiences to embrace and accept Chicago Bulls basketball phenom Michael Jordan, multimedia mogul Oprah Winfrey, golf genius Tiger Woods, and President Obama, who has ignited the world’s imagination in a way unlike any politician in my 40-year-old lifetime.
Now you say, what does this have to do with international travel? I say it has EVERYTHING to do with it ….
Continue June 28, 2009