Have you ever heard of Imposter Syndrome? You know, that feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt? Maybe you’ve even felt like a fraud because you can’t meet your own perfectionist standards. Despite having two Master’s degrees and a few years of teaching under my belt, I still sometimes feel like I’m not the best teacher I can be. I don’t know every single grammar rule or vocabulary word and I often worry about the effectiveness of the lessons I plan.
But today I’m not going to be talking about feeling like an imposter at work (even though this is a normal feeling for a lot of people). I want to talk about the feeling of not belonging in your host country as an expat – someone who chose to leave their home country for work, for love, or just to experience something new.
Expat Imposter Syndrome
Maybe you’ve been living in your host country for a few years now, maybe you speak the language fluently, and maybe you’ve even adopted some of the local customs! Yet, you still feel like you are not welcome and are isolated. Or maybe you’re completely new to the country and the thought of assimilating just feels impossible! No matter your circumstances, it’s normal to feel this way sometimes. I mean, you just left the culture and language you grew up with!
My Experience Feeling like an Expat Imposter
It’s been my dream to live in France and I feel so lucky to be able to live here. This summer however, I was starting to feel like an expat imposter. Since I wasn’t going home to visit family in the US this summer, I felt quite lonely at times. I’ve been living in a smaller city in the South of France for a year now and have felt very disconnected. When I was a student in Paris, there was an international community so I was able to make friends with other international students, Americans, as well as the local Parisians.
Living in a Small French City
Here in Perpignan, there isn’t as big as an international community and most of the other anglophone community are retired Brits. That’s not to say I don’t have friends here though! I’m very thankful for my boyfriend and friends I’ve met through work! However, I haven’t made friends with any of the locals and the only Americans I met were TAPIF assistants who were just here for a few months.
Because I teach English, I sometimes feel like I don’t get to practice my French enough. Though I do use French in everyday life (talking with administration and going grocery shopping), I’m not using the same high level of French as I did when I was studying. Now that I’m back at work I’m speaking to more people, but it can feel frustrating to be out of speaking practice and reach a language plateau.
This last feeling might seem a little superficial, but I do miss some “convenient” things about the American way of life. Although I’m used to the French lifestyle after living here for three years, there are some things I am still having trouble getting accustomed to. When I make a cultural faux-pas or if I accidentally make a mistake when I’m speaking I sometimes think “what am I doing here?! I’ll never fully fit in…”
I don’t have a car here in France because I am trying to save money and be more eco-friendly. However, I do sometimes miss having a car because of the freedom it allows. There are some places that are hard to get to by bicycle and it can be tricky to depend on public transportation, not to mention the fluctuating train ticket prices.
I’m seeing more and more vegan and vegetarian options in France the longer I live here, but they do not have quite as many options in the US. For example, if I want tofu, I have to go to the organic co-op because they don’t sell any in the regular grocery stores. I also really miss Mexican food (but doesn’t every American who moves to Europe? ).
Another cultural difference is when stores are open. In France most places are closed on Sunday. I think this has to do with protecting workers’ rights, but it probably also has something to do with France’s history with Catholicism. This can be a bit frustrating though if you want to get some shopping done over the weekend. Thankfully some stores like Monoprix are now open in the morning on Sundays.
How to Cope
When ever I feel like I don’t belong in France, I just reminded myself of why I wanted to live here. I also try to think about the parts of France I love. The reason I started this blog was to share my travels, adventures, and daily life in France! Going on a leisurely stroll and picking up a fresh baguette or pastry from the boulangerie is sure to make me feel better.
When I miss home, calling friends and family is also the second best thing to actually visiting them. I also follow a few other Americans in France on Instagram so I know I’m not alone in my struggles living abroad. When I miss American food, I head to the kitchen and make homemade Mac and Cheese or Veggie Tacos.
If you’ve ever felt like an expat imposter, or just like an imposter in general, let me know in the comments so I know I’m not the only one who has experienced this feeling!
À la prochaine,