American Girl Lost in Dijon
An interview with Lily Fang, a lost and confused 2018 American grad currently living in Dijon, France.
What was the reason you chose to move abroad?
I moved abroad because my college offered a one-year postgrad teaching fellowship at the University of Burgundy in Dijon. I’d studied abroad in France and England before, and wanted to live abroad again. There’s something special about being in a different country--it really motivates you to explore and take advantage of opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have.
What have you enjoyed the most in your new country?
The landscapes in France are beautiful--there are several places I’ve gone that I totally wouldn’t have expected to find in France. You feel like you’re in a totally different country even though you might only be an hour away from the nearest city. For instance, the tallest sand dune in Europe is in France (la dune du Pilat), and it looks like something straight out of the desert.
I also appreciate how life feels a little slower, and there’s less pressure to do prestigious things for the sake of looking impressive. I think people here take more time to enjoy things like a walk in nice weather, or catching up with friends in the newest cafe.
Were you easily able to find a running or athletic community?
I tend to train on my own, but I have enjoyed doing the occasional trail run with a running club that a friend introduced me to. There are quite a few running clubs in France, so finding a fitness community is generally no problem. Finding a well-equipped and affordable gym, however, can be a challenge. Gyms load on hidden enrollment fees and also are often pretty small and independently run, so they can have some shady business practices.
What has been the most difficult aspect of being an expat?
The French administration is notorious for being impossible and frustrating. I’ve been here for half a year now, and I still don’t have an official apartment contract because the agency took several months to respond, and then messed up and claimed that I didn’t submit a document that I did actually hand over. This makes me ineligible for any government housing subsidies, but navigating that is a whole other story and also a big headache, from what I’ve heard.
Customer service in France is also pretty poor. In the US, if you express discontentment or ask for a refund, you almost always get it. That’s definitely not the case in France, and company representatives can even be outright rude to their customers. I think part of this is exacerbated by the fact that I’m Asian--I experience many more micro-aggressions or blatant racism in France than the US.
I don’t mean to be a drag, but I want to be clear that life in France is far from the romantic preconceptions many people hold.
What ways have you been able to connect with the community?
I teach English at the university, and I see 200+ students in a week. I’d say that sharing American culture and the English language, while learning about the French way of life from my students, is the primary way I interact with the community in Dijon. The other English language instructors and I also host English-speaking events for our students, which is a great way to get them to practice English in a more relaxed setting.
When I studied abroad in France two years ago, I joined an orchestra, and made some good friends that I’m still in touch with! I honestly think that joining clubs related to your interests, or attending French-English language events, is the best way to connect with locals.
Do you think this is your final destination or where do you envision moving next?
My duties in Dijon end byJuly, and my visa expires in the beginning of September. For the summer, I’m planning to leave Dijon for another city in Europe. I’m a big fan of mountain sand am looking into well-connected cities that still have easy access to prime hiking/trail running locations. I’m planning to move back to the States after that--I left many loved ones back home this year, and I want to be with them for at least next year. But who knows, maybe I’ll end up abroad again after that.