Living in foreign lands [3/3]

Emilie, Khadija, Coline, Michaël and Johan bring this series, [Living in foreign lands], to a close… for now. What drove them to move abroad? Which cultural differences did they notice? How did this experience change who they are today? Did they miss France at all? First conclusion: cheese is what the French miss most when they live abroad, followed by family, friends and social security… Surprising? Despite their devotion to food, they are however willing to sacrifice it for an adventure! Deciphering the codes of an unknown culture, settling, working and in the end, transforming what was foreign into a second home. 

  • Emilie, Customer Angel
  • Lived in Berlin and Nürnberg
  • Spent 8 years abroad

I grew up in the Brittany countryside in a very small village with 10 times more cows than humans and where nearly half of the population is British ;)

I’ve always been attracted to foreign languages. (My parents used to send me to the English neighbours every time they needed a translator). German and Spanish came later.

I moved to Germany when I was 21. I decided to take a break from my studies and learn this complicated language. I wanted to move on my own and chose to do a European Voluntary Service. I moved to Nürnberg and worked in a Kindergarten for a year. I came back to France for my Masters degree but I already knew I would go back to Germany afterwards.

I fell in love with Berlin during a school exchange when I was 16. That’s when I told myself that I would live there when I was older. And I did. I did several internships there during my Masters and decided not to come back to France after the last one. 

I didn’t miss a lot about France… ok maybe just the cheese.

Berlin is full of surprises and I discovered the other face of Germany which is exactly the opposite of what you may have heard about it. Far from all the clichés that I hate about Germans, Berlin is for me the most open minded city of Europe. You can be who you want. Nobody judges you and that’s what I love the most about this city.

I would say that the biggest cultural difference is the attitude to ecology. Germans really feel concerned about the environment and pay attention to it in their daily life whereas it’s treated as a second-order issue in France. Even politicians don’t bother to discuss it during their campaigns.

By working abroad, I learnt how to adapt to another culture. I became more curious to understand how they work and why they sometimes do things differently. 

You need a lot of patience when you live abroad. Not only to learn the language but also to understand the dos and don’ts. That’s how I learnt to be over punctual and to shake hands and give hugs instead of doing “la bise” ;)

I came back because Berlin is a city of Peter Pans. People don’t want to grow up ! I enjoyed this spirit a lot for 7 years but I was looking for more stability so I thought that I should come back or I would spend the rest of my life stuck in that crazy life. 😜

  • Coline, User Performance Manager
  • Lived in Madrid
  • Spent 2 years abroad

Where do I come from? A trick question for me! I moved around quite a lot and don’t really fell like I come from anywhere in particular. I was born in Paris and spent my childhood near Montmartre in Paris. I also finished my studies and worked there, so I guess you’d say I’m Parisian! 

I went to live in Madrid in the context of my studies. I’d been dreaming of living in Spain for ages and as soon as I got the chance, off I went! I spent two years there and would have liked to have stayed longer, but I came back home to France for love ;-)

I felt completely at home in Madrid but I did miss the variety of French cheeses! On that front I feel extremely French…

I really liked the Spanish way of life. I felt like I could fit more into the day because everything happens later than in France… but no surprises, if the days are longer, the nights are shorter! 

Even if we’re neighbours, in my experience, there are many differences between the Spanish and the French. For example, I always found it amusing that the local baker called me “my angel”, “my love”  … Silence is more sacred in France than in Spain : I remember very noisy train and bus rides, with everyone speaking loudly on their phones or with their neighbour. In France, that would not go down well!

Another big difference that I found interesting was the fact that there are deep regional identities;  linguistically, culturally, socially and politically. I found Spanish people to be very proud of their roots. I feel French but not from any town in particular, so it was strange to hear them talk about their “pueblo“.

Thanks to these two years in Madrid, I now master the Spanish language. This was fundamental for what came next in my career because I became a Spanish teacher! In the professional sphere, I find the Spanish to be more direct than the French. This taught me to not take things personally.

Why did I come back to France? Same old story… for love of course! But I don’t regret it, it’s a very difficult period to be working in Spain.

  • Khadija, Talent Acquisition Manager
  • Lived in Dublin and New Hampshire
  • Spent 7 years abroad

I was born and raised in a town called Laval where most of the best employees at iAdvize come from, just joking ;-) I had a peaceful childhood but always knew that someday I would end up living abroad.

I left Laval to study LEA (Languages and Business) in Rennes when I turned 18, it was a great experience, the student life style and my teachers were amazing. 

I was lucky enough to spend the last year of my BA in the US in a state called New Hampshire where i experienced the American student lifestyle!! Thanks to this experience I became fluent in English as I was the only Frenchy there…no other choice but to learn and speak English.

When I graduated I moved to Dublin and ended up settling there for almost 6 years…I enjoyed the multicultural environment, Irish people are so welcoming too..

Being able to have friends from Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, China was just incredible…and I learnt a lot from them…

What did I miss in France? The food!! Also I have to be honest the weather was awful…no real seasons which was be very very depressing.

In the States I was surprised that people were very open minded and curious about Europe in a genuine way. In France, we have the image of Americans as being only interested in their own country…and it is not true!! I was asked so many questions about France, Europe etc… But it is true that most people are not able to locate Senegal or a South Africa on a Map which was a shock to me…Geography is not their best asset.

Irish people are the nicest and the most welcoming people I have ever met! They made us feel at home with their kindness and friendship. Also their “pub culture”, they all had locals and I find the idea great as they had a real community life :)

I have to be honest and mention the fact that abroad you are rewarded quickly when you work very hard. I learnt most of my professional skills while working for Hanjin Shipping in Dublin where I started as a Sales Coordinator and ended up being promoted within a year as a Sales and Marketing Manager.

I came back to France to settle and to closer to my family. I also wanted to have children and the best place to raise a child for me was in France as the healthcare and education systems are some of the best in Europe :)

  • Michaël, Strategic Partnership Manager
  • Lived in Dublin and Alicante
  • Spent 13 years abroad

I moved around a lot with my parents, I was born in French Polynesia, then Charente Maritime in France, north of Paris and then Sablé sur Sarthe.

In 2002 I dedided to move to Ireland with a friend, back packing to discover the Irish culture and learn English. Lots of job opportunities came up. I thought I would start as a bar tender but got a good opportunity working at Xerox on their European Customer Service team.

Then I went to Citibank to work for UK and US financial institutions and then decided to move to Spain with my girlfriend who became my wife. We’ve moved to Alicante and worked for an international Spanish company owned by the Somfy group. This enabled me to learn Spanish as I was the only French guy in the company ;-) I then returned to Ireland to work for IBM and then Facebook.

When you leave France, you realise that France has various assets like tourism, food, social security, the healthcare system. I also missed my family and friends.

When you land in another country, there are so many things to discover; the culture, the people. I met so many people from all over the world, and created strong friendships quickly. I was impressed by the Irish culture and lifestyle. The Irish are very easy going and open-minded. I lived with Irish people most of my time there.

The Irish always meet up at the pub. This is an important place, where you can easily have conversations with a wide variety of people. The pub is an institution where people from different backgrounds mix, no judgement just a place to have a good time! It’s very common to spend Sundays at the pub with the family. In France, you go to the bar with your friends, and sit at a table…

I had the chance to work in an international environment in my various work experiences, working with US tech companies helped me learn how to be rigorous and work in a fast paced environment while having fun and scaling business. Working with different people in various areas such as sales, tech, partnerships, helped me to grow and try different jobs.

  • Johan, Head of International Development
  • Lived in Salamanca and London
  • Spent 5 years abroad

I grew up 30 kilometres away from Nantes, in a town called Machecoul (for the experts, where Michael Landreau was born :-) ). I survived there until I was 18 because I spent most of my time riding my BMX and travelling around for competitions, and because my high school was 5 minutes from home, and that makes a difference ! Also because my Mum and Dad didn’t want to move, that counts as well …

After my baccalauréat, I moved to Angers, Bordeaux, Paris, and Salamanca in Spain where I graduated from Business School. This is when I knew I would never go back to France, or if I did, it would be for a very good reason. In the end I did, to have a family, which is a pretty good reason!

I went from Spain directly to the UK, London, where I found a job. From one day to the next, I went from bars that open at 11pm to bars that close at 11pm! A cultural shock, but landing in the UK shaped the way I now perceive society and my working culture. I started in a French company (Renault), and ended up in an Australian company whose French branch I then launched in Paris. After working there I promised myself I would never go back to a French company… but then I found iAdvize where I found the same entrepreneurial and out-of-the-box way of thinking I love! 

What did I miss about France? Salted butter! After 3 years in London, Tesco finally starting selling this, so that got me going for another 2 years :-)  

The best discovery from my time in the UK was their sense of humour! I love the way the English can “take the piss” out of themselves, which so many French people should learn from!

The biggest cultural difference I observed is the perception of work and qualifications. In the UK, if you can prove you are good, you will grow fast, if you can prove you are super good, you will grow super fast! It doesn’t matter what level of qualification you got when you were 20. The English are also very focused at work and know how to break the ice at the pub. Ok, the beers may help with this… Not to mention the Aussies.. This is not so much the case in French companies.

From a professional perspective, I learnt a lot from Australian approach, that “if you never throw the dice you never get a 6”: a business-oriented “when there is a goal there is a way” approach. After 2 successful years in their London office, they gave me the opportunity to launch their business development activity in France at 28, which very few French companies would have given me the opportunity to. 

To sum things up, living abroad helps you broaden the way you think, live, work and perceive your own country (the good and the bad), so that when you come back you try to focus on the the good! And guess what I tell my kids: learn foreign languages, go forth and travel!!

Miranda is in charge of internal communications at iAdvize, where she started working 3 years ago, originally as communications officer for the UK market. She has a BA from UCL in languages and a masters degree in translation and communication from the ISIT school in Paris. Although her passport is British, she feels at home on the continent ;-) Intrigued by all things cross-cultural, disruptive and customer service-related.

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