My Expat Story: Julia Girard-Gervois

My Expat Story: Julia Girard-Gervois

A French expat living in Washington, DC, USA

At Global Living Magazine we want to connect with our readers. We want to know what you’re all about, what you love, where you’ve been, and where you’re going. The best way to do this? Hear it straight from you!*

Julia Girard-Gervois is a French expat living in Washington D.C., USA. In 2012, after graduating from college in Montpellier, France, she decided to go to the United States as an Au Pair for one year to improve her English speaking skills. She has since never left the country as she found the love of her life, Peter, a Greek-American. She now has dual citizenship and has started her own tour operator company, TripUSAFrance, where she takes groups of Americans on vacation to her home country during the summer. This is her Expat Story.

What is your favorite part of expatriate life?

Learning about a new country, a new culture and meeting new people is one of the best parts of the expatriate life. I come from a small village located in the South of France with just about 9 thousand inhabitants, moving to the capital of the United States (over 700k inhabitants) was a shock for me.

Back home people are pretty closed-minded, everybody knows everyone’s business (they love to gossip!) and the system makes it difficult to evolve in your personal and/or business life. In Washington D.C. life is the opposite, people will support you no matter who you are, where you come from, and what you do (unless it’s unethical of course). They would actually step out of their way to help you and are not expecting anything in return. I find the American people to be very supportive and welcoming. They accepted me despite our cultural and language barrier and were supporting me throughout my whole journey as a new resident. Something I love about the Americans is that they like to gather a lot, compared to the French. Take for example, Sunday football. Unless you are a die hard fan, it is just another excuse to enjoy a dinner party with your friends and family.

I can say that learning about other people’s habits and traditions will make you realize that the whole world is not acting the same way you were taught to, that people are different and that there is nothing wrong about it. This really helped me grow as a better person and understand myself and the world better.

My life in the United States is completely different now. My husband and I go see plays, concerts, comedy shows, art exhibits, etc…and we love to go to sports games (sports are a huge part of the American culture). I discovered and experienced new things that I did not have access to when I lived in the French countryside.

Bonus: if you move to a country that speaks a different language, you should be able to become fluent and that is super rewarding. Obviously, in my case, English is a very helpful language to know and becomes very handy when traveling to other countries. 

What has been the hardest part?

The hardest part is being 11hrs and 2 flights from my family and friends which I grew up with. Making new friends is possible, but it will take years to build a long lasting relationship such as the ones you may already have back home. Remember your family is irreplaceable. Although I am VERY lucky to have a wonderful in-law family, I still miss my parents a lot.

Another hard thing for me is that I miss the French cuisine and the French wines. At least D.C is a cosmopolitan city where we have French restaurants and where grocery stores sell imported French cheeses, but this does come at a high cost. It breaks my heart to pay $5 for a croissant when in France it costs $0.80 cents.

Since 2015, I was able to remedy these two issues! I started my own travel company and I am now traveling back to France every summer for 4 months to guide, with the help of my father, English-speaking multi-day tours that we created together. My American husband comes with me each year, so now he is also a part time expat. Some people may say that this is the perfect life as we get to live in both countries, the United States and France, but moving each year, saying goodbye, renting our apartment, spending the summer working with almost no days off is definitely not a piece of cake.

Where have you lived around the world? Favorite places?

I have only lived in two places: my village in Southern France until I was 20 years old (2012) and then Washington D.C. until now (2020). Even if I love the South of France, I prefer living in D.C.

Washington D.C. is a beautiful, vibrant city with people from all around the world. Maybe if I lived in a town lost in the american countryside I would not like it as much.

Another thing worth mentioning is that you have a higher chance of being successful and earning more money in the U.S. The social charges in France are very high (50% to 80% of your salary) because we have a lot of free benefits therefore, as an entrepreneur myself, I prefer living in the United States.

Where would you want to move to eventually?

I recently backpacked New Zealand for one month and loved the people, as well as the landscape. I could see my husband and I moving there for a year or two, but I don’t think we could move there permanently. It looks like the USA will be our home forever. Maybe one day we will move from Washington D.C, to a warmer area, although we will always be near a big city, so why not San Francisco or Miami? 

What’s your sense of ‘home’?

Home for me is where your friends and family are. I have been an expat in the US for about 8 years now and was able to make long lasting friendships. My husband and my in-laws are my family. So even if I was born in France, the United States is also my home. In fact, I just made this official by becoming a U.S. citizen.

I personally think that people can have multiple “homes”. France will always be my home and the United States is now my adopted home. 

What advice would you give to first-time expats?

My big advice is to learn the local language because if you cannot communicate you will never be able to really fit in. My second piece of advice is to force yourself to meet people. Do you like to play rugby? Join a club! There is a club for everyone (at least in D.C.), biking club, reading club, wine club etc.. Also it could be really good to join an expat club, this will REALLY help you at first with being “homesick” and would be a way to learn about other expatriates’ experiences. 

What has been the most helpful thing in adapting to your home abroad?

The reason I live in the United States today is because my husband is American. He was definitely my biggest support. I don’t know where in the world I would live right now if I had not met him. Also I became best friends with a French speaking Canadian expat. So again for me it’s all about relationships. 

Find out more about Julia and her company, TripUSAFrance, by visiting www.tripusafrance.com.  You can also find her on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/tripusafrance.

Photo courtesy of Julia Girard-Gervois

*If you’d like to be featured on our ‘My Expat Story’ section, send an email to Alison at alison@globallivingmagazine.com and tell us about your experience as an expatriate by answering the above questions. Don’t forget to include a picture of yourself, the URL for your website/blog, and/or Twitter/Instagram handle so we can help you connect with other expats from around the world.

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