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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Givens

One Year as an Immigrant

Rachel and I were celebrating our anniversary, our 11th to be exact. We planned to do the things we usually do, what we have done since we were married. We would leave the kids with family and go out to eat at Red Robin, a tradition we’ve had ever since we stopped at Red Robin the day after our wedding on our way to our honeymoon. I usually get the Royal Red Robin. I love the bacon and fried egg that top it, along with the bottomless fries and beverages. In our younger, thinner days, we would each eat half a burger and one serving of fries. We would then order another serving of fries to take home with the other half of our burgers. It almost felt like getting two meals for the price of one. I’m getting off track here. Let’s just say there are some things I truly miss about the United States. Eating at Red Robin on our anniversaries is definitely one of them.

Our last anniversary in the USA

This time was different than the previous ten, however. Instead of feeling hungry and delighted at the thought of another anniversary at one of our favourite restaurants, my stomach was in knots. I was dealing with anxiety and mixed feelings of both excitement and dread in equal parts. You see, today was different than all our other anniversaries because we had a trip the next day. We would be moving across the ocean to France.

I kept asking myself questions such as, “Am I absolutely crazy?” Or, “Are my kids going to resent me for the rest of their lives?” And, “What am I doing?!”

At the DSM airport the next day, nearly all of our family came. We took some pictures together, checked in our obscene amount of baggage, and said a tearful goodbye at the escalators up to security. It didn’t help my feelings of anxiety when Elijah began crying. And crying. And crying. He had developed a close bond with my brother over the last few days, and he was sad to leave. He was worried about making friends and learning a new language. He didn’t want to leave his school and start again at a new school. No matter how many times I told him that he, of all people, wouldn’t have any trouble making friends, he still cried.

Onboard the plane!

We boarded our plane and took off on an overnight flight to Paris. By the time we were ready to sleep, Elijah had calmed somewhat. He took pictures with me and watched movies on the screen on the seat back in front of him. Shortly thereafter, we turned off our screens and tried to sleep. When we woke up, we were heading for our descent into Paris.

I share all this because on August 1, it will have been one year since we moved to France. Since then, we’ve celebrated major holidays apart from our families. We even introduced an American Thanksgiving celebration to the French! We celebrated Christmas and New Years’, as well as our birthdays, all separated from the ones we love by an ocean.

The transition has been difficult, but it has been far from impossible. In fact, we’ve learned many new things and tried many new foods since we’ve been here. And my predictions about Elijah were right. He’s picked up French very well, and he’s made many, many new friends. In fact, he went to a grand total of seven birthday parties over the course of his first school year in France. Anyone who knows Elijah will not be surprised that he’s managed to become so close to so many people in such a short time. He’s just that kind of kid.

Micaiah has had a slightly more difficult transition. He doesn’t really talk at school, in English or in French. His teacher told us that he communicates nonverbally for the most part, but that he understands most of what she tells him. He’s always had a very different personality from Elijah, and he can be quite reserved at first with new people. We know his time will come, and he definitely made friends at school. Hopefully the coming school year will build his confidence in speaking French.

One of our first mornings in Calais

Our time here has been beautiful. We have experienced joys and depressions, pains and defeats, and we have come to know refugees and asylum seekers as people first and as friends. We have also had our difficulties. The legendary French bureaucracy has caused several moments of frustration and anxiety for us, as has learning to speak French.

Overall though, our first year living in France has been a beautiful time filled with all the things that make life wonderful, despite the trying times. Calais feels like home to us, and we have come to know how to navigate many of the things that were difficult at first (my first trip grocery shopping took over an hour to find just a few things!). We also treasure the many relationships we have made here, both with the people we serve and with the locals. Northerners in France are kind and welcoming, and we have loved meeting new people and making new friendships. There are still many things to learn, but we are adjusting to our new home.

Here’s to year number two!

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