FACES OF EXPATRIATION – FRANCE

“Fortunately with today’s technology, like Facetime, Skype and Whatsapp, we are able connect and share with our families the way people living abroad were not in the past.”


A New Jersey native, Almenia Garvey relocated to North Carolina to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she obtained her bachelor’s degree. During her last year at UNC, she had the life-changing opportunity to study abroad for a year at the University of Ulster in Coleraine, Northern Ireland and it was there she met her future husband, Padraig Garvey.

Garvey briefly sums up her life and career by stating: “After my year abroad, I returned to the University of Ulster in Jordanstown, to complete my Masters of Science. After graduation, Padraig and I lived in Paris for about six months. In July of 1996, I returned to the states, and I started my career in Clinical Research at Duke Clinical Research Institute (DCRI). In June of 1998, Padraig and I married in the USA and soon after we relocated from NC to Chicago. Both of our children, Simone and Liam, were born during the 16 years we spent in Chicago.  After 11 years I left DCRI for PAREXEL International where I worked for several years in Feasibility, Site Identification, and Site Alliances. In 2016 I started as Director of Healthcare Alliances at ICON plc. Finally after discussing it for years, in 2017 we relocated from Chicago to France to begin the next chapter in our adventure as a family.”

How difficult was it for you to leave the US and live and work abroad?

We had been planning to relocate for a while, so the actual move came more as a relief than anything. Soon after we were married, we moved from NC to where my family lives in Chicago. Since neither my husband nor I had any relatives living in the Chicago area, it was easier to move from there to France than it was to move from NC to Chicago. We were fortunate enough to have close friends in Chicago, and we know we will see many of them again either here in France or during our travels back to the US. Working is a challenge because although I am at the same company, things work differently in France, so people assume that I know things that I didn’t. For example, I was here two months before I truly understood how and when we get paid.

IMG: Photo by Willian West.

Where are you living abroad? Why there?

We are living in a suburb of Paris called Maisons Laffitte. It is a one-horse town about 15 km outside of Paris. e decided to move here because of the international school that the children are attending. We live near stables and the Hippodrome, so it is a quiet area (bar the horses), but we can be downtown Paris in 20 minutes.

What field do you currently work in abroad?

Right now I work in the clinical research industry. I am the Director of Health Care Alliances, I create strategic collaborations with my company, and I am pretty familiar with the how the health care system works in the US, but here in Europe it is very different even within countries, so I have a lot to learn.

What made you decide to live abroad? How did you tell your family and prepare your children?

The family was aware of our desire to move for a while, although I think the fact that it was happening was a bit of a surprise. My kids were born and raised in Chicago, and although we have traveled throughout Europe with them, they were not and still aren’t completely fond of the idea of living here. Being dual citizens, we thought that it was important for our kids to live in Europe so that they would feel as comfortable living in the EU as they did living in the US. We also thought that it was important for them to learn another language and live in another culture.

IMG: Photo by RAFAEL MIRANDA

What resources did you utilize to assist you in preparing to move?

We were fortunate to still have a few friends from our time here in the 90s living in France to ask questions. We did ask our jobs about specific items. And there are great Facebook groups that were extremely helpful like Americans in France, MUMS SPACE France, and English speaking moms west of Paris. These groups were so helpful that I met a few friends on these pages that helped to kick-start my social life here as well.

Tell us about your journey to pursue your profession abroad?

Fortunately for me, it was quite easy because I worked for a global company and I have dual citizenship. I knew that learning about clinical research and the EU healthcare system would be great for my job, and my job had a need for a director in the EU. I asked for the relocation, and it was granted. Unfortunately, when you request a transfer, you have the finance it, so it was helpful that we had been saving for years for this move.

What are three things you would advise anyone considering moving abroad?

Preparation and planning, think out the move and prepare. In my experience things always take longer and usually cost more than you expect. Also, I would advise going to the consulate of the country for information about healthcare, schools, taxes and other logistical items.  Try to engage people that you know on the ground; there are Facebook expat groups for almost every country.  These people are a wealth of good information and are more than happy to share their experiences.  Finally, embrace your new country to the fullest; eat the local foods, attend the events and gatherings, learn the tourist traps as well as find the local favorites. Try to integrate into the society as opposed to trying to create a little America in that country.

IMG: Photographer Jez Timms

What if any apprehension did you have about moving abroad?

There is always the question of “Are we doing the right thing?” Also, there is the concern of being too far away from your loved ones.  Fortunately, with today’s technology like Facetime, Skype, and WhatsApp, we can connect and share with our families the way we weren’t in the past.

What’s the best thing about living abroad?

You get to see the US and sometimes yourself in a new context. You get a much better understanding of how we as Americans generally and specifically African-Americans fit into the global picture. Also, I have friends and family members who may otherwise have never left the country, applying for passports and purchasing flights to France. I tell them all, you have a friend here, a place to stay, someone who knows the language and how to get around – why wouldn’t you visit?  Best of all, my kids who still aren’t fond of living abroad, the penny has dropped for them. They go to school with kids their age who have lived in 3 or 4 different countries and speak almost as many languages. They are now interested in learning French and possibly picking up another language.  They are excited about school trips to other countries.

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