Finding Your Feet in Chicago – An Interview With Author VÃ©ronique Martin-Place
My name is VÃ©ronique Martin-Place. I am a serial expat. I have been relocated four times around the globe (Norway, Sri Lanka, USA and China) and I have also experienced repatriation to my home country, France, between two stays abroad. I am married and I have two daughters.
Tell us a little about yourself and family.
My name is VÃ©ronique Martin-Place. I am a serial expat. I have been relocated four times around the globe (Norway, Sri Lanka, USA and China) and I have also experienced repatriation to my home country, France, between two stays abroad.
I am a freelance writer and blogger. My blog, Expat Forever, deals with expatriation and all topics related from an active accompanying spouse and mother point of view.
I am married and I have two daughters.
You've recently written a book entitled "Finding Your Feet In Chicago" tell us a little about the book, and what prompted you to write it?
This guide is the perfect match for families relocating to Chicago. Everything they need to help them settle into the US third largest city is here from practical aspects to cultural and intercultural topics. This book targets expat families who wish to settle fast and well.
The education and school culture shock I encountered when my daughters started school in the local system in Chicago prompted me to write this book. Everything was different and not always comprehensible even if I spoke the language! I thought this relocation was going to be an easy one for three main reasons: it was not my first time abroad, I knew the language of my host country and last but not least I thought there weren’t so much cultural differences between France and the US. I was completely wrong. After several cultural shock experiences at my daughters’ school, I noticed I was not the only one having troubles. Several families moved almost at the same time as us from different part of the world to Chicago. We all had the same problems regarding family and child’s topics. We were all searching for the same information and advice. Therefore I started looking for a local guide for expat families and there was none. So I decided to write Finding Your Feet In Chicago to help current and future relocated families.
What were your reasons for moving to Chicago?
My husband works for the French Foreign Ministry. He was posted at the Consulate General of France in Chicago.
How long did the emigration process take?
In our case, it was not an issue and it didn’t take long since we got diplomatic visas.
In your opinion what are the biggest cultural differences between France and the USA? (Perhaps things you were not prepared for, or were surprised about)
As said before, parenting and raising children are very different. The expectations are not the same. Being a mother in the USA is also very different from what I know in France. Being a full time mom if you wish to do so is well recognized by the American society. Whereas in France, if you are a mother and you don’t work, you are nothing. In my home country, everything is done and organized for young mothers to go back to work if they want, which is not the case in the US. And daycare is extremely expensive.
Food and food habits are big topics in themselves and huge cultural differences. I always tell this anecdote. My youngest daughter was three years old when our family arrived in Chicago. At this young age, she was able to stand still at the family table and could eat properly with a fork, a knife and a spoon. After six months at school, this ability was almost gone because only fingers food was served or recommended for the lunch box. By the way, just the lunch box is a cultural adventure in itself too! My kids were “aliens” at lunch time because I prepared them small salads with vinaigrette by the side! Moreover I was shocked to learn that they had only 15 minutes to eat.
Healthcare is another cultural difference. It is very expensive and the medical practice can be surprising. On the first doctor’s appointment, you might have the feeling that you spend more time to complete paperwork (forms for consents, disclaimers and about your medical background) than doing the medical exam.
What were the things you enjoyed most about living in Chicago?
I really appreciated the fact that Chicago lies by the Lake Michigan. There are many parks and green areas spread around the city and especially on the shore of Lake Michigan with Lincoln Park on the North Side and Grant Park downtown. It gives a feeling of natural openness, as if the city were standing by the sea. This is a relief when you have children. There is no need to drive outside the city or a longtime to get them some fresh air and outdoors activities.
Another positive aspect is that public transportations are also very well organized in Chicago. This city is really easier to live in than any other big cities like New York or Los Angeles for instance. Therefore I think the quality of life in Chicago is very good.
How does the cost of living compare to other cities/countries you have lived in?
Living in Chicago is expensive and I would say that housing is what costs the most. Renting an apartment in Chicago can be three to four times more expensive than renting in Paris or any other big French cities. But the accommodations are larger than in Europe.
Other than friends and family what do you miss most now you are no longer living in France?
What I miss the most are the French bakeries and their pastries and to sit at a table outside a cafÃ©!
How badly, if at all, has homesickness affected you?
It is difficult to answer this question because after 13 years of life abroad, I haven’t badly been affected by homesickness. But as a serial expat, I often wonder where home is. I believe it is where I and my family – my husband and my children – live now.
Any final tips you would like to share about living and working in Chicago?
My three main tips to families relocating to Chicago are:
“¢ Get involved in your local community (school, church, sport clubs, etc”¦): it will definitely be the key of a successful stay in Chicago. Keep in mind that volunteering in the USA is very important and well recognized socially and professionally.
“¢ Prepare for the Chicago weather: Chicago’s winters are very cold and long whereas summers can be very warm and humid. So be prepared on time!
“¢ Subscribe to a local newspaper: It will allow you to get familiar with what is going on in the Windy City and learn where the best deals are.