Jenny Van Stone
The Charlotte Observer
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The Charlotte Observer is doing a series on folks considering career changes, big moves or a major life shift as a result of COVID-19. This is the story of Jenny Van Stone.
Charlotte resident Jenny Van Stone is ditching her life in the Queen City and following her dream of moving to France. The 47-year-old interior designer has wanted to call France home since her first trip there at age 16. The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with personal challenges, were enough to convince her to make that dream a reality. Here is her story:
For me, the big buh-bye started with walking away from a 24-year career in interior design. I loved aspects of every design niche, from model homes to jets, burger joints to banks. But the field has evolved in ways that no longer sync with my psyche. Combine that with a major breakup, deep depression, social and political fracturing and all the turmoil, fear and isolation wrapped up in a year-long global pandemic — and something’s gotta give.
So, like a lot of folks desperate for a glimmer of joy, I quit my job, got a dog, got counseling and reframed the big picture. In a springtime fit of folly, I signed up for a writing retreat at a Loire Valley château in May 2022 that I’d been drooling over for years. Finally, I recognized that the only thing holding me back from un-archiving and achieving my decades-old dream of moving to France was me. Oh, and a tricky little thing called a visa.
Preparing to move abroad
Sadly, France is not interested in holding my hand while I “explore my options.” To win France’s heart, I’ve got to impress her with my business acumen and/or bank account balances (neither of which should be mentioned in polite French company), juggle all the catch-22s she can throw at me, and seduce her with a vast collection of translated, triplicated and notarized documents. Before I apply for one of several visa options (entrepreneur, student, short-term employment, etc.), I want to feel confident I’ve chosen a path that doesn’t automatically lead to rejection or the bottom of a totem pole.
At an age where my peers are ramping up retirement plans, my butt is about to take a swift, hard landing on the income/expense teeter-totter. Cue the uncomfortable purge and yard sale. In the next few months, I’ll entrust my home to strangers on Airbnb, launch a tentative new career out of my parents’ spare bedroom curating experiential gift packages through an online marketplace (a job I can take with me to France), and, at the very last second possible, sell my beloved midlife-crisis convertible. I will feed my dog, Sophie, to the belly of a plane and fly us both 4,500 miles from the comforts of home, family and friends, straight into a lavender-scented mystery.
To start, I’ve joined Charlotte’s Alliance Française to help me refresh my language skills and meet other franco-minded folk. I found a helpful women’s expat group on Facebook that has loads of links and insights from locals and expat-hopefuls like myself. I’ve bookmarked a slew of websites for reference when it’s time to apply for:
pet passport for Sophie
health insurance (required for free healthcare)
a French bank account (required for residency)
and a residence, which… bien sûr… requires a French bank account.
Why I am moving abroad
Why? Nothing about this transition is easy or obvious. Simply put, France has called to me for most of my life. I don’t yet have all the answers, but I’m no longer letting the questions wield all the power.
Nearly six months into my escape plan, I still don’t know where I’m going to live. After the writing retreat in May, I will stay in France for a month to house hunt, scout and finalize details before coming back to the U.S. and hopefully making the official move by July.
While Paris is always a good idea, I am mesmerized by the gentler Provençale joie de vivre: It is simultaneously glamorous and rustic … authentic and fantasy … simple and lush.
I’ve never felt this balance in Charlotte or any of the other American cities I’ve lived in: Philadelphia, San Diego — and definitely not Fresno. Yet, I felt it deeply the first time I went to France, at 16, on an exchange program. I was partnered with a family in Corsica and knew immediately that what my parents had optimistically billed as a “once-in-a-lifetime” experience would somehow become a way of life.
By now, a decade has passed since my 10th trip to France, and I’m jonesing for a good baguette slathered in stinky cheese and the siren song of unpronounceable words. Alors, allons-y!
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