I arrived in Paris with my entire life in two suitcases and ONE friend who had also taken those brutal early morning French classes with me back home in Mumbai, India. I’m not gonna lie, living in a foreign country can be lonely — it sucks sometimes. Initially, I was excited for new beginnings, but also very overwhelmed. I began to feel like Tom Hanks from Cast Away as I physically and emotionally survived the new journey alone — my friends acting as the rescuers who saved my stranded self. Like me, most of them also live a nine hour, $700 flight away from their families.
It’s been five years since I moved to Paris, and my life has changed.
I was used to going home and ranting about my entire day to my mom — I missed that terribly. My mother is always asleep by the time I get home in Paris (oh hey, time difference!). So, I turned to my friends who now do my mom’s listening job. They hold no judgements.
My friends are my family in Paris. Not only have they salvaged me from rough times, they have also shaped my personality in so many ways. Undoubtedly, my parents and friends back home are supportive, but physical presence changes everything.
There were a few moments that made me realize the importance of nearby friendship when living abroad.
They helped me find a place to live.
France believes in paperwork for EVERYTHING. Most landlords want a personal guarantor to guarantee your rent payments. They want your guarantor’s pay slips and tax returns. Um, who do I even ask? I was frustrated. I didn’t have a relative living in France who would just hand out their pay slips like it’s NBD. Instead, a dear friend of mine decided to share his personal documents to support me as I applied for an apartment, and because of him, I have a roof over my head. I am eternally grateful to him for helping me out.
They keep me healthy.
This year, I injured my ankle on my birthday. Nope, I wasn’t drunk — funny enough, the reason behind this accident involved my friends. A group hug celebrating friendship resulted in three friends falling on me. We decided to blame those notoriously famous cobblestone streets of Paris. For one month, I was on complete bed rest and wore an Aircast on my leg that made me look like a completely still RoboCop. Living on the fourth floor without an elevator (typical in Paris) did not help my case. But, my savior friends took turns doing my groceries, giving me showers every evening, and taking me to my Physiotherapy appointments. I was so stunned by the kind of affection I received during this difficult time — my parents were even less worried because they knew my friends were taking great care of me.
They celebrate the holidays with me.
Everyone looks forward to family time during the holidays. During my first year, I had absolutely no plans for Christmas, and flying back to India would cost 800 Euros. I was pretty sure I was going to be watching Home Alone all by myself. However, that never happened. I was invited by a friend to spend Christmas with her family in Czech Republic. I felt accepted, and I am so thankful that she openheartedly invited me. Now, every year, I get adopted by one of my friends to celebrate Christmas. Last year, I decided to stay back and have an “abandoned kids” Christmas Eve in Paris with friends who were not going back home.
They help me battle homesickness.
Who doesn’t miss home?! We all do. My friends and I try to do sleepovers from time to time where we cook comfort food from our homelands. It helps us feel pampered in that moment, and it helps me recharge my batteries to survive until the summer when I can visit my birth family. Two years ago, when I was missing home, a friend bought a flight ticket for me so that I could spend some quality time with her on the beach in south of France. I will never forget her kind gesture.
What would I have done if I didn’t have such amazing friends letting me know they have my back?
Because of them, I have grown a sense of belonging, and I can now call Paris my home.
If you are in the right company, your friends can inspire you and give you courage to survive any problem, whether it relates to being an expat or being a human.
They will be proud of you when you earn an achievement. They will teach you to love yourself. They will get mad at you when you’re wrong. They will prevent you from making bad decisions. Your friends will fill the gap and be your family.
To everyone who is living far from home, hug your friends(without falling over!). Try to help out a newbie in town who has just arrived. Don’t forget to stand by your friends when they need you — think about the things your friends have done for you, and be thankful for them.
Sneha Ashtikar is an Indian lawyer based in Paris. She loves foreign cultures and languages. She is still working on the ‘R’ sound in French. When she is not dealing with French administration, she is either thinking about pizza or eating dessert for dinner. She has seen every animal show on Netflix and also has a thing for beautiful doors. You can follow her weird door obsession on Instagram.