Interview with Sibylle Eschapasse

28 January, 2016

Name: Sibylle Eschapasse

Age: 36-45

From: France

Now residing in: United States of America

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I have been living in New York for the past 13 years. I arrived here in 2002. Although we never know what tomorrow will be, I would love to stay permanently in New York, a city that I really like and feels home.

Are you living alone or with your family?
I am living alone with my sweet doggy for now but I would love to create my own family.

Why did you move?
I was 23 years old when I decided to move from Paris. I had completed my studies at Sorbonne University, my master's degree and the 1st year of my PhD in the field of geography which has always been of great interest to me. I had just returned from a year spent in the islands of South Pacific: 6 months in the french archipelago of Wallis and Futuna and 6 months mostly in Tahiti but also in the Marquesas islands. And when I returned to Paris to present my thesis, I didn't want to continue my PhD as I felt I didn't want to teach or be a researcher. I had studied geography because I liked it a lot but not to become a geographer per se. So at 23, I was at a cross road. And I didn't want to live in Paris as I felt it was too small and I knew too much already of the life there as I grew up in Paris. I needed adventure, excitement, new challenges, a brand new city to make my life there and I thought New York would be the ideal city for me to establish myself on a long term basis. So despite the fact I knew nobody in NY, I decided to leave by myself and because I knew it would be for the long term, I chose to take a freighter to arrive by sea like we used to do it in the old days and to try to feel what may have felt some of the immigrants, decades ago, when they were leaving Europe by freighters. It took 2 weeks on board that freighter which was a container ship. We were 5 passengers in addition to the crew and it was an amazing experience. 13 years later, I still remember the excitement of crossing the Atlantic and seeing New York after all these days of seeing nothing but continuous ocean. It did set the tone of my life here as a starting point and from the moment I arrived, I was driven by the desire to live interesting experiences and most of all the desire to live. I am firm believer that you create and write in a way your own life by some important choices you may decide to take.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
The transition was not particularly difficult because I chose to move here. I was not forced to. So when you choose something, you are usually happy with your choice. If not, you make another choice and you try to be happier! And I arrived young. I was 23, an age where you embrace life easily and embrace it all. The good and the bad. It's easier when you are young because even if you live difficult things or difficult experiences or if you struggle for some time, you move on. And you have hopes for the years ahead of you. So the transition from Paris to New York just happened the way it did.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
It's not different making friends in NY as it is anywhere else. A lot of your capability to make new friends depends in fact on you and not on the country. You have to be a friend if you want people to be your friends. You have to be the person you would like to meet yourself if you want people to find you nice and be your friends. I am very involved and very well integrated in the french and francophone community of New York which is a very interesting and diverse community as well as the international community that surrounds the UN. But I made many friends with American people as well. One of the misconceptions people have when they arrive in NY is that it is not easy to make American friends. It's totally a wrong idea people have far from the reality. American people are very warm and welcoming and they invite you to their homes. They really do despite what you hear.

Was it hard to get a visa or a work permit?
I had many different type of visas since I arrived in New York. Always linked to my jobs. I arrived on an A2 governmental visa as I did an internship at the Consulate General of France when I arrived. Then, I got a J1 visa working as an event planner for the Paris American Club and for the past 10 years, I have been on a G4 diplomat visa. Of course, being in this country for the past 13 years, I would love to obtain the Green Card and one day become an American citizen. I would be very proud to be American in addition to keeping my French citizenship. Two countries that are and always be part of my identity.

Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived
I have always been covered living in New York from the time I was an intern at the Consulate. At that time, I think I recall having taken something like Mondial Assistance or the CSFE, I am not sure which one as it was a long time ago but of course I had a health insurance. And then, when I got hired for my next job, I had health insurance too. Now, working at the UN, I am lucky to have another great health coverage. I really recommend to all who consider moving to the U.S. to be fully covered. Health is too important. As we say health is wealth because with time, it's the most important thing we can have, and medical costs can be very expensive here; you don't want to play with that.

How do you make your living in the country? Do you have any type of income generated?
I had the great honor to work for the United Nations for the past 10 years. I worked for 5 years in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support which both deal with the political and logistical matters of the peacekeeping missions the Un has around the world. And for the past 5 years, I have been in the Counter Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate which is not linked to a Department but directly linked to the Security Council. My position at the UN is what generates my income as well as my visa status in the country. I am beyond grateful for this opportunity. I learnt so much on so many different issues at the UN and it enriched me tremendously personally.

Do you speak the language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Oui, oui. :) I speak English obviously. :) It is indeed very important to immerge yourself completely in the country you are moving to so that you feel totally integrated and don't miss on things. Speaking English is easy. I understand this question may be more trickier if you ask it to somebody who is moving to a country with a less broadly spoken language. But in my view, no matter where you go, it is always important to make an effort to learn about the language and the local culture. It will only improve you for the better and can represent also a good intellectual challenge. It's a fantastic feeling to learn new things. Some languages may be harder to learn that others but this is important to you, you will. I happen to have 3 brothers who still live in France. One of my brother speaks fluently farsi. The other learns korean and my oldest brother hebrew. All languages dear to their hearts.

Please add your thoughts on local customs and whether it's important for expats to respect/observe local customs.
Indeed, it is very important to respect local customs. To learn and understand them will help to have a better understanding of the country you live in. The US is based on immigration and a very diverse and relatively new country when you compare to some other countries. Local customs, local holidays reflect all of that. And as far as NY, we can say that the whole world is gathered here. You have so many customs at the local communities level, so many holidays, so many parades that capture the essence of their people. It's fascinating!

Do you miss home and family sometimes?
I don't really miss Paris but I do miss my family. I wish I could see them more often of course. But am fortunate to be able to see them through FaceTime. We are FaceTime lovers!

Do you have other plans for the future?
You mean if I plan to leave New York? No, not really. I really love New York and this is the city that I love the most. I am very happy being here. I am in love with this city and all that it has to offer. I am constantly discovering new things here. I find excitement in the smallest things. So I feel happy being here. Of course, I still love Paris and love to come to visit. And I love to travel in other parts of the world. There are so many beautiful places on this planet and we have so little time ahead of us.

What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home?
I am renting in New York for now which I find convenient. It is expensive but I feel free to move out if I want to as I am renting a beautiful furnished studio in a full service residence, almost like a hotel, with all kind of services, and on a short-term lease. So basically, I can stay or leave at my convenience. For me, freedom is priceless!

What is the cost of living in your new country?
The cost of living in New York is higher than Paris, especially in terms of real estate/housing, education for children and health care. But salaries are higher than salaries in France. So all in all, it is OK.

What do you think about the the local people?
I love people here. Otherwise, I would not be here! It's a big country and it's a big city so obviously you have everything. Do I love everything in the US? No! But I don't love everything in France either. I try to focus on what I love. I love New Yorkers because they come from everywhere, from so many different parts of the world, and are filled with a positive spirit and amazing energy. It's very uplifting. And people are less judgemental here I think if I compare to Paris which is more narrow minded in a way because it's a smaller city and more coded society. People complain less here, they smile more. They are funny and have young spirits. They renew themselves at the image of the city that evolves continuously. I like the variety in New York and I feel comfortable in a lot of different settings starting from enjoying the simple pleasure of taking a hot chocolate in Whole Foods to attending a Gala Dinner for a Foundation. That's the beauty of a city like New York. You embrace it all and you are more likely to accept things you would not necessarily accept in your home country because you see them with brand new eyes and a form of exotism.

What are the positive and negative aspects of living here?
Living in NY is full of positives. It is being able to live in such an exceptional, vibrant and unique city where all communities blend nicely together. The whole world is here. And for me who loves media, New York is THE capital of medias. So many interesting and creative people come to live and work in NY. Excitement is everywhere. Everybody here has a story to tell from the newly immigrant who won the greencard and drives for now a taxi cab to the most successful CEO. I love meeting and talking to poeple here. They inspire me and I respect the strenght, the resilience that most newyorkers have. I like also the fact that you can do everything in NY. The philantropic scene here is endless and so on. As for the negatives, I try usually not to focus on that. Of course, when you leave your home and cocoon to try to make a brand new life by yourself in a host country, difficulties and struggles will come your way because you have to do everything from scratch and you are alone. So it is difficult, it is a lot of work and I would say that the only negative is that, many times, life is more hectic than what it may have been if you had stayed in your original home where everything was already set up for you. But it is so much more interesting that it is all worth it, I think. It's an incredible adventure and a good life experience that not only benefits you but I believe benefits your family back home as well and obviously is a game changer for the next generation when one has the blessing to have his or her own family because they will be the second generation of immigrants.

Do you have any tips for our readers about moving to, or living in the country?
Embrace everything with a positive attitude. As Sigmund Freud used to say, "one day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful" So enjoy everything. Enjoy your new life abroad, enjoy your new friends and your new world while keeping in touch with your family and friends back home.

What is the worst experience you have had as an expat?
I will pass on this question.

Do you have any favorite websites or blogs about the country?
I will not be very objective as I am going to recommend a newspaper that I contribute too with some interviews of stylish newyorkers I enjoy writing about every week and another blog I also contribute to. I also like the website Humans of New York which tries to embrace all the diversity that makes New York this vibrant and amazing city.

Tags: United States |



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