Recently my husband and I took the longest trip of our lives—a 15-day transatlantic cruise, followed by almost three weeks in the United States. It was the trip of a lifetime, and we loved every minute of it. As we spent time with people on the ship, American friends, and family, questions kept coming up: “How long are you going to stay in France? Are you ever coming home?” My standard answer is, “Until we die!” but the question, and our responses, have caused me to think more deeply about the concept of home.
Until we began Roaming (you can read about that here), Phil and I had moved 17 times during our marriage: various homes in Oklahoma, Texas, Massachusetts, and back again to Texas. So we knew how to put down roots and nest. Then, in autumn of 2020, we sold our house, one car, and most of our belongings to spend the next year and a half living in Airbnbs one month at a time across the United States. That experience taught us to quickly feel at home anywhere (except the un-airconditioned apartment in Seattle during the heat dome!). We traveled with our beloved Breville espresso machine, my huge computer monitor for work, Phil’s art supplies, my kitchen knives, and a small framed wedding photo, which was a suggestion from our son to make us feel at home.
Then, last January, I retired after 48 years of full-time work. The next day we boarded a plane for our new life in France. Thanks to Renestance and a couple of Facebook groups, we arrived to a warm welcome, several acquaintances who would quickly become “friends who are like family,” and a lovely furnished apartment secured by Renestance Dream Team member, Ann-Lii. Despite Phil having no French at all, and my having virtually none, we instantly felt at home. Now, after nine months living here, we are beginning to look for a permanent home (rent or buy? Not sure yet, but we think we’ll buy).
How did two people from Oklahoma, whose parents never left, manage to feel at home in Montpellier, France—to the point of being homesick while visiting the U.S.? I’ve given this some thought, and here is what’s true for us:
- A spirit of adventure. Lots of people have told us we’re brave to do this. I disagree. I think bravery is doing something one is afraid to do—and we weren’t afraid. All it took was a sense of adventure. When we told our son our plans, he asked, “What if you don’t like it?” Our response was that we’d just do something else!
- Help. We had Renestance to help navigate the visas, finding a home, and much more. Many people make this move on their own, but with Renestance having our backs we had much less stress and worry than we would have if doing it on our own.
- People. Phil and I have each other, and we know how lucky we are. If you have a person who is your “home,” it matters far less where you are. But we also have wonderful friends—people in Europe who’ve done the same thing we’re doing, French friends and acquaintances who are warm, welcoming, and helpful, and supportive–even admiring–American friends and family who have cheered us on.
- Awareness of time. At 71 and 70, Phil and I are realizing that life is short. We’re determined to seize the moment and do everything we can to live our dreams while we’re healthy. Also, we continue to believe that learning a new language and culture will help keep our brains sharp-ish.
- Checklist. We knew there were certain things we wanted: a decent-sized city, plenty of culture, easy access to train and air travel, excellent healthcare, a Mediterranean climate, walkability, and a lively, youthful vibe. Montpellier checked all those boxes and more, and when we made a reconnaissance visit before moving, it just felt right.
Of course, we’ve only been here nine months, and this adventure will have many more chapters. But for now, Montpellier is home. France is home. And the United States is our home of origin.
In early 2022, Sandy Shroyer retired from her professional career. Her jobs have included cooking for hired ranch hands, serving as a community mental health center staff psychologist, performing various leadership roles in healthcare firms, managing a lot of highly successful sales executives, and selling technology and services to health systems and health plans. The best part of her career was people—those who became lifelong friends, those who irritated her into learning important lessons, and those who taught her things through their kindness and genius. Her superpower is connecting people, whether it’s professional networking, introducing friends who become friends with each other, or just figuring out who might like to know someone she knows. She tried never to miss an opportunity to have fun at work. Sandy and her husband traveled full-time in the United States during the pandemic, and they are spending their retirement in Montpellier, France.
All articles by: Sandra Shroyer