It had been another marathon day, teaching Pilates and aerial circus classes for 12 hours. After almost 20 years of self-employment and working in this industry, I was burned out, stressed, sick, exhausted and joyless. I barely saw my family, hardly slept, ate whatever was easy, and faced 90 minute commutes one-way, everyday. Something had to change before I completely fell apart.
Checking my email late that night, I found a message from Yoga Trade: “Volunteers needed to help renovate an 18th century castle in France for yoga retreats.” What an opportunity! I first thought of all the reasons why we couldn’t possibly go, including family, finances, health, clients, etc. However the more I read, the more excited I became.
I asked my husband what he thought. We waved back.
Life carried on and I was feeling hopeless and getting sicker. I had just finished a live performance and not surprisingly, had done a lacklustre job. And then as I left the theatre in tears, magic happened. I got the call. Would we like to come to France as a family and work at the chateau during the summer? We waved back!
Excited, nervous and a little scared, we left hot, humid Florida for an adventure in France. We were together, and having our first vacation abroad as a family!
The moment we arrived at the chateau felt like a dream, something from an old fairytale. Yes, there was so much work to be done to restore this grande dame to her former glory, but every room held secrets, history and magic. The welcome we received from the team of volunteers from around the world was incredible.
The work was hard and tedious, but rewarding. I painted my way throughout the chateau, and felt free for the first time in many years. Each evening, we gathered for dinner, sometimes as many as 20 people, sharing experiences and food that we all helped prepare as the sun set. Was this real? How truly crazy was it that we were here? I was dreading our return back to the USA and the ugly days of non stop work just to get by.
Walking through the property one morning with the owner, she told me that they were looking for a manger for the yoga retreats. The manager would live on site in a newly renovated house year round, maintain the grounds, welcome and help the guests and have the opportunity to teach. I was interested, but knew as an American with a family that it was probably impossible and that the paperwork would be horrendous and long.
“Have a think,” she said.
Returning home for school and work felt more empty than usual. I started working in another state, far from my family for a career opportunity as a master instructor. I thought this would change our lives for the better, and we would move to Delaware and start again. And then Hurricane Irma hit Florida hard, fast and furious, damaging our home and leaving my family stranded without power and supplies while I struggled to find a way to get back to them.
Trying to come up with the money to repair everything with limited work options in Florida was depressing. How would we move on from here and would we even be able to sell the house?
And then we got another call from France. Would we be interested in the job? A million worries ran through our heads. How would our son be educated in France with zero French knowledge? What if no one accepted us living in the French countryside? Would we be able to afford it? Would I be able to get by using useless formal university French? What if we failed? What if we were super homesick? And yet, we waved back.
The paperwork took 9 months and we finally got our visas in Miami. We miraculously found a buyer for our house, sold everything and arrived at the chateau again, nervous, excited and still a bit scared.
Fast forward to 2 years later, and most of the worries we initially had never happened. Our son is nearly fluent, growing in leaps and bounds in a French high school. We’ve met people from all over the world, including expats like ourselves, and welcoming French people who have helped us adjust and find our way. We have spent many evenings eating gourmet meals and sharing mass quantities of gorgeous wine with new friends. My French is slowly improving and it’s wonderful to finally be understood. I still teach, but only 6 classes a week throughout the year and a big retreat in the summer. I have fallen in love with it all over again.
The chateau guests have been colorful and interesting and while it’s hard work, it’s never boring. We have been invited to visit a few of them in their home countries and it’s been a true gift. For us, average Americans with no means to vacation in Europe, we have had the amazing privilege of touring beautiful and exciting cities and learning more than we ever dreamed.
Throughout the Covid crisis, I have been incredibly grateful to be here each day instead of in the USA where I would be unemployed, without healthcare, living on the edge. Life would be incredibly difficult as it is for so many right now and I give thanks each day. For now, we carry on and hope that next year will be better and that the chateau will again blossom and welcome visitors from abroad. I stay hopeful.
Living in France still has many exhausting challenges and we hope we will be able to stay long term. It’s never sure and we aren’t living in a fairytale. However our lives have truly changed for the better and it’s wonderful to live “slow,” in the present moment, surrounded by beauty and people who really care about us.
We never know what the future holds, but I now know that we will always wave back and see where this journey takes us.