Paris: The Deportation Story

paris deportationI’m sipping on a glass of champagne as I prepare to tell you a story, filled with horror, disappointment, a life altered and a choice that wasn’t my own to make. For the travelers there, especially the long-term trip takers and the expats, prepare yourselves. This is the stuff nightmares (or sleepless nights at the very least) are made of.

The night was a cold one. February in Paris. Winter had the city wrapped in her icy fingers, yet it hardly dampened our spirits. I had just moved to Paris for a four-month study abroad program in interior design. And what do you do as a design student in this incredible art-oriented city? Mais bien sûr… you visit the famous Eiffel Tower. At night, when it’s all lit up and sparkles on the hour. It’s a magical experience for those just arriving in this amazing city. Can’t you see the joy of the moment in my face in that photo? I actually took a half-decent selfie (before the days of Instagram, mind you). That’s gotta count for something!

Fast forward now, two-and-a-half years later. It’s a warmer day, in the month of June to be exact. I’m at my tiny (yet well-loved) studio apartment in the 11th arrondissement, just off rue Oberkampf. There are hardly any tourists in part of the city. I have a letter in my hands, and it’s in French. Luckily, I have spent the last several months taking French classes at one of the most well-known institutes in town: Alliance Française. Which meant, fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) I could read that letter. And understand what it meant. Because it said that my visa application had been denied. I was given 30 days to leave France, my city and my life, on pain of imprisonment if I was found in the country past my expiry date. Now that’s a way to ruin a perfectly good morning. And a warm, sunny day to boot.

Now, when you receive this sort of news, you go through an emotional process that has striking similarities to the psychological stages of loss and grief: Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. And while it’s true that no physical person was dying or being lost, life as I knew it was. Paris had become my home. My friends all lived there. I had a routine, a lifestyle. An address, bank account and phone contract (dear lord… how was I going to get out of THAT?). Just as college student everywhere graduate and start their lives somewhere other than their hometown, I had done the same. Only I had done it in another country. One in which I was not guaranteed the right to stay. A minor inconvenience, up until this point. It had just gotten a whole lot more inconvenient.

Now I mentioned the psychological stages one goes through when faced with loss and grief. I had lost my life as I knew it, and I really had only a week or two to go through these range of emotions so as not to spoil my last precious days Paris. There really was no denial; I had the letter as proof should I ever forget. Anger, check. Bargaining, sure. Until the prospect of fighting the French bureaucracy on this sounded too akin to pulling a 50-pound bowling ball up a mountain made of sand. That only took about an hour to come to that realization. The depression and the acceptance sort of came hand in hand. It was sad to have to face saying goodbye, but in the end there was nothing I could personally do to change the circumstances. To be glib, it was what it was and what will be, will be. For the record, I hate those phrases. Both of them.

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I had gotten used to this. That, pictured above. The girl who had been so excited to see it light up at night for the first time as a resident of the city had become blasé.  I lived there, of course I see the Tower everyday. You see the damn thing from almost every vantage point in the city. And no, I don’t picnic at it every weekend. But, just because it had become my normal backdrop, that didn’t mean I didn’t love it. It was part of the fabric that made up my everyday landscape. And THAT was pretty cool. Plus I could see it sparkle every night, several times a night, if I felt like it.

That would be no more, once my grace period expired. Although, that didn’t mean I didn’t retain a little bit of my stubborn nature, or my sense of humor. Oh I left alright, well within the time period allowed before I would be in trouble. And then I came back. Yep, you heard me right. I went home to Florida for two weeks, and then jumped right back on a plane back to Paris to stay for my full, lawfully granted mind you, 90 days as a tourist. Take that, prefecture. That meant I had three months to go back to my city, wrap up loose ends, say goodbye to all the friends I had made and would miss terribly, and not have the prospect of another visa renewal process hanging over my head. Because there wasn’t one. And that alone felt liberating.

And I went and saw the Eiffel Tower. Because you know, it’s not everyday you get to see the most famous Parisian monument a lit up at night. And did I mention that it sparkles?

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  • aww this is so bittersweet. I wish it was easier to stay where we want sometimes. My friend was deported back to Columbia after living in long island with her mom and sister since she was 15, attending high school, then university. Once she graduated they said she had no right to stay, it broke my heart. I hope you make it back someday!

    • As the French would say… c’est la vie! Truly it was out of my hands, so there was nothing to be done about it. It was actually my visa issues though that prompted me to take that Greek island sailing trip (bc I didn’t know how much longer I’d be in Europe, so why not) which in turn was how I ended up in Australia… so it all works out in the end. And I would love to make it back one day, as much for the victory over the bureaucracy as anything else! lol

  • Alba Marie

    This actually terrifies me. I’ve been bouncing from country to country in Europe for about 2 years, but ever since I go to France, I knew I wanted to stay here. I’m in love with this place. I’ve got 2.5 more years of uni but after that…I’d love to stay! My worst nightmare is deportation…Bureaucracy, ugh, it’s awful. I hope I don’t suffer the same fate…and hopefully, you find a way to come back!

    • Ah yes, I know exactly how you feel!! It used to keep e up at night, trying to figure out ways to outsmart the red tape and worrying about what would happen, if it would work out, etc. But in the end, there was nothing I could do. It did work out though – most of my friends ended up moving as well around the same time, and I moved to Australia for a year. It didn’t go as I originally wanted, but the outcome wasn’t a bad alternative. And now I’m moving to New Zealand in October, so the adventure continues! 🙂

  • Yup. I feel the same thing about Russia — and actually left partly because of a visa-canceling disagreement between my employers and myself. I just keep reminding myself that the negativity is just a part of this wonderful expat life.

    • It is part of the life indeed! We know we’re playing with fire, so to speak, but the adventure and the experience is completely worth it. Although it was disappointing to not be able to choose when to leave on my own accord, it did sort of shake me loose so I could go off and explore other parts of the world. 🙂

  • Aww, so sad! I don’t really know how all the visa stuff works. Did you know you’d only have a certain amount of time? Did you not expect to get the letter? Or were you just dreading it?

    • Oh visas… they are complicated, especially in France. And everyone who’s dealt with them has a different story. I knew that my student visa was expiring, so I tried to renew for another student visa. So I knew when my one visa was expiring, and that there was a chance they would refuse my renewal request. I honestly didn’t think I’d have a problem getting another student visa (hello… not a full work visa! Just lets me stay in the country, study and essentially spend my money in their country!!). But, I guess since a student visa does allow you to work 20 hours a week, and France’s unemployment was very high and it was election year… well, safe to say that many of my friends and I all had our visas denied on that account. Fun times!! lol

  • JourneysOft’Fabulist

    I don’t live in dread of that letter, but it crosses my mind from time to time. If A lost his job, it would be a very fast scramble for a new one before the same happened to us. You moved on with such grace! I’d hope to do the same.

    • It does ruin the moment if you’re constantly worrying about the future, and visas are never a sure thing! It didn’t take over my thoughts all the time, but it was in the back of my mind at all times. But, what will be, will be. No use spoiling your enjoyment now. 🙂

      • JourneysOft’Fabulist

        Very true, definitely ruins the moment – you can’t focus on it all the time.

        • Amy Lynne Hayes

          Well said! There’s an art form to that approach, both in visas and in life in general. Helps to tap into a “go with the flow” mentality. 🙂

        • Exactly. There’s an art form to thinking this way, both for visas and just life in general. Definitely helps to tap into a “go with the flow” mentality! 🙂