Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of @cflgroupmedia| via Maya
The Black Expat: My Journey To Paris Was Unexpected
Maya has lived, studied, and worked in Paris over the last six years. The Los Angeles native currently works as a public health project manager. She also has a few creative passion projects that keep her busy.
We spoke with via email about her life as a Black expat in Paris.
Travel Noire: Why did you make the move to Paris?
Maya: To be honest, my journey to Paris was rather unexpected. I was never one of those people who dreamed about learning French or visiting Paris, let alone moving here. I knew I didn’t want to continue teaching English in Spain and I knew I wanted to get my Masters in Public Health. So I explored the idea of doing my Master’s abroad and found the perfect program that happened to be in Paris. I got into the MPH program, moved to Paris, graduated, and I’ve been here ever since.
It was a challenging transition moving to a new country where you don’t speak the language, my Master’s program was intense, and I was pretty much broke. But with time things got better, and anyone who knows me knows I absolutely love Paris now.
TN: What is life like as a Black woman in Paris?
Maya: Paris is an incredibly diverse place. From the outside people wouldn’t think twice that I wasn’t French until I start speaking and they hear my “petit accent mignon”’ (cute little accent). I think the idea of being a “Black Expat” here is an interesting concept. I have observed that there is a certain privilege that comes with being an “expat” versus being considered an “immigrant” or “foreigner,” which often is associated with some prejudice. I find sometimes it seems like there is a “cool or exotic” factor that is tied with being a Black American Expat which opens opportunities and you’re pretty well received, compared to an African immigrant here in France.
TN: What challenges have you faced as a Black woman in Paris?
Maya: I would say my biggest challenges in Paris has been more so general obstacles that come with being a foreigner in general. One of the biggest challenges that I deal with is this constant sense of uncertainty. Living in a country that isn’t your own, that you want to integrate into professionally and socially, you have to learn the social codes that aren’t always obvious.
To actually stay in Paris and live here long-term, takes a lot more work than you think. You have what seems like constant trips to the visa renewal office or checking the calendar to make sure you are within the timeline to apply for your next visa for the next year. Also, keeping up to date with the ever-changing visa options and laws.
TN: What is the Black expat community like in Paris?
Maya: The Black Expat community is quite diverse. There are other Americans like myself and other expats from the diaspora coming from Sweden, the UK, Brazil, and more for school, work, or business. I have some French friends, but for the most part, I would say I hang out with a lot of international people. This is nice because we get each other without having to try to hard to be understood or explain things to people. There is also a rich community of creatives, entrepreneurs, and events dedicated to the diaspora.
There are events like the annual Natural Hair Academy dedicated to natural hair, or the Black Summer Movie festival that takes place every summer. I can go on forever listing the cool things going on here, but I think you get the idea. Paris does not lack in community nor culture.
TN: What advice can you give for those looking to move there?
Maya: I’m a firm believer of taking steps outside of your comfort zone, and defining your own vision of your life outside of what society expects of you. Once you have the motivation, you just have to figure out how to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Something I wish I did more before moving was actually saving to prepare for my move. I would recommend having a couple months’ worth of savings to cover food and rent so you can have a little cushion for when incidentals arrive, it really helps reduce unnecessary stress. I would also encourage people to start learning the language if you don’t already know it. It helps a lot to make the transition here, especially if you want to integrate socially and professionally.
TN: Where can we find you on social media?