Out of the pan into the pan-demic

The sun shines through my window overlooking views of the picturesque medieval town of Fontenay-le-Comte. The warm weather of the summer recently passed and is replaced by a crisp autumn sky. I’ve been here one month now and, on my way to fully integrating myself in the ‘vie français’. Let me introduce myself; my name is Liam, I am 28 years old and, like many of us, have taken the somewhat brave decision to leave my native land, family and friends, job security, house, and pub, in favour of new life in the Vendée.

After completing my degree and PGCE in music I joined the teaching profession and taught in secondary schools in Buckinghamshire. I ran choirs, rang bells, joined a band, whilst keeping the thought of moving to France in the back of mind for a later date. Fast forward to the 23rd June 2016: 52% of the country voted to leave the EU. Keeping politics out of this, my soon-to-be wife and I faced a choice: adopt a ‘wait-and-see' attitude to moving or bring forward our plans of expatriation before the UK leaves Europe. We choose the latter and so here I am!

The dream of moving over is held by many but the current circumstances I find myself in are far from ideal.

The greatest obstacle I must, deal with every single day is that my wife is not currently able to join me. Lise and I have been together for almost 10 years and married last year in the summer. The wedding took place in Maine-et-Loire and we could have not asked for a more perfect day; the sun was shining the venue was stunning, and my beautiful wife looked incredible. A complete contrast to weddings this year and for that I feel very lucky.

Now, one year on, we are 595km apart. For those curious as to why Lise is still in the UK; she is a teacher and as such cannot leave her school when she wishes but must wait for the end of term. (Lise is also French and will be allowed back to France after the 31st December). It is by far the hardest thing I have ever done.

Of course, what coronavirus has shown us is that there are many ways to communicate long distance, however, I miss holding her hand and sharing this experience with her.

Unfortunately, there is a darker element to this story that I will only touch upon, as I understand the power and importance of sharing. In January this year I was diagnosed with depression. I mention this not only to raise awareness of mental health but despite the pain and anguish it caused, even the greyest clouds have the glimmer of a silver lining. I suddenly found myself feeling isolated and alone but at the same time responsible for keeping a brave, smiling, face; a façade that I had built over many years that now cracked under its own weight.

I found that in my darkest times the thought of starting over got me through. Although there are many push and pull factors when deciding to leave your country, the idea of moving to France where, we all know, the lifestyle is very different, was the biggest. The reassurance from my wife every day that things will get better came true and without her, my local doctors' surgery, the NHS, and Healthy Minds, things would not have changed, and for this I am forever grateful.

Now let's move on! Everything has been organised, the house is up for sale, I’ve handed in my notice, plans to stay with the in-laws are all set, the ferry has been booked, the removal van has been reserved, passport renewed, and I’m eager for the summer term to end so that I can move over;

What could possibly go …
A global pandemic.

I mean, dealing with a global pandemic when trying to relocate to another country has not been easy, advised, or recommended. In short, what is already a stressful endeavour, try throwing in travel restrictions and limited social contact. We have managed to make the crossing successfully, owing to good planning and a seemingly inexhaustible amount of luck, but the situation, for everyone, is not ideal. 

Our situation has meant that the times Lise could visit have had to be cancelled due to her being a keyworker and the length of quarantine making it implausible. As much as I understand the importance of keeping everyone safe, it is difficult to see at such a personal level; we both hold onto the fact that Lise will come home to join me, her family and her friends in December. Looking back to recent months one might dispute ‘is it worth all that trouble’? Those of you who have made the move know the answer.

Of course, it is. I could start listing the cultural and lifestyle reasons as to why over 150,000 UK nationals live in France but, for me, the reason is simple: I love my wife. For the last 10 years Lise has lived in the UK and has supported me in my lowest and best times, she has missed birthdays and celebrations with her family and friends due to school. She truly deserves to come home.

I am thankful to everyone who has helped us with the transition, especially my parents in the UK and my parents-in-law here in France. I am truly excited for what the future holds and can’t wait to be reunited permanently with Lise.

The future has become more unpredictable during these times, however, I know that
my wife and I are well on our way to the life we desire.

So, what am I going to do now that I’m here? Unlike many who move to France I have some way to go before I can retire. Since I arrived in September, I have set up a music education enterprise teaching piano and music to people in the area including at Chavagnes International College. Lessons open to everyone, children and adults at all levels, and are available in Fontenay-Le-Comte and Chavagnes-en-Paillers. I have also set up a portable recording studio using my expertise in music technology offering recording sessions for solo artists to larger bands and ensembles.

Despite being several months until Christmas I created a small singing group to go carolling when the season changes (we are still recruiting if you wish to join us; free and open to all!). Other projects include, a video blog, creating resources for music classrooms, writing bespoke telephone hold music, recording voiceovers for companies in the UK, and I am in the process of composing a mass for choir and organ. If you have any questions about my experience or simply want to contact me please feel free to email liam.maguire@etude.school.

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Wedding photos by Lav Stories Photography.
Images of Liam by inthevendee.com